Lib Dems launch ‘Operation 1997’ to smash Tory blue wall with tactical voting

A leaked document has revealed that the Lib Dems are set to launch a massive “tactical voting” push to try to squeeze the Labour vote in more than 50 Tory seats.

Sir Ed Davey’s party is hoping to regain its place as the third party in the Commons from the Scottish National Party and will be targeting at least 53 Tory-held seats in the so-called “blue wall” in the coming weeks.

The MRP superpoll overnight suggests that their aim is within reach predicting 51 Lib Dem gains if there is tactical voting.

The initiative is called “Operation 1997” in an attempt to recreate the 1997 election campaign led by the late Lord Paddy Ashdown when the party won 46 seats as a result of tactical voting.

After a start to the campaign dominated by Sir Ed doing stunts, including falling off a paddleboard, the memo from Dave McCobb, the party’s director of field campaigns, suggests that they have “got off to a flying start”.

Ed Davey is cooking up something for the election campaign (PA)
Ed Davey is cooking up something for the election campaign (PA)

In the document addressed to Rhiannon Leamon, the leader’s chief of staff; Mike Dixon, the party chief executive; and Olly Grender, the director of communications; he claimed that “the feeling on the ground is that this is a once-in-a-generation election akin to 1997”.

He went on: “We have now delivered a staggering two million leaflets since Rishi Sunak stood on the steps of Downing Street last week. On top of that, we have knocked on 100,000 doors in key election battlegrounds.”

But he warned that early feedback from activists suggested that the Tories will hold on to constituencies in their so-called “blue wall” of safe seats right across the south and in areas like the north west because Labour will split the vote and “a lack of tactical voting”.

He said: “Pockets of extra votes for Labour, who came third in many of our battlegrounds, may hand Rishi Sunak seats in Surrey, Hertfordshire, Sussex, Somerset and many more areas.

“There are clear signs this election will be decided by a handful of votes in key blue wall battlegrounds. If Labour achieves over 10 per cent of the vote in these seats, it will hand seats to the Conservative Party.”

He noted that in recent huge by-election wins, the Lib Dems had squeezed the Labour vote to single digits to overturn massive Tory majorities.

In Tiverton and Honiton Labour’s support dropped to 3.7 per cent, Chesham and Amersham 1.6 per cent, and Somerton and Frome 2.6 per cent.

He went on: “Therefore, we are launching Operation 1997. I have given the green light for the biggest wave of ‘squeeze’ leaflets in the party’s history – not since 1997 has the party seen a campaign like this.

“Every leaflet will have a specific local message to Labour voters asking them to lend us their vote. We will highlight this Labour memo which states blue wall seats where we are in second place are ‘non-battlegrounds’.

“We will also be flooding blue wall marginals with leaflets on our NHS policies. This is an NHS election in the blue wall. Conservative voters, too, want the NHS to be the top priority.”

Mr McCobb added: “I need your help to ensure Operation 1997 is a success in the next seven days. This will determine the outcome of this election in the blue wall.”

He said that the aim was to have reached every Labour voter in the blue wall by Monday.

The Independent understands that the targeting of Labour voters to vote tactically will include every seat where the Lib Dems could win with a swing of up to 15 percent.

This includes 53 seats with some high-profile targets including chancellor Jeremy Hunt in Godalming and Ash.

LBC presenter Iain Dale has already been scared off by the Lib Dems from being the candidate in another target, Tunbridge Wells, after they unearthed derogatory comments he made about the area in 2022.

Others on the list are former chancellor Nadhim Zahawi’s ex-seat of Stratford-upon-Avon and Wokingham where Brexiteer Sir John Redwood has just retired.

Other seats beyond a 15 per cent swing could also be targeted, including Chesham and Amersham which the Lib Dems won in a by-election in 2021.

Here is a list of the Tory-held Lib Dem target seats where they can win with a swing of up to 15 per cent:

Carshalton and Wallington 0.64%

Wimbledon 0.74%

Cambridgeshire South 1.25%

Cheltenham 1.25%

Cheadle 2.09%

Eastbourne 2.11%

Esher and Walton 2.68%

Guildford 2.96%

Lewes 3.71%

Hazel Grove 4.18%

Westmorland and Lonsdale 4.74%

St IvesSouth West 4.85%

Finchley and Golders Green 5.98%

Cities of London and Westminster 6.05%

Winchester 7.08%

Taunton and Wellington 7.84%

Harrogate and Knaresborough 7.91%

Sutton and Cheam 8.27%

Woking 8.50%

Brecon, Radnor and Cwm Tawe 8.70%

Eastleigh 8.72%

Didcot and Wantage 9.22%

Dorking and Horley 9.44%

Godalming and Ash 9.63%

Dorset West 10.71%

Chelsea and Fulham 10.82%

Henley and Thame 11.05%

Newbury 11.24%

Wokingham 11.59%

Hitchin 11.67%

St Neots and Mid Cambridgeshire 12.24%

Ely and Cambridgeshire 12.35%

Devon South 12.66%

Wells and Mendip Hills 12.66%

Sussex Mid 12.90%

Frome and Somerset East 12.92%

Thornbury and Yate 12.96%

Chippenham 13.06%

Farnham and Bordon 13.27%

Devon North 13.33%

Glastonbury and Somerton 13.33%

Tunbridge Wells 13.4%

Earley and Woodley 13.48%

Harpenden and Berkhamsted 13.50%

YeovilSouth West 13.52%

Bicester and Woodstock 13.66%

Norfolk North 14.05%

Chelmsford 14.32%

Cornwall North 14.59%

Romsey and Southampton North 14.68%

Epsom and Ewell 14.68%

Surrey Heath 14.74%

Aylesbury 14.9%