Sir Ed Davey back on the water to highlight state of British rivers

Sir Ed Davey has once again taken to the waters to draw attention to the “appalling” state of British rivers in the Liberal Democrat leader’s latest stunt.

Sir Ed was joined by the party’s candidate for Bicester and Woodstock, Calum Miller, as the pair paddled around the River Cherwell in Thrupp, Oxfordshire, on aqua-bikes with local members of the party on Sunday.

The latest water-based stunt looked to rally voters in the Conservative-held constituency, which party activists are feeling confident they will be able to win because of mounting anger in the area at the Government.

The party is benefiting from a feeling that voters in areas like Bicester are “taken for granted” by the Conservatives, Sir Ed told the PA news agency.

General Election campaign 2024
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey uses an aqua-bike on the River Cherwell in Oxford (Jacob Freedland/PA)

He said: “Let’s be frank, people [here] don’t want the Conservatives anymore. They feel like they’re being taken for granted. They feel like the party’s left them.

“Farmers feel like they’ve lost out. The health service isn’t what it used to be. The economy is really tough for many people. People are saying the Conservatives no longer deserve a vote, and we’re getting people who have never voted anything other than Conservative switching to us.

“People are looking for a different home and they know that in places like this we’re the only party that can win.”

The Lib Dem leader also drew attention to what the party was offering voters, adding: “We’ve got great candidates like Calum Miller here. Our message is that health and care is our top priority. That’s resonated with people, particularly on GPs and dentists but also personal care for the elderly and disabled.

“Our sewage campaign has struck home and we are the main party that’s been campaigning on it. I think quite a lot of people in areas like this value their countryside, they value their rivers, and they’re quite shocked they’ve been treated this badly.”

The party plans to introduce “Blue Flag” rivers, which would give them special protective status for swimmers and wildlife.

Sir Ed dismissed suggestions that the party was entering an alliance with Labour, stating: “No, political parties put their resources where they think they can win.

“Here in Bicester Woodstock everyone knows it’s a fight between us and the Conservatives. When you look at the local election results or the polls, it has us narrowly winning with Labour far behind.

“I’ve come here twice during the campaign. I don’t think Mr Starmer’s come here.

“Across Oxfordshire, our results are looking very promising. Oxfordshire is the place where the Lib Dems are taking the fight to the Conservatives.”

Donning a pair of colourful speedos and a grey wetsuit top, Sir Ed confidently waved to reporters once he got the hang of the aqua-bike.

He reflected: “I’ve never been on one of these bikes before and it was slightly difficult to steer, but it was very very relaxing and I can imagine going down the canal having a lovely time.”

Sir Ed stayed dry during this latest stunt, admitting he had to “check” the water to make sure it was safe to fall in.

He said he chose today’s location because of the party’s campaign on sewage: “We’ve been talking about sewage for a while and our stunts – falling off a paddle in Lake Windermere – that was deliberate because of what United Utilities has done, pumping their sewage into it. It’s quite appalling.

“That story is told in so many places. I was talking to two people here who regularly kayak on the Thames and they said they do it less now. They’ve got Henley Regatta coming up and you hear rowers saying they’d get e coli if they fell in.”

Asked if that was why he didn’t want to fall in during today’s stunt, Sir Ed said: “No, I fall in a few places but we’ve had the water checked.

“Let’s be clear, not every stretch of the Thames is dangerous, but people have to check now. That’s not happened before.”