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18 March 2015updated 07 Jun 2021 4:45pm

Ed Davey is officially running to be Liberal Democrat leader. Here’s why it’s going to be a very odd contest

By Stephen Bush

And we’re off! Ed Davey officially launches his candidacy in British politics’ other leadership election today, as he sets out his stall for the job of Liberal Democrat leader. Unlike the Conservative race, which has almost as many declared candidacies as the Liberal Democrats have MPs, this will almost certainly be a two-horse race: between Davey and Jo Swinson, the party’s deputy leader.

It’s an odd contest, and not just because by ending a three-year run in which every decision she made accelerated the Liberal Democrat revival, Theresa May has managed to time her exit in a way that will choke off most of the coverage that this race might have received. 

The main reason why it is slightly odd is that it is not clear what the contest is actually about. We know what the Conservative leadership election is about – the depth of the hole that Theresa May has dug and how they can get out of it.

But because of the party’s success in the local and European elections, this is the first Liberal Democrat leadership election since 2007 in which the central question of the contest isn’t “do the Liberal Democrats have a future?” So what is it about?

Only a few months ago some Liberal Democrats thought it would be about how to cleanse the taint of coalition, which is why some were hoping that the likes of Layla Moran might be persuaded to run, as both Swinson and Davey served in the coalition government. That the party recorded its best local and European elections in history in the same month means that is not going to be seen as a pressing question anymore. A couple of weeks ago others thought it would be about how to respond to the threat of Change UK. That, obviously, is not going to be an animating issue.

The big opportunity for the two candidates is to set out what question the contest is about – and why they, not their opponent, are the answer.

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