Lib Dems take aim at Tory heartlands with promise to usher in ‘liberal Britain’

Party kicks off conference by throwing down gauntlet to Rishi Sunak

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Saturday 23 September 2023 22:33 BST
<p>Lib Dem leader Ed Davey prepares to kick off party conference</p>

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey prepares to kick off party conference

The Liberal Democrats are to signal their intention to take aim at Tory heartlands in the run-up to the next general election, promising to usher in a “liberal Britain” after years of Conservative rule.

In a speech on Sunday, deputy leader Daisy Cooper will tell activists that the party has a “huge opportunity” to grab parts of Rishi Sunak’s so-called “blue wall” in southern England.

It comes after a string of wildly successful by-election results for what has for a long time been the third party of British politics, after years in the political wilderness.

“We have a huge opportunity. Right across the blue wall, and right across the country – people are furious with the Conservatives,” Ms Cooper is expected to say.

“They’re angry that nothing works – everything’s broken – and that all the things we cherish – our NHS, our precious environment, our standing in the world – have been trashed.

“What’s more, they know who did it. This appalling Conservative government – too busy fighting each other to do anything useful,” he added.

The Lib Dems have struggled to get their national vote share off the ground, with most polls putting them between 9 and 14 per cent – slightly up on their 2019 result. But the party is optimistic that it could pick up more seats by concentrating its activists in traditionally Tory seats where voters are dissatisfied with the government.

Ms Cooper will say: “It’s not just that they’ve blown a hole in our economy, driven our NHS into the ground, and allowed water companies to pour sewage into our rivers and onto our beaches with impunity. The most unforgivable thing about this Conservative government is that they’ve broken people’s hope.

“Whilst we are ashamed of this government, we are so proud of our country and of our NHS. We know that there are millions of people across the UK who share our vision and want to live in a liberal Britain. Between now and the next general election, it’s up to us to show them a brighter future is possible.”

Speaking on Saturday, former leader Vince Cable said the Lib Dems would not be looking to do a deal with Labour after the election, and that there were no discussions of a “confidence and supply” arrangement between the two parties.

On the first day of his party’s annual conference from Bournemouth, Sir Vince said there was “every reason to be buoyant and optimistic”.

“They’ve had this succession of good by-election results, and very good local election results, with very effective organisation and targeting, which has done very well,” he told broadcaster GB News.

“There are good expectations that when the election comes, we’ll get a substantial number of MPs.”

Cooperation between the two largest opposition parties has been tested by the impending by-election in Mid Bedfordshire – where both sides have sent activists and hope to win.

Previous mid-term contests have generally seen one party or the other run a low-key campaign in a bid to unseat a sitting Tory candidate.

Asked about the situation unfolding in the seat, Sir Vince said: “There are cases in these very large constituencies – North Shropshire is a good example – where we came from a low base after the election in 2019 to win, so my opinion is that we can do very well.” Polls suggest a three-way contest, with Labour slightly ahead.

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