(Bloomberg) -- UK Liberal Democrat Leader Ed Davey pledged to target a swathe of Conservative-held seats at the next general election as he put health and social care at the heart of his pitch to the British electorate.
Britons are “desperate for change” from the “bad TV soap opera” of recent Conservative rule, Davey is due to say in his keynote speech to his party’s conference in Bournemouth on Tuesday afternoon. After a string of huge swings saw the Liberal Democrats wrest four constituencies from the Tories in special elections since June 2021, he warned the party is aiming for more at the next general election.
“Over the last few years, we have taken big chunks out of the Blue Wall,” Davey will say, referring to areas of the south and south-west of England where his party is in second place to the Tories. “Our job now is to bring it tumbling down.”
The revival of the Liberal Democrats is one of the key headwinds facing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as he tries to retain power in a national vote that he must hold by January 2025 at the latest. With the main opposition Labour Party enjoying a double-digit poll lead, the premier can ill-afford to shed traditionally Tory-voting seats in rural and more affluent areas to the Liberal Democrats.
The Liberal Democrats are also buoyed by the prospect of playing a king-maker role after the next election in the event that Labour doesn’t win enough seats to have an outright majority.
In that scenario they could make demands — such as policy concessions or ministerial positions — in exchange for their support. Over the last few days Davey has repeatedly declined to rule out an informal post-election pact with Labour, and when pressed on the matter on Monday, he again refused to do so.
“Beyond ruling out a coalition with the Conservatives and any dealing with the Conservatives, I am not going to speculate what else could happen,” Davey said in a Sky News interview. “I am clear about our need to beat lots of Conservative MPs to get more Liberal Democrat MPs elected and I am not going to speculate what else may happen after polling day.”
In his conference speech — excerpts of which were briefed in advance by his party — Davey is due to say that the Liberal Democrats will focus on issues such as health and social care at the next election, while slamming the Tory record, including record National Health Service waiting lists.
“Britain isn’t working because the Conservatives aren’t working,” Davey is due to say. “They’re more like a bad TV soap opera than a functioning government. Each episode worse than the last. Well it’s time to change the channel.”
Davey has shifted his party’s focus away from Britain’s relationship with the EU since their drubbing in the 2019 election — the Lib Dems campaigned then on a platform to cancel Brexit and only won 11 out of the 650 seats in the House of Commons. Party insiders said the pivot is because Brexit is now less of a concern for voters, compared to issues such as the cost-of-living squeeze and the state of the NHS.
Their next aim is to win the Conservative seat of Mid Bedfordshire at a by-election on Oct. 19, though there is a risk that the progressive vote is split between them and Labour.
“The British people are desperate to see the back of this appalling, out-of-touch Conservative government,” Davey will say. “We are the ones who can make it happen.”
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