With the upcoming UK elections expected to be a close race, the country’s third largest party could hold the balance of power. Labour and the Conservatives may need the support of the Liberal Democrats to form a government. Euronews spoke to Edward Davey, one of the frontbench MPs who could very well end up joining a future cabinet.
Seamus Kearney: If I could begin just by focusing on this term that’s being used – the Liberal Democrats, the potential kingmakers in the formation of a new government – what does that mean for you as a party leading up to these polls?
Edward Davey: Well, as Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat leader has said, the people are actually the kingmakers. It’s an election, it’s about democracy, and whatever the people vote the politicians have got to represent that fairly. Therefore it’s not a question about Liberal Democrats deciding who is going to be the next government. We may well, if it’s a balanced parliament, have a very powerful voice and the more Liberal Democrat MPs there are, the more powerful that voice will be. But it’s likely there’ll be actually a winner in terms of one party having a clear mandate of the seats and votes, and therefore we would respect that wish of the British people.
Seamus Kearney: Are you more inclined to move towards the Conservatives or Labour?
Edward Davey: Well, as I’ve just said, it’s the people who are the kingmakers. So if they give a clear mandate by making one party the largest party – with the seats and the votes – then clearly the Liberal Democrats would be duty-bound to try to recognise that party. Not necessarily by going into coalition or negotiations, but by being clear that they have the first shout, if you like, at trying to form the government.
Seamus Kearney: Surely that will be difficult for the Liberal Democrats in terms of your non-negotiable issues, perhaps, in terms of Liberal Democrat voters and what they expect of your party?
Edward Davey: Well, as I say, there may not be any negotiations because first of all the other party would want to negotiate and it might decide it wants a minority government. Many countries around the world have minority governments, with the executive not having a majority in parliament, so the others may not want to talk to us. But you’re right to say that if they were talking to us, or if we’re asked to vote on Queen’s speeches, and budgets and the rest of it, we will have some very clear demands which Liberal Democrat MPs have been elected to represent.
Seamus Kearney: There are some voters who might say, and Liberal Democrat voters, who might say that your party needs to be more transparent when it comes to spelling out before the election who could be your coalition partner.
Edward Davey: Well, we’ve been transparent both about how we make the choice and the policy priorities. So we’ve been absolutely clear that it’s up to the voters to decide who’s going to be the largest party, not the Liberal Democrats. We want to be the largest party, and I hope the Liberal Democrats get a majority. But if we don’t and another party does then we will have to work within that parliament, with them being the largest party.
Seamus Kearney: Some people may say that it’s now unthinkable that because you’ve been the different voice, as you say, it’s unthinkable now to join those who you’ve been battling with for so many years.
Edward Davey: Well it’s not something that obviously we would be keen to do, in the sense that we see big differences between the Liberal Democrats and the Labour party, and big differences between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives. In fact, we think that Labour and the Conservatives have got more in common with each other than we have with either of them. So it would be difficult for us to do any sort of negotiations for a coalition government with either of the other parties …
Seamus Kearney: And Gordon Brown for example. We’ve got reports now that the Liberal Democrats would not want him to remain as prime minister.
Edward Davey: Well, I don’t think it’s about personalities. I think it’s about what’s best for the country. So, even though, as I was saying, it would be difficult for us to work with the other parties, for the obvious reasons, if that’s in the country’s interests, if that’s what the voters decide should happen, if they vote for a balanced parliament effectively, then we’ve got to try to make that work. Politicians have got to work together. And one of the core arguments for Liberal Democrats on political reform, our support for fairer votes, for proportional representation, for example, as they have in so many other countries, is that that forces politicians to work together, to try to set aside their differences …
Seamus Kearney: So you could work with Gordon Brown?
Edward Davey: We could work with whoever the British people ask us to work with. That’s our duty. You know, the economy’s in a pretty poor way. So we’ve got a bit of an economic crisis. We’ve got a political crisis. Parliament has never been in such disrepute after the MPs expenses scandal, after the lobbying, after the failure to reform on party funding and so on.
Seamus Kearney: It seems there’s some division though in the Liberal Democrat ranks because we have Nick Clegg heavily criticising Gordon Brown just in the last few days, and another frontbench person saying, suggesting that Gordon Brown could not remain the prime minister. Are you saying that you personally … that’s not an issue for you. You would be prepared to work with Gordon Brown?
Edward Davey: No, I don’t think there’s any division in the party at all. I mean Nick’s criticism of Gordon Brown are extremely well made, and there’s no doubt that he’s frankly been a bit of a failure as prime minister and for this country. We’ve seen …
Seamus Kearney: But Nick Clegg is not calling on the fact that if there is a coalition government, Gordon Brown would have to step down? He’s not calling for that?
Edward Davey: No one’s actually called for that. Chris Huhne, our home affairs spokesman, was incorrectly quoted in a paper, in fact not properly quoted at all. He was talking about what happened in the 1940s when Britain had to put together a wartime coalition and what that meant in terms of the leaders of the different parties, and some people have tried to extrapolate from the 1940s to the year 2010, and I’m afraid that’s inevitable given the closeness of this election, a very close election, and people are interpreting and over-interpreting what people say. I think the Liberal Democrats are clear: we’re not impressed by Gordon Brown, and we’re not impressed with the Labour government, but we don’t trust the Tories either.
Seamus Kearney: So David Cameron for example, and William Hague, who you’ve heavily criticised in the past, that would be the same situation?
Edward Davey: Yes, if the public make the Tories the largest party, and as clear victors, with a mandate to govern, then we’d have to respect that. Now, whether or not the Conservatives would want to form any sort of agreement with us is ultimately up to them if they are the largest party.