Big test for Lib Dems as they try to emerge from the desert and take Conservative seats | Political news


The sun is shining in Taunton and Lib Dem leader Ed Davey has his shirt sleeves rolled up as he hands out leaflets in the Somerset town of Blue Wall.

He is here with local Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Gideon Amos and they are enthusiastically knocking on doors pushing leaflets into letterboxes.

And they’re right to feel sunny: After being routed by the Tories in the 2015 general election – losing all but eight of their 57 parliamentary seats – the Lib Dems stormed home in last month’s local elections, winning 46% of the vote and gaining control of Somerset Council.

After years in the desert, this part of England is finally becoming fertile ground for a Liberal Democrat fightback.

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The big test will come this week when the Lib Dems try to win Tory strongholds Tiverton and Honiton in Thursday’s by-election. The Lib Dems once held 10 seats in this part of the world before suffering total annihilation in the South West in 2015 after losing all 10 parliamentary seats.

Ed Davey tells Beth Rigby the Lib Dems are a ‘community political party’ again

It would be a huge victory – and a surprise – if Mr Davey could overthrow a majority of 24,000 Tories and take that seat. The party says it would be the largest such margin ever overcome in a by-election, but insists it is within their reach, after an internal poll emerged suggesting the party was only tracking slightly conservative, with 46% support against the Liberal Democrats 44%.

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This emerging battleground has been dubbed the Blue Wall – the southern English parliamentary constituencies, which have traditionally voted Conservative but are generally opposed to Brexit and could be vulnerable to gains by the Lib Dems or Labour.

Two recent by-elections have confirmed this possible trend, with the true blue constituency of Buckingham, Chesham & Amersham becoming Lib Dem in June 2021, followed by victory in North Shropshire in December of the same year, as the Lib Dems have overturned a Tory majority of 23,000. in the second-biggest run from the Tories to the Lib Dems (or their predecessors) in a by-election since 1945.

Now the Lib Dems are hoping to start over.

Kimmy talks to Beth Rigby in Taunton
Kimmy says Tories ‘have not done a particularly great job so far’

Mr Davey believes the Lib Dems’ revival is due to a number of factors. There’s the long detox from the Liberal Democrat brand so tarnished by years of coalition (I suggest to Mr Davey that the Lib Dems have become a protest party again, he responds that it’s more that the Lib Dems are again a “community political party”).

But the Lib Dems are undoubtedly profiting from the failures of the Boris Johnson government, whether it be the long-running turmoil and damage caused by the Partygate affair, or Mr Johnson’s emphasis on those Red Wall seats in the North and the Midlands.

“I talked about the Blue Wall seats after Chesham and Amersham won and there was this kind of metropolitan blue wall that we talk about, and now there’s a rural blue wall as we go into these conservative lands,” said said Ed Davey. over a cup of tea at the Piccalilli Line Cafe in Taunton.

“There’s no doubt we hear it on the doorstep wherever we are, they feel like the Conservative Party has taken them for granted and that’s partly…they have l feel focused elsewhere in the country and have forgotten other parts of the country.”

There is certainly a whiff of government midterm blues and frustration with the economy as we chat with people enjoying the sunshine in Taunton’s shopping centre. Kimmy tells me she always voted Conservative before, but maybe she doesn’t now. “I just don’t think they haven’t done a particularly outstanding job so far.”

Another Conservative supporter told me something similar: “I just think they’re terrible nationally. I think they have completely misunderstood what ordinary people want and need in terms of the cost of living crisis. I mean, look around, people are really in trouble.”

Beth Rigby in Taunton
Tory supporter tells Beth Rigby: ‘I just think they’re terrible nationally’

Amanda, a Lib Dem voter, thinks Tiverton next door could turn yellow this time around. “It’s very blue here, but I think even the real blues are sick of what’s going on, just with the lies…it’s not good.”

For Mr Davey, this by-election could be a symbol of bigger things, as protest votes add up to parliamentary seats and the Lib Dems once again become a force in national politics after being so badly burned in the general election of 2015.

And part of that for the Lib Dem leader is a promise to potential changemakers that there will be no coalition with the Tories, which he clearly rules out outright. “I have been very clear, I will not put the Conservatives back in government. I will not allow Boris Johnson to be Prime Minister.”

As for Keir Starmer, the Lib Dem leader is less clear, refusing to rule out the possibility of forming a coalition or some other deal with Labour, saying so (repeatedly).

“I make it clear that we will put forward Liberal Democrat policies, and the more Liberal Democrat MPs we have, the more we will fight for those. It may be a minority government, who knows what it will be.”

Beth Rigby in Taunton
Tory supporter tells Beth Rigby: ‘I just think they’re terrible nationally’

For all the attention on the red wall and the Labor fightback after 2019, the blue wall is now another emerging frontier that threatens to catch the vast majority of Mr Johnson in a pincer movement.

‘The blue wall is key to the geography of British politics in the upcoming election,’ observes Mr Davey, who says the Lib Dems are ‘attacking the Tories at heart’.

On Thursday, the Prime Minister faces battles on two key electoral fronts – the blue wall in Tiverton and Honiton, and the red wall in Wakefield, and he could well lose both, which will only rattle restless MPs further.

It also raises a question in my mind as to whether this ‘progressive alliance’ between the Liberal Democrats and Labor will build ahead of the 2024 general election.

Mr. Davey will do no business with Mr. Johnson, but he left me with the distinct impression that he would deal with Sir Keir.

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