Ed Davey: Lib Dem leader to woo Labour voters in conference speech

The Liberal Democrat leader will talk about overseas aid and rising living costs at the event in York.

Ed Davey: Lib Dem leader to woo Labour voters in conference speech
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By Paul Seddon
Politics reporter

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey will set out his pitch to Labour voters later, as he hones his strategy to target Tory-held seats at the next general election.

At the party's spring conference in York, he will highlight his commitment to causes such as overseas aid and tackling rising living costs.

He is also expected to talk about the party's vision for the NHS and carers.

It is his first speech to a full conference since taking over in 2020.

He had been planning to deliver a speech at the party's autumn conference last year, but it was cancelled due to the Queen's death.

It came after leaders' speeches to other conferences during the Covid pandemic were scaled back or delivered mainly online.

In an address that is not expected to outline new policies, Sir Ed will talk about his own values and where he wants to take the party.

The Lib Dems are planning to target Tory-held seats across the south of England at the general election, expected next year.

They want to attract votes from liberally-minded Conservative and Labour supporters in these often rural areas which they have dubbed the "Blue Wall".

Although they won three by-elections in Tory areas last year, their national poll ratings are only around 9%. They currently have 14 MPs.

Internationalist pledge

In his speech, Sir Ed will say his party would seek a closer economic relationship with Europe to "fix Britain's trade" if it was in government.

Action against sewage spills, which the party has put at the centre of its campaigning over the past year or so, will also be cited as an example of the party's commitment to "community politics".

The Lib Dem leader, who served as a cabinet minister with the Conservatives in the coalition government, will also seek to burnish his internationalist credentials to draw a dividing line with the Tories.

He will attack Prime Minister Rishi Sunak as "unpatriotic" for cutting UK foreign aid spending as chancellor in 2021, and describe the government's latest asylum bill as "appalling".

His party argues aid spending should be returned to the 0.7% of GDP benchmark immediately.

It sees this as a point of difference with Labour, which says it wants to return to 0.7% but has not yet set out a target date for doing so.

Sir Ed will also talk up his party's support for ditching the UK's first-past-the-post system for parliamentary elections, underlining that his party has supported electoral reform "for a hundred years".

Labour members backed calls to change the voting system at its party conference in September - but the policy is not expected to be in the party's election manifesto.

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