Lib Dem leader Ed Davey launches 'Tory Removal Service'

4 Jan 2024

With four historic by-election wins and sweeping gains in last May’s elections - it’s clear that voters across the country are turning to the Liberal Democrats for change at this year’s General Election

The party leader drove a poster van displaying the message through Guildford, a Lib Dem election target. 

He also visited the constituencies represented by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Communities Secretary Michael Gove.

The Lib Dems have won four seats from the Tories in by-elections since 2019, three of them in the south of England. 

These were in Chesham and Amersham in Buckinghamshire, Tiverton and Honiton in Devon, and Somerton and Frome in Somerset, increasing the party's number of MPs to 15.

Mr Gove held Surrey Heath with a majority of 18,349 over his Lib Dem opponent at the last general election, but the Lib Dems are seeking to build on a series of gains in recent local polls. 

They took control of Surrey Heath Council in May 2023, and have also become the largest party on Waverley Borough Council in Mr Hunt's area. 

A leaflet accompanying the poster describes the Lib Dems as the "Blue Wall's Premium Conservative MP unseating service", including repairing NHS waiting times, ending raw sewage discharges, and tackling cost-of-living issues. 

Sir Ed also called for the general election to be held in May, adding "let's move the Conservatives out of government". 

He said the party would put forward legislation next week restoring the Fixed Term Parliaments Act - introduced by the coalition government in 2011, but repealed by Boris Johnson's administration in 2022 - which would force a general election on 2 May.

Sunak 'clinging on' 

He told an audience of cheering activists - some of whom were carrying cardboard removal boxes - that Rishi Sunak would block the idea "because he knows he's going to lose". 

Sir Ed said 2024 would be the year voters "finally get to pack up" the Conservative government. 

But he added: "We shouldn't have to wait. It shouldn't be up to Rishi Sunak to cling on for another 12 months, desperate for something to turn up, doing even more damage as he holds his fractured party together." 

The Lib Dems have embraced the "blue wall" slogan - focusing heavily on Conservative seats, predominantly though not exclusively in the south and south west of England that they think they can win at the next election.

The strategy has paid off in recent by-elections, but some in the party have suggested targeting disgruntled Tory voters alone is not enough.

In November, several senior party figures wrote to The Guardian, calling for the party to be bolder in highlighting its policies on Europe, the environment, political reform and public services. 

So far, Sir Ed's approach has been rewarded with the party scooping up Conservative parliamentary and council seats.

But with a general election looming this year, it is likely that opposition parties of all colours come under stronger pressure to spell out what people should vote for, as well as against.

Sir Ed did not attack Labour, and the emergence of a Labour document describing Lib Dem targets as "non-battleground seats" has fuelled suspicions that the two parties have reached an informal agreement.

But, speaking on Radio 4's World at One programme, the Lib Dem leader denied that, suggesting that Labour, like other parties, was targeting its resources. 

"There has been absolutely no deal, there hasn't been, there won't be," he added. 

Sir Ed defended his focus on Tory areas in southern England as "ruthless and sensible".

In 2019, Mr Hunt held his South West Surrey constituency with a 8,817 majority over his Lib Dem rival.

Following boundary changes, he is expected to contest the new seat of Godalming and Ash at the next election, expected this year.

Other Lib Dem target seats in Surrey include Esher and Walton, Woking, Dorking and Horley, and Epsom and Ewell. 

The Liberal Democrats have been recording around 11% in recent opinion polls, compared with around 9% for Reform UK, whose leader Richard Tice has been setting out his own new year pitch to voters.

In the coming days, both Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Mr Sunak will follow suit.

By Chas Geiger, Alex Forsyth & Peter Saull, BBC Politics, 3 January 2024