Inside the strategy to 'smash' the Tories in their heartlands and unseat EIGHT Cabinet ministers

Inside the strategy to 'smash' the Tories in their heartlands and unseat EIGHT Cabinet ministers

WATCH NOW: Ed Davey hits back at Reform growth - ‘Lib Dems are the most powerful vote!'

Jack Walters

By Jack Walters

Published: 04/04/2024

- 14:14

In this members-only piece, GB News takes a deep dive into the Liberal Democrats' plan to cripple to Conservatives in the Blue Wall

The Liberal Democrats have ramped up their efforts to topple top Tory Cabinet Ministers in recent weeks, with party insiders sharing with GB News which senior MPs they hope to unseat.

A senior Liberal Democrat source identified for GB News eight Tory seats where plummeting Conservative support could now result in Sir Ed Davey’s centrist party making surprising gains as Rishi Sunak faces a two-pronged threat ahead of the election.

“There’s a number of Cabinet Ministers’ seats that weren’t in play but they are now,” the source told GB News. “There’s pressure on us as we have the ability, more than Labour do, to take out these Cabinet Ministers. They used to put them in safe seats but they’re no longer safe.”

YouGov’s MRP poll revealed 11 Cabinet Ministers face the chop, with four falling to Liberal Democrat challengers.

Ed Davey's party poses a threat in the Blue Wall

The Liberal Democrats have set their sights on toppling a number of top Cabinet Ministers


Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk, Science Secretary Michelle Donelan and Illegal Immigration Minister Michael Tomlinson would currently miss out to a Liberal Democrat candidate.

Chichester, currently held by Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, is among the once-safe seats now being eyed-up by the Liberal Democrats, despite ranking 103rd in the party’s list of targets.

The West Sussex constituency has voted Tory in every election since 1924, with Keegan sitting on a majority of 21,490.

While it is not poised to suffer from a fatal Conservative collapse in YouGov’s MRP but party insiders look at Chichester Council falling into Liberal Democrat hands last year as a sign of momentum after the Tories suffered 13 net losses to give Davey’s party a stonking majority.

The Liberal Democrats once tended to set their sights on remain-voting southern England but Chichester narrowly voted to leave the European Union.

Michael Gove’s Brexit-backing seat of Surrey Heath, which sits in terms of swing needed as the Liberal Democrats’ 60th target, is also increasingly in play.

Liberal Democrat insiders attribute last year’s success in the Levelling Up Secretary’s seat to a combination of the local council’s poor financial situation and Gove’s own reputation in the area.

However, the two-time leadership contender was returned for his fifth successive election with a majority of 18,349 in 2019 and would still cling on by the slimmest of margins if YouGov’s latest survey was emulated on polling day.

Davey made another one of his targets very clear by venturing down to Donelan’s Chippenham constituency on April 2.

Chippenham ranks in 45th place in terms of swing needed but Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Gibson last week ramped up calls for donations.

The Liberal Democrats have long-harboured hopes of ousting Hunt and Chalk in the remain-supporting seats of Godalming & Ash and Cheltenham.

Ed Davey

Sir Ed Davey has celebrated victories in four by-elections


Cheltenham flipped to the Liberal Democrats in 1992, with the centrist party only losing the Gloucestershire seat in 2015.

Chalk managed to cling onto the seat in both subsequent elections, with an uber-slim majority of just 981 votes in 2019.

However, Hunt’s revamped constituency could bring about a ‘Portillo Moment’ for Sunak’s Tories.

The Chancellor was returned as the MP for South West Surrey as his majority was slashed from 21,590 to just 8,817.

Revised boundaries cast further doubt about what could happen come polling day but the area is certainly trending towards the Liberal Democrats.

Polling guru Sir John Curtice appeared to echo the view that Cabinet Ministers will tumble come polling day.

He told GB News: “Some of the extrapolations suggest we will have more Cabinet Ministers lose their seats than in 1997.”

