Having overturned a 16,000 majority in Chesham and Amersham, the party is confident that it can win over more disgruntled Tory voters.
After the shock by-election win in Chesham and Amersham, the Liberal Democrats are in a buoyant mood during their party conference. It’s obvious they think they can make further inroads into the Tory Blue wall in the south of England.
Having overturned a 16,000 majority in Chesham and Amersham, the party is confident that it can win over more disgruntled Tory voters. It came second to the Tories in 80 seats at the 2019 general election, even Dominic Raab’s constituency is now a major target. Party leader Ed Davey is placing a particular focus on winning over Tory voters who feel neglected and let down by Boris Johnson’s government, a theme cropping up repeatedly in his own speeches before the conference as well as of his MPs during it.
Among their latest efforts is a pledge to scrap emergency coronavirus laws as well as an emphasis on Liberal Democrats opposing vaccine passports.
Alistair Carmichael MP, the party’s Home Affairs spokesperson, in his conference speech yesterday described the powers contained in the emergency Coronavirus Act as “disproportionate, ill-considered and confusing”.
He added: “Since its introduction Crown Prosecution Figures show that there have been no fewer than 292 cases brought under the Act and not a single one brought correctly.
“The overwhelming majority of the provisions have never been used and the few that have been used – such as the fast track registration of medical professionals – are no longer needed.”
He wants to see the emergency Coronavirus Act to be scrapped entirely.
Davey even told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’re going to make a pitch for the votes of parents who feel let down and taken for granted by the Conservatives.
“They worry about their kids, particularly after the pandemic. We’re going to make a pitch for carers. I’ve been a carer most of my life. We should be the voice of carers.”
There is a particular focus on helping the self-employed and small businesses as Davey portrays his party as “pro-business, pro-enterprise, pro-free trade” telling the BBC last month that, “I think we have an affinity to this extremely large class of small business and self-employed people who have been let down by the Conservatives.”
The opposition to planning reforms that played such a key role in helping the party during the Chesham and Amersham by-election may be harder to capitalise on, now that the government has paused some of its plans.
Yet the party’s opposition to the Tories national insurance tax hike to pay for social care is a cause Davey feels passionate about and one that is close to his heart, he is a carer for his disabled son.
The Liberal Democrats have called for cross-party talks on how to fund social care in a fair and sustainable way, along with urgent action to fix the staffing crisis in care homes.
The attempt to woo Tory voters is a gamble that may well be causing difficulties with grassroots members. The party’s membership has declined by 27% in a year, with younger members blaming the party’s strong opposition against the Government’s proposed planning reforms. Is it a gamble that Davey could come to regret.
Basit Mahmood is co-editor of Left Foot Forward
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