Ed Davey: Lib Dems to target Labour voters in ‘blue wall’ swing seats

Ed Davey has been talking with the Guardian ahead of our Spring Conference. He outlines more about the Blue Wall strategy that the party has adopted – targeting parliamentary seats that are currently held by the Conservatives but where we were in second place.

The planned campaign of letters in Conservative-held commuter belt constituencies where the Lib Dems are the main challengers will be intended to persuade Labour supporters to lend their vote – not just as a means to change the government but because “they feel an affinity with us”, Davey said.

The letters, from Davey himself, will set out the Lib Dems’ promise to immediately restore overseas aid to 0.7% of GDP, saying it was vital the UK properly supported people in places such as Syria and Afghanistan.

For experienced campaigners there is nothing really new about this, although in the past the party has not always revealed its hand so clearly.

Ed said:

We want to make sure that in seats like these, people who would otherwise vote Labour aren’t voting for us just because we’re the only ones who can beat the Conservatives.

I’d like them to do it because they actually quite like us, and they feel an affinity with us. And I think they should with some of the positions we’ve been taking.

This isn’t being competitive against Labour in these seats, and I’m not trying to say you’re wrong to be Labour inclined. My push is to say: look at the Liberal Democrats. We share a lot in common.

When challenged about the party’s 9% standing in most polls he said:

In actual elections, I think we’re doing extraordinarily well.

I think the polls are quite a signal of anti-Conservative thinking. I’m not having a go at Labour, but I just don’t think that they have sealed the deal with people.

What that means is that where we are the clear anti-Conservative party, it is quite easy to persuade Labour voters to vote for us, because they’re really voting against the Conservatives.

The Leader’s speech is timed for midday on Sunday, and it will actually be the first time that Ed Davey will have delivered it in-person (although he did do it online at previous conferences).

* Mary Reid is a contributing editor on Lib Dem Voice. She was a councillor in Kingston upon Thames, where she is still very active with the local party, and is the Hon President of Kingston Lib Dems.

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  • richard malim 17th Mar '23 - 4:13pm

    Remember the left vote is small in these SE constituencies. Reducing the labour vote to under 5,000 say 8% has already been achieved in 2019 in 7 of the10 seats where Con maj over LD was less than 5,000:there is not much soft left surplus to play for. Under 2 percent swing will see Cheltenham, Winchester and Carshalton fall as ripe plums: the remaining 7 with a Lab vote under 8%, all have Con majorities over 2,000 or 3%. With the special conditions in London, Cities of London and W and Wimbledon cd be added similarly.
    Where in 2019 the Labour vote was over 6% perhaps the non-Corbynite surplus wd be vulnerable to LD assault: add in Cambridgeshire (Lab vote 12%, 5% required); Cheadle (same); Hazelgrove (12%, 6/7% required).
    For the seats where Con maj over 10,000, the soft left non Corbynite Left would have to provide 10/11% vote of Lab’s 2019 17% in Hitchen. In London 10% of Lab’s 24% in Finchley looks promising.
    So in a GE in 2024 with with the larger parties spending money like water, LD’s chance of doing much better in SE looks limited unless the campaign is pitched towards the returning non-voting non-Corbynite vote, and the extensive soft Con vote is not overalienated.
    Elsewhere the new boundaries Westmoreland and three Scots seats need heavy defending, Orkney’s LD 2500 majority in a small electorate looks solid enough with multi-split opposition

  • This tactic is rather obvious and nothing new. The problem is that targeting seats isn’t a strategy its just a way of allocating resources. Where is the plan to create a distinctive identity that leads to more voters identifying as natural liberal voters rather than relying on tactical votes?

  • So is the party (which claims to be in favour of the Union) still interested in :

    Aberdeenshire West,
    Argyll & Bute,
    Berwickshire Roxburgh & Selkirk,
    Birmingham Yardley,
    Bradford East,
    Brecon & Radnor,
    Bristol West,
    East Dunbartonshire,
    Hazel Grove,
    Inverness & Nairn,
    Leeds N.W.,
    Manchester Withington, Norfolk North,
    Norwich South,
    Ross Skye & Lochaber,
    Sheffield Hallam,
    Southport, plus of course Somerset, Devon & Cornwall et al… ?

