General Election 2017: Big Liberal Democrat beasts poised for fightback

Tom Peck
Vince Cable has confirmed he will re-contest his old seat of Twickenham, which voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU: Getty

Big Liberal Democrat beasts from the coalition government are preparing for a return to Westminster, contesting overwhelmingly Remain-voting seats in London and fighting for its traditional base in the South-west.

Sir Vince Cable has confirmed he will stand in Twickenham, Ed Davey will stand again in his old Surbiton seat, and Sir Simon Hughes will re-contest Southwark.

Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said the party has been preparing for a snap election since last June, and will make opposition to Brexit the standout issue of the seven-week campaign, a strategy that has already brought them huge success in the Richmond Park by-election, in which the party defeated Zac Goldsmith.

“This election is your chance to change the direction of our country,” Mr Farron said. “If you want to avoid a disastrous hard Brexit, if you want to keep Britain in the single market, if you want a Britain that is open, tolerant and united, this is your chance. Only the Liberal Democrats can prevent a Conservative majority.”

A party spokesperson said more than 1,500 people had joined the party in the hour after the election was called.

The 2015 election was devastating to the Liberal Democrats, reducing it from 57 MPs to eight, with its traditionally left-leaning voters punishing it for enabling Tory policies under David Cameron’s government.

The party’s other base in the South-west did not, in general, vote to remain in the EU, but Tim Farron has been canvassing hard in Cornwall and Devon in preparation for next month’s local elections, and internal party polling is said to be encouraging.

Since the Brexit vote the party has won several local council by-elections via overwhelming swings against both Labour and the Conservatives, on occasion by upwards of 20 per cent. The party has gained 33 council seats since the May 2016 local elections, many of them in the South-west, where Ukip has lost seven seats, Labour has lost 13 and the Tories 21.

Research by the think tank UK in a Changing Europe shows there are 17 Remain-backing Conservative constituencies where the Liberal Democrats currently lie in second place.

But a third of Britons have said they do not know who Tim Farron is, and Labour MPs have thus far given every indication of making much of Mr Farron’s recent comments last year that the party would be open to re-entering into coalition with the Conservatives, a decision that proved near fatal last time around.