Ed Davey knocks down blue wall with yellow mallet
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Sarah Olney reveals her party has a “modest” plan to double their seats at the next general election.
She told Express.co.uk: “We want to double our number of MPs both at the next election and at the one after that.”
If the Liberal Democrats were able to deliver such gains by 2029 the party would return their largest number of MPs since Nick Clegg’s successful campaign in 2010.
The MP for Richmond Park claimed Sir Ed Davey’s party are receiving newfound support in the Tories pro-Remain southern heartlands as “there is not a huge amount of support for Boris”.
The Lib Dems’ spokesperson for climate, business and transport said: “One of the things that really struck me was that a lot of liberal Tory voters don’t like Boris, they were very much voting against Jeremy Corbyn.”
“Once you’ve taken away the twin pillars of the Tory election success in 2019 – get Brexit done and Boris isn’t Jeremy Corbyn – I don’t know what will push Boris doubters into the Tory camp,” she added.
While Ms Olney highlighted how accusations of “cronyism” are a problem for the Conservative Party amongst Blue Wall voters, she also suggested the Tories’ pivot on cultural issues has alienated supporters in their shire heartlands.
“Some of the tough talk on immigration is being perceived as a way of appealing to Red Wall voters but it doesn’t appeal to Blue Wall voters in the same way,” she said.
The Europhile MP claimed a lot of 2019 Tory voters who backed Britain staying in the continental bloc were happy to get Brexit done but were now “feeling dismayed” by Boris’ rhetoric on Brussels.
Even though Blue Wall constituencies voted to Remain in the 2016 referendum, Olney said the gradual move away from the Tories in these seats has only been “accelerated by Brexit and by Boris”.
But she was quick to clarify the Liberal Democrats had improved in the Blue Wall for some time before the vote on European membership.
“It’s not just since Brexit”, she said, “it’s in the last five to 10 years.”
Olney highlighted how the swing away from the Tories in Surrey has been particularly impressive.
She said: “When I was growing up there it was just completely Tory.”
The Liberal Democrats made five gains across Surrey in the 2021 local elections.
The party also made gains in Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Guildford, Hertfordshire, Oxfordshire, St Albans, Tunbridge Wells, Woking and Wokingham.
The 44-year-old MP said her experience canvassing in the recent Chesham & Amersham by-election demonstrated how many ex-Conservative voters were now “receptive” to the Liberal Democrats.
The Liberal Democrats’ Sarah Green overturned the Conservatives’ 16,223-vote majority to turn Chesham & Amersham orange for the first time.
Following the party’s emphatic victory in the Buckinghamshire constituency, many political pundits have suggested the Conservatives were punished at the ballot box over HS2 and the Chilterns housing development proposals.
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Ms Olney pointed out the Liberal Democrats themselves support HS2 and added: “I wouldn’t say HS2 in itself was actually a massive issue.”
The MP for Richmond Park did however claim proposed housing developments did have a significant impact at the ballot box.
She argued the Tories were seen as pushing ahead with measures “that suit the developers” over local communities.
In 2019, the Liberal Democrats, then led by the now defeated MP Jo Swinson, failed to paint the Blue Wall orange even with a so-called ‘Remain Alliance’.
When asked if the party would consider partnering with the Greens in an attempt to oust prominent Tories, Olney could not “categorically” rule out doing a deal with Jonathan Bartley’s party.
Instead, she said: “We are confident in our ability both to position ourselves as the principal challenger to the Tories and also to be able to demonstrate to people we are the party to back if you want action on climate change.”
“The general view is probably slightly more anti-pact with the Greens,” she added.
But Olney also said the Tories face an “electoral crisis” in the south of England over housing.
“What’s interesting is that the Tories have won their historic majorities in the south east on top of homeowners, but partly because of Tory policy on maintaining house prices at the expense of almost anything else, that pool of voters is now shrinking,” she claimed
In a recent YouGov poll, the Liberal Democrats were said to have registered enough support in the Blue Wall to overturn Conservative majorities in Cheltenham, Winchester and Wimbledon.
However, in the last general election, the Lib Dems finished second across 80 seats in England and Wales.
In 44 of these constituencies, the Tory MP was elected with a majority smaller than the late Dame Gillan had in Chesham & Amersham.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has been singled out as a Conservative MP that could be particularly vulnerable.
His seat of Esher and Walton experienced the largest swing of any constituency in the 2019 general election.
The shift in Raab’s formerly safe Surrey seat has continued since with the Liberal Democrats making a staggering gain in a recent local by-election in the ward of Cobham & Downside.
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