Johnson ‘out of touch and mired in sleaze’ claims Davey ahead of elections

·4-min read

Boris Johnson’s administration is “mired in sleaze” and could suffer the same fate as Sir John Major’s 25 years ago, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey warned.

Following weeks of damaging stories about the culture in Westminster, Sir Ed compared the situation to 1997, when he was first elected and the Tories collapsed against Tony Blair’s Labour.

“It actually reminds me of the period just before the ‘97 election, when the Conservative government had run out of steam, was not listening to people and was mired in sleaze and scandal,” Sir Ed said.

“And when I speak to people on the doorsteps, the biggest issue, actually, is cost of living. And when you get out of Westminster and talk to people across the country, they’re quite alarmed that the Conservatives are so out of touch they’re pushing up taxes.”

Local council elections
Leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Ed Davey at the party’s campaign launch in April (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

Thursday’s local elections follow revelations about lockdown-busting parties in No 10 and Whitehall, the resignation of Tory MP Neil Parish for watching pornography in the Commons and the conviction of Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan for sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.

But Sir Ed told the PA news agency that, in another echo of 1997, it is the issue of household finances being raised by voters.

“Actually, in 1997, there were lots of stealth taxes, remember, and we’re seeing that again; we’re seeing 15 tax rises from the Conservatives, quite unfair ones, at a time of a cost-of-living crisis.

“So I’ve not seen anything like it while I’ve been in Parliament, but it does remind me of that period when the Conservatives completely lost touch.”

But while in 1997 Mr Blair and then Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown held extensive talks about working together,  Sir Ed insisted there is no pact with Labour now – although he welcomed Sir Keir Starmer’s party’s shift towards the centre.

“I welcome politicians from any party who share similar policy positions, who change their policy positions to be more aligned to us; of course I welcome that.

“And there’s no doubt Keir Starmer is much more to the centre than (former Labour leader and Sir Keir’s predecessor) Jeremy Corbyn. I mean, that’s hardly news. And I think that’s a good thing for British politics if people are more towards what I call the reformist centre.”

The Tories suggested the local elections have seen Labour stand down in areas such as the South West, where the Liberal Democrats pose the strongest threat, with Sir Ed’s party returning the favour in the North East.

But Sir Ed said: “There isn’t a pact. There won’t be a pact.”

He cited “very clear” evidence, with the Lib Dems taking on Labour in other areas of England and triumphing in the by-elections in Chesham and Amersham and North Shropshire, which Sir Keir’s party contested.

Sir Ed said he relishes the prospect of another by-election contest in Tiverton and Honiton, the safe Tory seat being vacated by Mr Parish.

The Lib Dems will have to overturn a 24,000 Tory majority but Sir Ed said: “It reminds me of the by-election in North Shropshire, actually, just before Christmas.

“There was a very rural community where the Conservatives had taken it for granted for decades. And when we started knocking on doors in North Shropshire, people were talking about ambulance waiting times, a health service in crisis, farmers who felt betrayed.

“And while it’s early days, I would expect there’ll be some of that in Tiverton and Honiton.”

Sir Ed said he hopes his party will make progress in Thursday’s elections, although they will be fighting from a “very, very high base” as the last time many of the seats were contested was 2018 – at the height of former prime minister Theresa May’s unpopularity.

But he said Tory voters are becoming disillusioned with the “extreme” politics of Mr Johnson’s government.

“They’re out of touch, even in the heartlands. And so Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party is now the mirror image of Jeremy Corbyn on the right.”

He added: “We’ve said we want to fight for a fair deal for people – a fair deal on the cost of living; a fair deal on the NHS; a fair deal on the environment, stopping this awful sewage dumping.

“So I think that’s the reformist centre. I think that’s where many, many British people are and they can’t believe we have a Prime Minister who broke the rules, lies to Parliament and just doesn’t seem to care.”