Frontrunner to be next Liberal Democrat leader can free party from shackles of coalition

Interview in the Independent.

The frontrunner to be the next leader of the Liberal Democrats has suggested she can free the party from the shackles of its coalition past.

Layla Moran’s remarks will be seen as a comment on her main rival Ed Davey, who served as energy secretary in the Tory-Lib Dem government.

Ms Moran was elected to parliament in 2017, two years after the coalition ended.

In an interview with The Independent, she called on her party to “imagine what we can do with me as leader, without the yoke of coalition”.

December’s general election highlighted the continuing public anger towards the Lib Dems over their years in government with the Tories.

In one bruising encounter, live on the BBC’s Question Time programme, Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson was repeatedly tackled over coalition policies, including the controversial bedroom tax welfare cut.

Ms Swinson, a business minister during the coalition, also faced criticism over her own voting record between 2010 and 2015.

First elected as an MP only in 2017, Ms Moran insists her lack of experience could be a boon to the Lib Dems at a low point in their history.

After the highs of “Cleggmania” in 2010, when the party was briefly riding high in the polls, the party came down to earth with a bump in 2015.

Accusations of hypocrisy over the party’s support for tuition fees and other policies led to a slump in voter trust, leading to most of the party’s MPs losing their jobs.

An anti-Brexit stance saw a revival in its fortunes in last year’s European parliament elections but a disastrous general election campaign saw its seat tally, which had been bolstered by defectors, fall again, to 11.

Ms Moran, the MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, says the message she has received from voters is that post-Brexit her party is “struggling for an identity”.

Asked if she thought the fact she had not been a part of the coalition government would be helpful, she said: “I think it would. And the reason why is that it sends the signal. I don’t intend to pretend that our party was not part of that coalition. It was, it was part of our history. And it is really important that we learn the mistakes from it. And the big mistake was, of course, that you don’t as a politician say one thing and do another. We lost trust and we never really won it back. And it is unfair you could argue that it is still the yoke around our necks that it is.

“And I would say to people, imagine what we can do with me as leader, without the yoke of coalition, moving forwards.”

She says she wants the public to “realise that the Liberal Democrats are on their side” and fears they don’t instinctively.

She is keen to listen to voters, if elected.

“I started my leadership election by touring the country listening to voters not in London; in the southeast. And that’s what I would like to spend the first year of my leadership doing. Finding a message that resonates, in all parts of the country, making the case for liberal values.”

She opposed Brexit and has called on the government to extend the transition period, amid fears a no-deal exit this December could batter an economy still reeling from the coronavirus crisis.

But Lib Dems hoping she will campaign immediately to rejoin the European Union will be disappointed.

Instead, she wants the party to focus on three main areas: education; the environment; and the economy; including creating an economy with well-being at its heart.

She fears the UK has gone backwards on social mobility, of the kind of which she benefited.

“Inequalities have grown to such an extent that basic social mobility, the kind of social mobility that meant my father was the first in his family to go to university and then became an ambassador, just doesn’t exist anymore,” she said.

“Young people in this country are deeply frustrated with the way the markets are working ... I think those who are crying out for a fairer economy that actually makes it work for real people are on the right track.”

A postal ballot of Lib Dem members will take place over the summer, with the winner announced on 26 August.