As I breathe a sigh of relief over the election of Jo Swinson as the new leader of the Lib Dems, I thought I would commit to paper a few reflections on how, over the past two decades, my life has curiously elided with that of a fairly well known politician who happens to bear my name.
As with 9/11 or the death of Princess Diana, I can remember exactly what I was doing the first time Ed Davey MP’s existence was brought to my attention. It was 2000, only a few months after I had left school. A friend telephoned and breathlessly told me to turn on BBC News 24, as it was then. And there was he, or should I say me, giving a speech in the Houses of Parliament. My name was on the screen in what I would learn during a later life is called an ‘aston’.
Little did I know then how this simple quirk of fate was to dog my future career like a recurrent case of plasmodium vivax malaria. Since that fateful awakening, I have received literally hundreds of communications meant for my namesake, some hilarious, others concerning, many downright offensive.
A few brief highlights from this sorry affair:
- In 2011 a bungling officer at the Royal Borough of Kingston-upon-Thames accidentally sent me a load of correspondence relating to a parking dispute involving a minor royal for whom Ed Davey is the constituency MP. I replied to the unfortunate officer that this was not Ed Davey MP but Ed Davey investigative journalist at BBC London (then a scourge of the capital’s local authorities and their myriad greedy parking rackets, even if I do say so myself) and thanked them for keeping me in the loop.
- At about 5am during the winter of 2012, I was awoken at my then address in Hackney by my mobile phone ringing. It was a driver from the BBC, trying to whisk me off to Millbank to do a live interview. I found it somewhat touching that the producer thought a then Cabinet minister would live in an ex-council flat in east London with an address like ‘188 Wrens Park House, Clapton’, but was nonetheless rather miffed at getting woken up.
- Again through my work, I encountered not one but two more members of the tribe. Edward Davey is an environmentalist and the author of the excellent Given Half A Chance: Ten Ways to Save the World. Meanwhile Councillor Ed Davie is a hardworking representative of residents in Lambeth, also green-minded. I write geopolitical thrillers published by Duckworth and now head up rainforest investigations for Global Witness. Curiously, then, all of us work in news or politics, which we appear to be drawn towards as a species like moths to a flame. Not only that, but we all have an environmental bent to our work. (I have even heard dark rumours of a fifth Ed Davey, also operating in the media sphere – allegedly a reporter on the British Medical Journal. Unfortunately I have never managed to verify this.)
In 2013, I pitched a completely absurd feature to an editor on the BBC website: let’s get all the Ed Daveys together down the pub and hammer it out once and for all. Why do we all work in news or politics? Why? Gamely, the editor of what was back then a fairly humourless website, told me to go for it. “But you need to get Ed Davey MP on board,” he said. “It just won’t fly without the Big Man.”
Edward Davey and Ed Davie both agreed to come immediately. I then wrote to Ed Davey MP’s office, but alas, I never heard back from him. (Ed Davey, if you’re reading this the offer’s still open.) Ed Davie told me he had in fact met the Daddy of all Ed Daveys, Ed Davey MP, and assured me he was a nice guy with a good sense of humour. Apparently Ed Davey introduced himself to Ed Davie’s young son as “one of the family,” which was a nice touch.
But the most common case of mistaken identity is, of course, over Twitter. On that infernal website I receive tweets meant for Ed Davey at least five times a week, with particular peaks of heavy traffic whenever Brexit is kicking off or South Western Rail is up the Swanee, which is often. It has given me a troubling insight into the nonsense even decent MPs like Ed Davey have to put up with on a daily basis. (It must be said that occasionally I get a more heartwarming tweet, thanking me for visiting a library or opening an old people’s lunch club and suchlike). I feel the pain of Twitter’s @JohnLewis, a gentleman from Virginia, USA, who is besieged daily by angry British department store customers.
There was a brief respite when the Conservatives put their former coalition partners to the sword in the 2015 general election, and Ed Davey lost his seat. Although we have never met I have come to like the man, and feel a curious ownership of him. However for me personally this Parliamentary defenestration was very good news. The Ed Davey mix-ups and misguided rants on Twitter dried up immediately. But then Theresa May launched her ill-fated 2017 election and Ed Davey MP was back. Back in the Commons, back in the news and back on my timeline, with a vengeance.
Every time a Lib Dem leader has resigned, therefore, I have felt a cold wind of misgiving at the thought of what my life would be like if Ed Davey got the top job. And when Vince Cable announced his intention to resign a few months back, I really thought the game was up. Then Ed Davey revealed his intention to stand. This was not good, not least because the Lib Dems have so few MPs these days that for a while it seemed he was going to be the only candidate. I was fast running out of human shields, most of the others having now actually done the job. The bullet with my name on it (almost literally) was finally to be loaded into the political revolver and blasted at my faltering career.
Step forward Jo Swinson, my knight in shining armour, a woman I now feel that I owe a considerable debt to and basically love. I was watching Question Time when she threw her towel into the ring live on TV, and I literally punched the air and yelled with delight. My youngest brother is a Lib Dem member, so I ordered him with all the authority of age and primogeniture not to vote for Ed Davey under any circumstances. Jo Swinson is bright and energetic, and it’s high time the Lib Dems had a female leader, so I felt confident. But Ed Davey fought a good campaign, we live in an age of political upsets, and as our joint day of destiny drew closer I felt a gnawing disquiet.
‘Self evident truth’
A selection of the 32 tweets intended for Ed Davey that I received today, in the build up to the announcement of the winner:
“@EdDavey1 fell into the @theresa_may dance gaffe error. Never ever dance like Mr Bean or like a dad at a just teen [sic] daughter’s birthday party. It’s a Self evident [sic] truth.”
“Cannot really warm to either @joswinson or @EdDavey1 as I seem to recall they were instrumental in backing the disastrous Network Transformation of the @PostOffice when part of the @David_Cameron coalition with @LibDems.”
“You’ll add strength to the movement over the coming months. Good luck to you all. For what it’s worth, I was backing both candidates.”
“I hope for national reasons the female, Scottish, charismatic, (not white middle class male) Mum, @joswinson will win.”
Well, to be fair they’ve got my number with the last one – guilty as charged. Alas, I cannot in good conscience deny dancing like Mr Bean either. But my hands are definitely clean over the Post Office privatisation.
My good humour as the revealing of the winner prepared to get under way was not improved by a lengthy delay beyond the scheduled announcement at 4pm. But it was a moment of catharsis and pure joy when it was revealed Jo Swinson had done it, and for the second time this year I punched the air in delight for Ed Davey-related reasons. Life can go on as normal, if normal is quite the right word for all this.
Ed Davey, if you are reading this, let’s go for that pint – and get the whole gang down. And Jo Swinson, in the immortal words of another Ed, Captain Edmund Blackadder (as he read out a telegram): “Please never ever stop.”