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Sunak has ‘given up’, says Davey as he urges Lib Dems to ‘smash blue wall’

Sunak has ‘given up’, says Davey as he urges Lib Dems to ‘smash blue wall’

Sir Ed Davey has told the Liberal Democrats spring conference that the Prime Minister “sounds like he’s already given up” and that setting the general election date is “pretty much the only thing left that Rishi Sunak controls any more”.

The Lib Dem leader said the Tories “no longer represent British values of decency, tolerance and the rule of law”, as he challenged members to “smash the blue wall” at the national vote.

The Lib Dems are using the gathering in York to prepare for a further push into traditional Conservative strongholds, particularly seeking to win over voters in the south and south-west of England.

Sir Ed rallied members to “make this a once-in-a-generation election” as he argued that his party was the only one to offer “transformational change”, while the Tories and Labour were just “tinkering around the edges”.

Mr Sunak this week ruled out holding an election on May 2, indicating that he would send the country to the polls in the latter half of 2024.

In his speech on Sunday, Sir Ed said the election date was “pretty much the only thing left that Rishi Sunak controls any more”.

“He certainly doesn’t control his party. Certainly not his Cabinet. Certainly not the healthcare crisis or the economy,” he said.

“In fact, the Prime Minister sounds like he’s given up.”

Sir Ed accused the Prime Minister of “outrageously running down the clock” and “squatting” in Downing Street “while the crises facing our country just get worse and worse”.

The Tories were overseeing “political, economic and financial instability” because they had “been consumed by the most damaging, never-ending soap opera in British political history”, the Kingston and Surbiton MP said.

“And Tory MPs have given us another episode this weekend, with plots for yet another prime minister – a fourth in less than two years,” he added.

It comes as Mr Sunak faces reports that some Conservative MPs are plotting to replace him before the election, and criticism over his handling of the emergence of alleged racist remarks about an MP by major Tory donor Frank Hester.

Addressing the racism row, Sir Ed said: “If this week’s news has shown anything, it’s that we must also cap donations to political parties.

Frank Hester apology
Mr Sunak faced criticism over his handling of the emergence of alleged racist remarks about an MP by major Tory donor Frank Hester, pictured (CHOGM Rwanda 2022/YouTube/PA)

“So that even the wealthiest racists cannot buy power and influence over the Conservative Party.

“The party that brought us Boris Johnson, Suella Braverman and Lee Anderson, proudly funded by a man who made the most appalling racist and sexist comments – the Conservatives no longer represent British values of decency, tolerance and the rule of law.”

Sir Ed urged Mr Sunak to call a national vote immediately, saying the Lib Dems were “up for the fight” and “the country can’t wait a moment longer to see the back of this terrible Conservative Government”.

“We can make this a once-in-a-generation election,” he said.

“In so many parts of the country, only we can beat the Conservatives. And we must.”

Rishi Sunak
The Prime Minister this week ruled out holding a general election on May 2 (Leon Neal/PA)

He argued the case for having more Lib Dem MPs in Parliament, saying: “The mess our country is in demands not a plan to tweak things, but a plan to transform everything.

“Tinkering around the edges won’t come close to solving anything, and yet that’s what both the Conservatives and Labour are offering. They’re both trying to cloak themselves in the costume of change, but they’re both really saying ‘keep things the same’.

“The Liberal Democrat approach is so different, because we don’t just want to change things on the surface – paper over the cracks but leave the foundations to crumble underneath – we want real change”.

He said that would only happen “if we change our political system”, as he called for proportional representation to replace the first-past-the-post set-up.

Repealing the Fixed Term Parliaments Act was “a shameless act of Conservatives rigging the system in their favour”, he added.

Sir Ed also made the crisis in the NHS and social care central to his conference address, setting out “big, bold reforms” to ensure people could see a GP, NHS dentist or pharmacist when they needed to.

“Investing wisely in community services, to save lives and save money in the long-run, instead of just throwing cash at crisis after crisis with nothing to show for it,” he said.

He called on all parties “to include in their manifestos a cast-iron commitment to finally hold cross-party talks on social care to finally forge the agreement that has been kicked down the road for far too long”.

The Lib Dems won 11 seats at the 2019 general election, but have since gained formerly Conservative constituencies across southern England in a series of by-elections.

These have included Chesham and Amersham in Buckinghamshire, Frome in Somerset and Tiverton and Honiton in Devon.

But some polls suggest the Reform UK party has overtaken the Lib Dems in popularity across the UK.

Tory Party chairman Richard Holden said: “Sir Ed Davey’s vacuous ramblings told the country nothing about what the Lib Dems stand for. Just like Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour Party, they can’t say what they would do, because they don’t have a plan.

“A vote for the Liberal Democrats would mean going back to square one under a Sir Keir Starmer-led Labour Government – and that will inevitably mean more borrowing and more taxes on working people.”