  • David Le Grice 17th Mar '23 - 8:30pm

    Whilst it is critical that we give labour supporters positive reasons to vote for us why would we be going with international aid of all things?
    It’s not talked about that much and will only appeal to more affluent Guardian reading voters; working class labour supporters will need us to offer something that would actually be helpful to them personally!

  • James Fowler 17th Mar '23 - 10:20pm

    What Marco said.

  • It is hard to see any social or foreign policy issue catching the attention of voters in the midst of a cost of living crisis. As with so many prior election campaigns – “it’s the economy, stupid” will most probably take centre stage. People care about the economy, and they a party who can improve a dismal economic outlook.
    As William Wallace has written in his recent article “we will fade away as a party unless we develop distinctive narratives about how to promote liberal values in our society, economy, environment and international policy. We should, for example, be picking up the themes being developed by policy-related economists, criticising the dominance of free-market assumptions and reintroducing political economy and the moral concerns that Adam Smith addressed in his first book, The Theory of Moral Sentiments.”

  • And what about a “planned campaign of letters in Labour-held constituencies where the Lib Dems are the main challengers will be intended to persuade Conservative supporters to lend their vote”?

    In case anyone missed it, Labour have never done the Lib Dem’s any favours during elections – preferring to see seats go to the Conservatives rather than the Lib Dem’s or any other opposition party – so targeting just one of the big two duopoly parties is just silly.

  • Steve Trevethan 18th Mar '23 - 10:21am

    Might our current strategy be one of rearranging deck chairs?

    Might we change our strategy to one of motivating policies relevant to the better socio-economic circumstances of much the most of our citizenry, and their children, of whom around 30% are starving/permanently short of food.

  • What Marco said.

  • What David Raw said. Obviously in the west country StIves is the top target but we must not overlook N.Cornwall, N,Devon or Taunton.

  • Mel Borthwaite 18th Mar '23 - 7:43pm

    @David Raw
    Gordon constituency was gained by the SNP last election, from the Conservatives, by just 819 votes with the Liberal Democrat a further 17,000 votes behind on just 10% of the vote. Being realistic, it is unlikely that this seat will be returning the the Liberal Democrats any time soon.

  • @ Mel Borthwaite. I’m perfectly aware of the decline in Gordon, Mel Borthwaite. I simply listed seats which had a Lib Dem M.P. up until May, 2015. It reveals the decline in support since then.

    It is my view that to focus merely on so called ‘Blue Wall’ seats in the affluent Home Counties is a mistaken strategy. It is merely building castles in the sand with no long term sustainability. Dynamic leadership should extend itself throughout the UK not merely on low hanging fruit which will inevitably return to its traditional loyalties.

  • What about the Labour people who voted remain in thae Referendum “because they were lifelong socialists”? Those who like myself were in agreement with Corbyn on some things, thought some of his other ideas were bonkers and were appalled by his silence on the EU? Those who are at odds with their Leader who says he wants to make Brexit work’?

  • Martin Gray 19th Mar '23 - 7:40am

    @Geoff Reid… Labour lost 60 seats in the 2019 GE – 52 were leave seats . There policy of – we think you got this wrong , here have another referendum. Vote Remain or Vote Remain in all but name – was nearly as bad as ours.. Labour lost votes where it really mattered . Being pro EU just carried on piling votes up in its metropolitan base…It cost them dear…
    Our best hope at the next GE is to hold onto what we have . History has shown us – that by-election gains return to the previous incumbent party…

  • @Paul R: Natural Tory voters don’t seem to be very interested in anti-Labour tactical voting, and never have been. For the avoidance of doubt, I’m referring principally to die-hard Tories, of the sort who’d vote for the proverbial donkey with a blue rosette, rather than the Blue Wall ‘wets’ that Lib Dems are targeting. Hard Tories might tactically switch to us in a by-election against a hard Left Labour candidate (Greenwich 1987) or if they’ve received a phone call from the Tory leader of the time asking them to do so (Sheffield Hallam 2015GE), but it tends to unwind very quickly.

    “Labour have never done the Lib Dem’s any favours during elections – preferring to see seats go to the Conservatives rather than the Lib Dem’s”

    This is true of many Labour activists and apparatchiks, particularly Corbynites and Labour ‘dinosaurs’, but not ordinary Labour voters, who tend to be much less partisan. It’s the voters that we are aiming message at, not the partisans.

