Ed Davey refuses six times to say whether coalition-era austerity was a mistake

Sir Ed Davey has refused six times to say whether austerity was a mistake in an interview with Sky News.

The Liberal Democrat leader also specifically denied that the austerity policies his party implemented alongside the Conservatives were to blame for the current crisis facing the NHS – which he is promising to “save” if his party wins power on 4 July.

In an interview with Sky News deputy political editor Sam Coates, he said the “real, big problems” facing the health service began under the Conservatives in 2015, when the coalition between David Cameron and Nick Clegg came to an end.

But challenged on whether the reorganisation of the NHS that happened on his watch was to blame for the current crisis facing the health service, Sir Ed said: “I think the Conservatives have been in power for last nine years and they failed.”

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The Lib Dems, led by Nick Clegg, entered into a coalition with David Cameron’s Conservatives in the 2010 election until the latter secured a slim majority in the subsequent 2015 election.

During that time, the coalition implemented austerity policies that slashed public expenditure following the 2008 financial crisis, with the NHS one of a number of services hit.

Analysis: Why Lib Dems’ manifesto is far less ambitious than previous one

Ed Davey reacts as he sits on a ride called 'Rush' during a Liberal Democrats general election campaign event at Thorpe Park.
Pic: Reuters
Ed Davey on a ride at Thorpe Park during the general election campaign. Pic: Reuters

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A King’s Fund report in April found the health service had “declined since 2010, as a result of much lower funding increases, limited funds for capital investment and neglect of workforce planning”.

A number of Lib Dem politicians – including former business secretary Sir Vince Cable and former leader Jo Swinson – have expressed regret for austerity and conceded that it may have cost them votes in the 2015 election, when the party was reduced to just eight MPs.

In her conference speech in 2018, Ms Swinson – who was a junior minister in the coalition government – told Lib Dem members: “Negotiating with the Conservatives meant compromise and some of those compromises sucked. We should have done more.”

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What is in the Lib Dem manifesto?

Manifesto to ‘save’ the NHS

Sir Ed has put the pledge to “save” the NHS and fix social care at the heart of his election manifesto, which was published today.

The party leader said the Liberal Democrats would spend £9bn fixing the health and social care system, including plans to recruit 8,000 more GPs, the right to see a GP within seven days, and a boost cancer survival rates.

He said it was “a manifesto to save the NHS”.

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Davey ‘touched’ by care messages

But asked by Coates whether such promises to fix the NHS and social care were needed only to repair issues caused by the coalition, Sir Ed argued his party pushed for measures on care for the elderly and disabled people when in office, but the Tories “broke their promises”.

“When the Tories were by themselves, they took an absolute axe to some of the poorest people in our country, and that was absolutely shocking,” he said.

“And I am really proud that we managed to stop them for so long.”

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Pushed again over his refusal to say if he endorsed the decisions made by the coalition, the Lib Dem leader replied: “Well, I’m telling you Sam, I fought Conservatives every day and in this election I’ve made it clear there is no way we will allow the Conservatives back into office.

“They are out of ideas and excuses and need to be out of office. Every vote for a Liberal Democrat will be a vote for a great champion to put forward those policies to rescue our NHS and to get the Conservatives out of government.”

As well as the NHS, social care has also been placed front and centre of Sir Ed’s pitch to voters.

The Liberal Democrat leader has spoken candidly of his experience caring for his disabled son and, as a child, looking after his terminally ill mother.

He said his manifesto is the first in the party’s history to include a dedicated chapter on care, with pledges including free personal care for the elderly and the disabled and a higher salary for care workers, set £2 above the minimum wage.

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