With Ukip stealing vital Tory votes, Lib Dems reassess 2015 election strategy to target marginal seats

 

The Liberal Democrats are planning a wholesale reassessment of their 2015 election strategy which will see the party pour resources into about 25 Tory-held marginal seats.

Party strategists believe a significant number of Conservative seats – particularly in the south-west – are now vulnerable following the success of Ukip at splitting the Tory vote in the Eastleigh by-election last week. They believe there are between 20 and 30 Conservative seats that could fall to the party, even if the Lib Dems themselves see an erosion of their vote.

Such gains could help offset the losses the party expects in seats where it will compete head-to-head with Labour. In Eastleigh, it retained the seat despite seeing its vote drop by 14 per cent. This was more than offset by a 24 per cent swing to Ukip, denying the Conservative candidate, Maria Hutchings, the chance of taking the seat.

At the top of the Lib Dem hit-list is Camborne and Redruth in Cornwall, which the party lost in 2010 to David Cameron’s former press secretary, George Eustice. He has a wafer-thin majority of 66, and with Ukip polling just 2,100 votes in 2010, Lib Dem strategists believe the seat should return to the party at the next election.

Other seats on the target list include some held by high-profile Tory ministers. The Lib Dems are expected to target West Dorset, which is held by the Cabinet Minister Oliver Letwin, who has a majority of just under 4,000. But Ukip has been steadily increasing its share of the vote in the constituency, potentially making it vulnerable to a challenge.

The party is also keen to regain Richmond Park, which Zac Goldsmith took at the last election with a swing to the Tories of 12 per cent.

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat president, said the success in Eastleigh had proved that the party did not need to fight the 2015 election on a purely defensive basis.

He said: “We are going to be sensibly ambitious and at this stage we are looking at around 25 seats which are currently held by the Conservatives but which we think we should realistically target resources at.

“A lot of those are in the south-west but also in places like Hampshire, Newton Abbot and Romney. What Eastleigh showed was not just the effect of Ukip but also that the Labour vote was not resurgent. That bodes very well for us not just holding on to the seats that we have but also gaining ground.”

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