The Liberal Democrat leader, Tim Farron, has accused the Conservatives of calling an election for no other reason than to capitalise on Labour’s weakness under Jeremy Corbyn.
Canvassing with party activists in Manchester on Friday, he accused the Conservatives of believing the election result would be a coronation and said Theresa May was using “bogus” arguments about Brexit to justify an early election motivated by party political calculation.
“Theresa May thinks she’s going to be crowned on 8 June and it will be a procession over the next seven weeks, not a contest. The Liberal Democrats will make sure it’s a contest,” he said while campaigning in Cringle Park in south Manchester.
“My message to people out there of all political persuasions – as you might not agree with me on absolutely everything – but if you agree with me that Britain needs a strong opposition, you need to back the Liberal Democrats.”
He accused Labour of giving May a mandate for Brexit without a single condition attached. “She’s got all she needs if she wants to pursue Brexit, I’m afraid. She looked across the despatch box and thought ‘I cannot resist the temptation of taking on Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party - the most ineffective opposition in inter-planetary history’.”
For a second time, Farron refused to rule out a coalition between the Lib Dems and the Conservatives if neither party gets an overall majority after the snap election. He dismissed talk of a coalition as “fanciful” but said the party would make clear its position next week.
He said: “We’ll be reflecting on that over the coming days. I think it’s right that people have a sense of what our intentions are in advance.”
Farron said the problem with forming a coalition was a lack of “moderate, liberal, pro-European people” in the Conservative and Labour parties.
“The problem is, they’re both run by parties at the moment that have visions that are completely the opposite of the Liberal Democrats,” he said. “My sense at the moment is that talk of coalitions is a little bit fanciful.”
Addressing placard-waving party activists, Farron described the Labour-held Gorton and Withington seats as “absolutely the top of the Liberal Democrat target list”.
The party lost Withington at the 2015 election to Labour and there remains a lot of bad blood between the two parties in the seat, which includes a large number of students among the electorate and is strongly pro-EU.
The party faces a tougher test in Gorton, where the late Sir Gerald Kaufman had a 24,000 majority. His death in February prompted a byelection that had been set for 4 May, the same date as the local and mayoral elections, but has since been cancelled.
Farron said internal canvassing statistics put the Lib Dems ahead of where it was at the same time in the Richmond Park byelection campaign in December, when the party secured a stunning victory to unseat the former Tory MP Zac Goldsmith
Walking her dogs in Cringle Park, Laurie Sage, 37, said she had been a longtime Labour voter in Gorton, but she said the party could no longer count on her support because of Corbyn’s “weak” stance on Brexit.
“Jeremy Corbyn is the main reason I’m not sure about the whole thing anymore,” said Sage, a freelance illustrator. “He looked so promising when he came in because he was a socialist and that’s what we needed to go against the whole horrific Tory destruction of the welfare state and the NHS, which is just awful to watch, but then you watch him with Brexit and he wasn’t really bothered. Now he just seems quite weak and I don’t know what to make of him anymore. I think a lot of people feel that way too.”
Sage said there was a “lot of not very happy feeling” towards the Lib Dems due to its role in the 2010-2015 coalition but she had not yet decided which party would get her vote.