  • @David Raw: Among your list of past Lib Dem seats, obviously we’ll still be aiming to win back the ones where we are still in contention. Some of them (e.g. Hazel Grove) have a Blue Wall type profile, but just happen not to be in the London commuter belt. Others (e.g. Gordon as mentioned above) will be for the longer term.
    And we won a seat in Devon in a by-election recently. There is no intrinsic contradiction between targeting ‘new target’ Blue Wall seats and our historic heartlands. Often we would be reaching the same types of voters.

  • Anthony Acton 19th Mar '23 - 2:16pm

    It’s a great tactic for LDs to try to get Labour voters onside in target Blue Wall seats. But for the vast majority of the electorate – who don’t live in such seats – the party needs to offer more than being next best thing to Labour.

  • Alex Macfie 19th Mar '23 - 6:02pm

    “History has shown us – that by-election gains return to the previous incumbent party…”

    Some do, some don’t. It depends on the local and national circumstances at the time. Many Lib Dem and predecessor party MPs originally won their seats at by-elections and stayed in Parliament until they stood down.

  • Alex Macfie 19th Mar '23 - 6:06pm

    @Martin Gray: We aren’t Labour and the next GE will not be fought on the same battleground as 2019. Voters may be tired of the whole Brexit debate, but the failure of Brexit means that any “Get Brexit really done” message will ring hollow, and there is no point in us chasing yesterday’s polls or fighting the next GE campaign as if we were Labour fighting the campaign you think they should have done.

  • Richard O'Neill 19th Mar '23 - 6:19pm

    The current government has been in power way too long and needs to go. However at the moment a greater problem is a potential repeat of labour’s elective dictatorship between 1997 and 2007 given the scale of the landslide that is coming down the highway.

  • Following on from Richard O’Neill’s point, is it time to start talking about the “Orange Wall” i.e seats such as Sheffield Hallam, Bermondsey, Cambridge, Hornsey and Wood Green etc where Labour are 1st Lib Dems 2nd. These are some of the most socially liberal seats in the country and whilst we won’t win them in 2024, we could do in 2028 or 29.

  • Marco, Sheffield Hallam will be in play in 2024. It’s winnable.

    The task in the others you mention is to try to maintain a local base to be able to mount a serious challenge to Labour in a future GE.

  • @ Chris Moore – as it stands without a change in direction we have no prospect of taking Sheffield Hallam next year and indeed (on current boundaries) Labour may take target seats such as Wimbledon and Cities of London and Westminster from 3rd place. Then 3 seats in Scotland are vulnerable to the SNP although hopefully they may be starting to implode.

  • Alex Macfie 20th Mar '23 - 2:40pm

    @Marco: I wouldn’t know how the party is getting on in Cities of London & Westminster but what evidence you have about Wimbledon? Living nearby (and actually in a ward that might be transferred to Wimbledon constituency) I can assure you the local Lib Dems are very active there, and have reselected their very popular 2019 candidate Paul Kohler.

    If we win any seat from Labour at the next GE, it’ll be Sheffield Hallam.

  • @ Alex Macfie

    I was just going on the fact that Wimbledon was held by Labour between 1997-2005, that in 2019 they got 23% of the vote there and that polls suggest that 40% of 2019 Lib Dem voters are currently intending to vote Labour. Therefore, I think Labour will fancy their chances of taking Wimbledon.

  • Alex Macfie 20th Mar '23 - 6:53pm

    @Marco: You can’t interpolate nationwide polling figures at constituency level and expect a sensible analysis. In particular, you cannot apply at local level percentages of voters (as opposed to percentiles) shifting from one party to another in national polls. Constituency votes just don’t swing that way, so it leads to manifestly flawed conclusions such as the MRP poll from early 2021 that had then-PM Johnson losing his seat yet the Lib Dems reduced from 11 seats to 2 on a 3.5-percentile fall in nationwide vote share losing most seats in England to the Tories (e.g. losing Twickenham to the Tories on a 25-point fall in share of the vote, worse than in the same constituency in our disastrous 2015GE result).
    Percentile changes usually match far more accurately what happens at constituency level. But local factors will be far more important, especially voters knowing from our constituency campaigns that we are the main challenger to the Tories.

  • @ Alex Macfie – I agree that swings aren’t uniform, but tactical voting only works if a) you have national momentum going into an election and b) it is unambiguous that you are the clear challenger in the seat. That is not the case in a seat like Wimbledon where Labour only need a 7.5% swing (although it would probably help if Coombe is included). Happy to be proven wrong.

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