A total of seven Cabinet Ministers from John Major’s Government lost their seats as Tony Blair romped to victory, with Michael Portillo and Malcolm Rifkind among the Tory bigwigs booted out of Westminster.

The Liberal Democrats will also hope to make the most of the upcoming local elections, with commentators expecting yet another Tory electoral bloodbath.

Insiders stressed May 2 is skewed towards metropolitan Red Wall areas but there remains interesting opportunities for the Liberal Democrats in southern England.

Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak is facing a challenge from the right and centre


Tunbridge Wells, once regarded as a Tory stronghold, was won by the Liberal Democrats last year.

Further elections held in just a few weeks’ time could prove fruitful for Davey, with Liberal Democrats hoping it could springboard ex-army officer Mike Martin’s campaign later this year.

The Liberal Democrats will also hope to make gains in both Dorset and Wokingham.

Despite confidence going into May 2, the Liberal Democrats have been somewhat overlooked in recent weeks.

The rise of Reform UK, which could result in numerous losses for the Tory Party, is snatching headlines as Sunak battles to see off the threat from the right.

However, Sir Ed Davey will hope to make further gains in the leafy English shires after claiming four by-election victories in the Blue Wall since 2021.

Recent opinion polls put the Liberal Democrats around the double-digit mark, with YouGov’s MRP survey placing Davey’s party in joint-third on 12 per cent.

Jo Swinson managed to obtain a similar proportion of the vote in 2019, with the days of the centrist party reaching more than 20 per cent seemingly long-gone.

Despite trailing Labour, the Tories and in many cases Reform UK in the popular vote, the Liberal Democrats vote is concentrated both in the so-called Blue Wall and in other former heartland areas.

“I would take the national polls with a pinch of salt,” an insider claimed. “This election is going to be won in battleground areas and in these areas we’ve been smashing the Tories out of the park.”

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey poses for a photograph next to a postervan after arriving for a rally with activists in Guildford


Curtice explained how the Liberal Democrats were likely to pick up seats by standing still as support for the Conservative Party nosedives.

He said: “The Lib Dems might well benefit in the so-called Blue Wall from a degree of tactical voting. The evidence from local elections last year suggests that is potentially worth around two or three per cent. But the crucial thing as to why the Lib Dems have prospects is because even if all they do in these seats is hang on to their share of the vote, because the Tory vote is imploding, the Lib Dems will go past them.”

Redfield & Wilton’s latest Blue Wall tracker appears to reflect Curtice’s assertion, with the Liberal Democrats slightly down on their 2019 taking of 27 per cent on 20-points.

However, Tory support has collapsed from 50 per cent to just 26 per cent as the Labour Party soars from 21 per cent to 34 per cent.

Former Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, who represented Lewes in Westminster from 1997 to 2015, believes Davey will make gains irrespective of how well election night goes.

He said: “Given where we are now, my estimate is 20 MPs is a bad result and 50 MPs is a good result.”

The Liberal Democrats were reduced to just eight MPs in 2015, with voters giving ex-Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg a bloody nose after entering into coalition with David Cameron.

Subsequent elections saw the Liberal Democrats return 12 MPs in 2017 and 11 MPs in 2019.

However, Baker’s upper estimate would put the centrist party closer to its respectable performances in 2001 and 2010.

YouGov’s latest MRP suggested the Liberal Democrats would currently win 49 seats, with the Tories down to just 155 and Labour storming ahead on 403.

The survey suggested success across the areas identified for GB News by a Liberal Democrat source, with the centrist party picking up Chippenham, Cheltenham, Godalming & Ash, Tunbridge Wells, Mid Dorset & North Poole, West Dorset and Wokingham.

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Science Secretary Michelle Donelan face a challenge from the Liberal Democrats

Justice Secretary Alex Chalk, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and Science Secretary Michelle Donelan face a challenge from the Liberal Democrats


Surrey Heath and Chichester were also in striking distance, with Gove and Keegan only maintaining tiny single-digit leads.

