Election 2024: key takeaways from a week at the Lib Dem Press Office

You would be forgiven for not putting the Liberal Democrats at the centre of your political radar before Rishi Sunak’s surprise election announcement. With only 15 MPs in the last parliament – a lasting hangover of the electorate’s reaction to their coalition days – the picture leading up to the campaign wasn’t necessarily pretty viewing.

However, a combination of anti-Conservative Party sentiment, efficient tactical voting, and Ed Davey’s willingness to take on attention-grabbing stunts, means that the outlook has become decidedly rosier. The latest MRP polls indicate that the Lib Dem Party is on course to return to pre-coalition numbers, a swing which could put them as the third largest in parliament.

Talking about the post-election landscape feels premature, however, spending some time in campaign HQ put me in amongst a team with a growing sense of optimism. With the nation heading to the polls in a few days, here are my key takeaways from a week in the Lib Dem press office.

Humanity at the heart of politics

The BBC Question Time Election Special was a priority during my week with the team. This was the last major debate of the election campaign and an important juncture for us to sense check the public’s sentiment towards the leaders of the UK’s four main parties.

Cutting clippings from the papers the following morning revealed that many journalists had pegged Ed as the overall winner on the night. There were tricky questions on tuition fees and coalition, yet his ability to acknowledge past mistakes was well received.

Manning the phones and press inbox, which seemed to be permanently pinging with requests for comment and 4pm deadlines, demonstrated the need for attention to detail. But these policies also show Ed’s passions and personality, stemming in large part from his life experiences, on everything from increasing carer’s allowance to cancer specialist nurses. In a political battleground mired in his cynicism, his conviction is striking, and shows that a human face is just as important for cutting through to the electorate.

Silliness and seriousness key to strategy

It’s no secret the Lib Dems have made the most of flashy stunts over the course of the campaign and that this is a strategic decision. From building sandcastles to whizzing down slides, Ed’s campaign timetable sought to ensure people would turn the volume up on the TVs as we watched Ed liven up the day of the designated journalist tasked with following the campaign trail.

Inevitable arguments ensue about the silliness of these stunts, but they do have a purpose. Every stunt is attached to an overarching policy, be it health or sewage or the environment.

On the flip side, perhaps Ed’s most powerful moment was also his most serious. The first election broadcast showing the care for his disabled son seems to have struck a real chord, amongst not just carers, but the wider electorate. With a manifesto heavily dominated by serious issues in the NHS and our health systems, there is a place for both seriousness and silliness in this campaign.

Quiet confidence and a camp united

Overall, it seems like the general mood at HQ is one of quiet confidence. Nobody is taking anything for granted, but there’s enough evidence to suggest the Lib Dem ranks will swell considerably once all the ballots are cast. From party veterans to first-time volunteers like myself, this is very much a happy camp; especially for those who have been through the dour campaigns of 2017 and 2019.

Almost a decade on from the 2015 election wipeout, the Lib Dems hope to return to parliament as an expanded force – potentially even, as some papers are suggesting, the official opposition. Holding the incoming government to account, particularly against a backdrop of little money and big policy issues, will be the next test to establish their credentials and find common ground amongst an increasingly divided nation.