Sir Ed Davey’s hung parliament calculations make this the most important Lib Dem conference in almost a decade | Politics News

This week in Bournemouth is the first in-person Liberal Democrat autumn conference since 2019, but in truth, it is the first that really matters since 2014. 

Back then, the party was in government with the Conservatives.

Despite all the political revolutions since then, this is the first point where there is a possibility Lib Dems might be on the cusp of holding the balance of power in a hung parliament, hence the greater focus.

The Lib Dems have been on a remarkable journey since the coalition that ended in 2015, with their wipeout in that year’s general election.

Politics Hub: Lib Dems kick off party season in Bournemouth – live updates

For most of its existence, it has been a centre left party – willing to maximise its negotiating leverage by offering to put in power whichever bigger party, Tory or Labour, gave them the most of their demands.

In their ideal scenario, they would be “kingmaker”.

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Under Sir Ed Davey’s stewardship, and learning the lessons of the disaster with his predecessor Jo Swinson in 2019 who convinced herself she herself could be PM, this has all changed.

Now the Lib Dems are an avowedly anti-Tory party. This is partly about the electoral landscape – only two of the 80 seats they might chase, Mid Bedfordshire and Sheffield Hallam, are fights with Labour.

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Sir Ed Davey on the pensions triple lock

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For all the rest, they need to topple the Tories. It also feels like this is exorcising ghosts of the coalition which triggered the party’s 2015 electoral meltdown. Lib Dems would therefore not put a Tory PM into Downing Street, whatever the offer.

This week in Bournemouth we will see the scale of the Lib Dem ambitions and how Sir Ed intends to achieve them.

Their dream would be to overtake the SNP at the next election, to return to the pre-2015 position of third largest party in the Commons. This seems tricky.

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Can party keep up the momentum?
Lib Dems commit to pensions triple lock

Some hope 30 or 40-plus seats would be good, up from 14 now. But there are some who say only 25 would be a good night in the election given the party’s scant resources. Big money 2019 backer Lord Sainsbury is back focusing on the Tories and ex-leader Sir Nick Clegg’s donations only go so far.

This week in Bournemouth will also give clues as to what the Lib Dems might offer as the price of supporting a theoretical future Labour minority administration in a hung parliament.

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The party has its eye on Tory seats at the next election

Sir Ed is likely to put voting reform at the heart of the speech on Tuesday – he wants to secure a change to a more proportional system of government that eluded Clegg. This feels unlikely – utterly rejected by the Labour leadership, and it’s unclear if anyone could stomach a referendum.

More modest suggestions include curbing green belt building. Sir Keir Starmer is fired up about planning reform, however, and even this could be tricky.

In reality, it depends on the maths. The Lib Dems will have more leverage the better they do in an election. This week will give an indication of how ready and prepared they are for that fight


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