“If you look at every time people have gone to the ballot box in the last three years, they’ve overwhelmingly voted for us in marginal constituencies,” a Liberal Democrat source told GB News. “We’ve been winning the popular share of the vote for three years. We’ve won four parliamentary by-elections and the last time we did that was under Paddy Ashdown. This is probably the Liberal Democrats’ biggest winning streak in one Parliament and it’s been astonishing.”

The Liberal Democrats first win came in Chesham & Amersham, with an enormous swing of 25.2 per cent overturning the Tories’ 16,223-vote majority.

North Shropshire yet again delivered a Liberal Democrat victory after scandal-embroiled ex-MP Owen Paterson was forced to quit.

Helen Morgan managed to leapfrog Labour to obliterate Paterson’s 22,949-ballot majority on a swing of 34.2 per cent - the second-largest swing to the Liberal Democrats in its party’s history.

Tiverton & Honiton and Somerton & Frome later delivered the Liberal Democrats gains in the historic heartlands of the South West.

The Liberal Democrats will look to set sights beyond the list of Cabinet Ministers at risk.

South East Cambridgeshire, Esher & Walton, Carshalton & Wallington, Wimbledon, Cheadle, Eastbourne, Guildford, Lewes, Winchester, Woking, Eastleigh, Chelsea & Fulham have all been identified as Blue Wall seats at significant risk from the Liberal Democrats.

Around 100 Tory MPs have opted to stand down in their droves to avoid humiliation as results trickle in, with ex-Prime Minister Theresa May calling it a day in Maidenhead and former Transport Secretary Chris Grayling declaring he will step aside in Epsom & Ewell.

Despite the Liberal Democrats posing an increasingly large threat in the so-called Blue Wall, CCHQ hopes a last-minute delivery blitz could win back wavering voters in leafy parts of England.

A Blue Wall Tory strategist told GB News: “There isn’t a massive disconnect between what people want and what the Tories are promising. It’s about deliverability and we need to show that we are committed to what we are saying we will do. It all needs to be concrete.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks with parents and teachers as he visits Haughton Academy in Darlington

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak speaks with parents and teachers as he visits Haughton Academy in Darlington


The insider also stressed “apocalyptic” predictions about the Blue Wall have not yet been reflected on the doorstep, adding hesitancy could be worn down as Conservative candidates receive a revival ahead of polling day.

But Baker instead argued the Tories face a difficult task in winning over disgruntled Blue Wall voters.

“The Tories don't even know how to deal with it,” he said. “Sunak, in my view, has been pulled to the right by what I would describe as the headbangers in the Tory Party. They're not talking to those voters, they're talking to the Red Wall. They've not found a way of identifying a message that convinces both the Red Wall and Blue Wall. The message would be economic competence but they haven't got that.”

Ex-Bath MP Ben Howlett also told GB News: “Polling in many of the Lib Dem-Tory marginals has been consistent, people are switching their votes to support the Lib Dems tactically from Labour.

"I’m not sure the party has underestimated the amount of support for the Lib Dems but I am aware that the party will review their 80/20 target seats campaign after the locals to move resources to areas with better than average results to shore up support.”

Howlett, who lost his Blue Wall seat to the Liberal Democrats with a swing of almost 10 per cent in 2017, added: “Reform are taking votes from the Tories vs Labour 80/20 across the country.

"Therefore the Tories normal plan to try to hold its base would clearly be a mistake in Lib Dem marginals. Frankly, a lot of Lib Dem Tory waverers have not forgiven them for Brexit and Sunak is doing little to persuade them he is different to Boris. I therefore suspect they’ll stay Lib Dem.”

However, according to JL Partners’ Implosion in Blue report released last year, the Liberal Democrats have gained just 500,000 2019 Tory voters.

Labour has picked up 1.7 million Johnson backers and Reform UK is marginally behind with a 1.5 million vote boost.

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