Tory voters in southern heartlands are set to turn against Boris Johnson because they believe he is “not a decent man”, Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey has claimed.
Traditional Conservatives in “Blue Wall” constituencies the party has “taken for granted” could switch allegiance as the Tories focus on Red Wall seats they seized in the 2019 general election, according to Sir Ed.
Speaking to the Mirror on the eve of Lib Dem conference, he launched a blistering, personal attack on the Prime Minister, accusing Mr Johnson of “breaking promises left, right and centre”.
“He has been proven to not tell the truth time and time again, I think he plays to people’s prejudices,” he said.
“There’s something that a Prime Minister should have – even if you disagree with them, they should be able to command respect, that they tell the truth, they work hard and they do the very best they can.
“He doesn’t recognise the truth, he’s completely incompetent and I don’t think he works hard.
“This is what Conservative voters are telling us – they don’t think he’s decent.”
Sir Ed said voters in a June by-election where the Lib Dems beat the Tories were put off by the thrice-married PM, who has six children by three different women.
“I was really staggered, genuinely – I didn’t expect so many traditional, lifelong Conservatives saying, ‘We will never vote Tory while Boris Johnson is leading them’,” he said.
“There is a real dislike of him because he’s a populist, he doesn’t share traditional Conservative values, he’s anti-business. A lot of Conservative voters say, ‘You’re not a Conservative like me’.”
He went on: “The overriding need, and my overriding priority, is to get rid of Boris Johnson.
“I think he is not a decent man.
“What was interesting in talking to lifelong Tory voters, they don’t believe that he is a decent person, they think he is incompetent and they don’t think he shares their values.”
Sir Ed believes the Tories are vulnerable to a pincer movement at the next election, with Labour set for a resurgence in the Red Wall of the North and Midlands, and the Lib Dems ready to attack the Conservatives’ southern flank, where Labour often struggles.
“Clearly the Blue Wall is critical because that’s where only we can win,” said Sir Ed, 55.
“There’s no doubt that where we can inflict the biggest damage on the Conservatives – where no-one else can – is across these Blue Wall seats.”
The latest claims of a Lib Dem revival were triggered in June with the party’s stunning Chesham and Amersham by-election triumph.
The Tories were defending a 16,223 majority but the Lib Dems won by 8,028 votes.
However, the Lib Dems won Brecon and Radnorshire from the Tories in a July 2019 by-election after pumping resources into the campaign – only to surrender the seat five months later when they were unable to commit similar resources during a general election battle.
Sir Ed insisted the Chesham victory was “absolutely not” another flash in the pan like Brecon – claiming the Lib Dems were poised to win “a load of seats” from the Conservatives.
“It’s a message that even in their heartlands they can now be beaten,” he said.
He pointed to “extraordinary” local election results in Wiltshire, Surrey, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire and Oxfordshire in May as evidence of a yellow resurrection.
“When we were knocking on doors, people really feel the Conservatives and Boris Johnson have taken them for granted,” he said.
“They feel that they work hard, pay their taxes, bring up their kids and the Government is just not doing its bit.
“They want a fair deal, whether its for carers, for small business, for parents – and they don’t feel they’re getting it.
“It’s that frustration – indeed, disappointment, even anger with the Conservatives, that I think we can use to win a load of seats.
“What Chesham and Amersham shows is that we can beat the Conservatives in their heartlands.”
Sir Ed was speaking in Hinchley Wood, part of Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab’s Surrey constituency of Esher and Walton.
A huge Lib Dem effort to oust him at the 2019 election failed, but the party slashed his majority from 23,298 to just 2,743.
It is exactly the sort of leafy, Home Counties constituency Sir Ed believes the party can win and where Labour is unlikely to compete.
Swathes of Tory constituencies are under threat, he said – and claiming them could force the PM from No10 if Red Wall voters also return to Labour.
“The potential for us to play a critical role at the next general election has grown dramatically,” he said.
“The potential for us to be the people who ultimately get Boris Johnson out, because we are the ones who can beat them in his heartland, is massive.”
Unlike the Conservatives and Labour, Lib Dems hold a virtual conference again this year, though 200 activists will be in the room in Canary Wharf, East London, when Sir Ed addresses the party faithful on Sunday.
Internal reforms he has ordered, including moving party headquarters across Westminster, mean the Lib Dems are better-placed for the next election, he said.
“I think the party is in a really good mood,” he added.
Lib Dems lost ‘south west’ heartland voters to the Tories in last election
Lib Dem “heartlands” are where the party was beaten by the Conservatives less than two years ago, according to Sir Ed Davey.
Lib Dems used to call the South West their heartlands, with strongholds and MPs in Cornwall, Devon and Dorset.
But at the 2015 election, after five years propping up the Tories in coalition, the party was vanquished in the region.
Now, the Lib Dems are more popular in Remain-supporting South West London, with three MPs, than Brexit-backing South West England, where they have none.
Their most westerly MP in England is in Bath.
But former Energy Secretary Sir Ed denied abandoning its former fortress.
Asked if the party had “given up” on the South West, he insisted: “No, not at all.”
He added: “The South West has real problems with things like pay, second homes and a lack of affordable housing for local people.
“The Conservatives have literally done nothing, they’ve made it worse.”
He claimed the Lib Dems’ new strongholds were the dozens of seats where the party’s candidates were runners up to the Tories at the 2019 general election.
Asked to describe the Lib Dems current heartlands, Sir Ed said: “Anywhere we’re second place to the Tories is probably the quickest description.”