The Lib Dems have identified 30 Tory seats mostly in the south of England where they want to “turn the blue wall yellow” at the next election, including Dominic Raab’s constituency of Esher and Walton.
Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, said the party was looking to take seats off the Conservatives, and hoped to have candidates in place in most of these constituencies by the end of January.
While not describing the seats as a target list, the party has pinpointed 30 constituencies where the Lib Dems would need just a 12% swing to topple the sitting Tory. This is around a third of the historic 34% swing to the Lib Dems that saw them win the North Shropshire byelection.
The list includes the Lewes seat of health minister Maria Caulfield, the Sutton and Cheam seat of business minister Paul Scully, the South West Surrey seat of former cabinet minister Jeremy Hunt. The first two are former Lib Dem seats but the Surrey constituency is a Tory heartland.
Davey stressed that “almost all of our marginal fights are against the Tories or in Scotland against the SNP”. Since the success of the Lib Dems in recent byelections, there has been a resurgence in speculation about the potential for a partnership between Labour and the Lib Dems after the next election if each can take enough seats off the Conservatives.
The Lib Dems also won a shock victory in Chesham and Amersham, the former seat of the late Dame Cheryl Gillan, a former Tory cabinet minister. The party is now hoping to replicate that success in dozens of marginal Conservative seats across the country, making early preparations for the next election.
Davey said there would be a new Lib Dem fighting fund, which is taking donations to expand ground operations in key marginal Conservative seats, as well as a “blue wall summit” later in 2022 to learn from its campaign byelection successes.
He said it was “simply a fact that the seats we have the best chance in are held by Conservatives”.
“But I want to get Boris Johnson out of No 10,” he added. “That is my strategic aim and it is increasingly clear there is no route to removing Boris Johnson’s Conservatives from power without us winning many, many more seats. We are the only credible challengers to them in many of their heartlands. Although we were third in North Shropshire in 2019, it was really clear that disaffected Tories would not vote Labour but they did see us as an alternative.”
There is only one byelection planned for early 2022, in the Southend West seat of the murdered Conservative MP David Amess, which is not being contested by candidates from the other major parties. The next general election is scheduled to be held in May 2024 under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, but it would be possible for one to be called earlier and many politicians believe it is more likely to be in May 2023.