Skip to main content

Edward Davey, MP

(Elected 2006)


Edward Davey is delighted to become a fellow of Birkbeck. ‘It is a real honour; Birkbeck has helped me and thousands of people over the years.’ As MP for Kingston and Surbiton since 1997, Ed has become a key figure in the Liberal Democrats, having been spokesman on Treasury affairs, then Education and Skills; he is now Chief of Staff to party leader, Sir Menzies Campbell.

With a first-class BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from Oxford, Ed began his career for the Liberals as an economics researcher; at this point he studied for a Master’s degree in Economics at Birkbeck. The MSc helped him to develop Liberal policies, such as a penny on income tax for education and making the Bank of England independent. Speaking about Birkbeck, he says: ‘The College enables business people to continue learning and to access some of the most innovative and talented thinkers in the world; few institutions come close to Birkbeck.’

A keen advocate of more government support for part-time institutions like Birkbeck, Ed comments: ‘Government must never again allow part-time education to be the poor relation. Higher education policies should not be based round bricks and mortar but round intellectual ideas.’


President, Master, Distinguished Governors, Graduates and Guests.

Edward Davey was born in Nottingham, the son of a solicitor and a teacher. Having lost both his father and his mother by the age of 15, he was brought up with his two brothers by his maternal grandparents. He attended Nottingham High School, following in the footsteps both of D.H. Lawrence and Kenneth Clarke, where he became Head Boy. Indeed, there is a story that a history master pointed at the 13-year-old Edward Davey and said ‘Ken Clarke sat in the very chair you are sitting in now and said that he would be an MP by the time he was 30’. The ghostly imprint on Kenneth Clarke's form may have given the young Edward Davey a posterior premonition of the seat that he would later himself occupy in the House of Commons. In fact, John Knifton, who taught French at Nottingham High School, remembers him as being resistant to such subliminal influences, indeed as 'very, very independently minded. Not necessarily a nutty vegan, but he would have his own opinions, and argue and stick to them.' He was an enthusiastic organiser of school discos and participant in drama, coolly slipping into fishnet stockings when they were demanded by the exigencies drama in a boys-only school.

Confirming the non-vegan character discerned by his French teacher, Edward Davey spent a character-forming period working in a pork pie factory, before going up to Jesus College Oxford in 1985 to read Philosophy, Politics and Economics. He was not directly involved in political parties there, but did develop an interest in environmental concerns that has stayed with him. He also got in some useful practice at winning elections, when he was made President of the Jesus Junior Common Room.

His first-class degree can have done him no harm in helping him secure a position as an economics researcher for the Liberal Democrats, working principally for Alan Beith, the party's Treasury spokesman, and Paddy Ashdown. It was at this period that he began studying part-time at Birkbeck for an MSc in Economics. Within a few years, he had risen to become Senior Economics Advisor to the Liberal Democrats, in which role he was closely involved in developing economic policy for the forthcoming election in 1992, including the bold policy to add a penny to income tax to fund education.

From 1993 to 1995, Edward Davey awarded himself a sabbatical from Parliament, though not from politics, in working for a management consultant specialising in postal services, in the course of which he managed to get himself delivered to dozens of countries across the world to advise them on the running of their post offices. In 1995, he accepted a bravery award from the Royal Humane Society and a commendation from the Chief Constable of the British Transport Police after he had rescued a woman who had fallen in front of an oncoming train at Clapham Junction station.

Returning to the political fray in March 1995, he was selected to stand as the Liberal Democrat candidate in the constituency of Kingston and Surbiton. After three recounts, the result was confirmed: by 56 votes, Edward Davey had evicted the Conservative incumbent, and for the first time in the history of the constituency. Having at first dipped their toes rather gingerly into Liberal Democrat water, the voters of Kingston and Surbiton got enthusiastically into the swim and, by the time of the next election, in 2001, Edward Davey had increased his share of the vote to 60% and his majority to 16,000. Possessed as he is of an A-Level in Medieval History, he will know well enough that Kingston means the ‘king’s tun’, or royal estate, and that several Saxon kings were crowned on the Coronation Stone, which can still be seen in Kingston, including Edward the Elder (900), Edmund (940), Edred (946), Edwy (955), all of which testifies to a strong local predisposition in favour of Edwards of all kinds - though perhaps we should draw a veil over the last in the sequence, Edward the Martyr (971).

He now became Economics Affairs Spokesman, and was promoted by Charles Kennedy to deputy in the Treasury team. During these years, he took a close interest in economic affairs, serving on the Treasury Select Committee from 1999 to 2001. Following the 2001 General Election, he became the Liberal Democrat Chief Secretary to the Treasury and then the Liberal Democrat Shadow of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. In 2005, his appointment as Shadow Education and Skills Secretary gave him the opportunity to participate vigorously in the discussions of the Education Bill, arguing forcefully the Liberal Democrats’ opposition to top-up fees. In December 2006, he succeeded Norman Lamb as Chief of Staff to Sir Menzies Campbell, the party leader.

In 2004, he contributed a chapter to The Orange Book, on ‘Localism and Liberalism’, arguing that Liberalism needed to lead a revival of local politics. Edward Davey’s period as an MP has indeed typified that Liberal Democrat speciality, the capacity to join together the global and the local. He has never shied away from the big issues of world politics, being an active campaigner, for example, for the closure of Guantanamo Bay, where one of his constituents is still detained. But he has not let these big issues prevent him from paying attention to more immediate problems. There is no local problem or injustice that is too parochial or beneath his notice, from the threatened closure of local post offices to the smell from the local Hogsmill sewage works. He has sometimes rounded off his parliamentary week by reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar to a nursery class, and spent an afternoon being retrained as a lollipop man, in the interests of raising awareness of road safety. He has campaigned against the decline in dental provision (which inevitably got reported as the ‘serious decay in dental services’). Giving pun for pun, he remarked that trying to find an NHS dentist in his constituency was like ‘trying to find a needle in a haystack’, giving a pointed new application to that phrase.

He has a particular commitment to involving children and young people in politics and has also been a champion of the use of the internet in political life. Recently, speaking as Chair of his party's Campaigns and Communications Committee, he has urged Liberal Democrats to imagine their message as being directed to ‘Online Olly’, a young graduate in their first or second job, who hardly ever reads political leaflets, but has two or more email addresses and conducts his business via the web and text messaging. Electoral successes in Bristol, Manchester and Hornsey have been put down to the influence of Online Olly. Though he claims not to know the difference between a url and an http, his own website shows that he himself every bit an Online Eddie, with a website that allows visitors to track the progress of all the many campaigns in which he is involved and to follow his breathtaking schedule in minute detail.

In 2000, he published a pamphlet entitled Making MPs Work for Our Money, which dealt with the failure of the House of Commons to hold Governments to proper account for their budgets and expenditure. We learn that the last time MPs voted down a request for cash from ministers was in 1919, when the Lord Chancellor was denied the funds he wanted to install a second bathroom. The pamphlet not only draws on Edward Davey’s own detailed understanding of the financial processes of government, it urged that MPs become much more interested, informed and involved in what he described as ‘the nitty-gritty of financial scrutiny’, and proposed a series of reforms that would achieve that end.

The Latin inscription on the arms of Edward Davey’s old school is Lauda Finem, ‘praise to the end’. It is now perhaps time for me to bring an end to my praise. We are proud to have among our alumni so distinguished a figure, and so tireless a contributor to public and political life, as Edward Davey, and welcome him now as Fellow of Birkbeck.