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Liberal Democrats rally in Guildford

03.01.24 | Written by Charlie Murphy

I started the day at a chilly and rainy rugby club car park in Guildford this morning where the Liberal Democrats planned a rally ahead of their leader Ed Davey touring Surrey as the party take aim at Conservative heartlands in the blue wall. Davey’s tour started in Guildford, with the party’s latest prop unveiled to journalists on Guildford High Street this morning.

Ed Davey is feeling confident about Surrey. The Leader of the Liberal Democrats kicked off the election year in Guildford, telling activists that this is the year to get the Conservatives out of Number 10.

Before his arrival at the rally, four activists in bright orange boiler suits greeted the awaiting media and party members, each carrying a removal box with “Ed Davey’s Tory Removals” emblazoned on their backs.

These stunts have become a staple of Davey’s leadership, with rallies after each by-election victory sporting orange hammers and blue bricks, a circus-style cannon, a blue door, a tractor running down hay bales, and a huge clock. Each stunt has been indicative of a party which is growing in confidence and not afraid of a cheesy photo.

Davey arrived at the rally in the latest oversized prop – a large advertising van with “Ed Davey’s Tory Removals” and a “Times up!” pointing towards a photo of Rishi Sunak.

His speech was a barnstorm to the awaiting activists and candidates, with his focus squarely on the Conservatives and how voters have “had enough”.

Of particular note was his listing of at least 4 seats in Surrey which he feels are of interest. He rounded off the list, for which many of the candidates were listening, by telling the crowd “all of Surrey looks interesting”. Talking to the media after the rally, Davey specifically mentioned Jeremy Hunt and Michael Gove as two MPs who he claims are worried about their seats turning Liberal Democrat. This is remarkable confidence for what has historically been one of the most true-blue counties, and it is confidence that would have been hard to imagine just a short time ago.

The confidence appears to be well-placed, with the Liberal Democrats having made significant gains in local government around the area. The party are now in majority, minority or coalition administration in Guildford, Woking, Waverley, Mole Valley, Elmbridge and Spelthorne, and the joint second largest group on Surrey County Council with 16 County Councillors. For their part, Labour have recently published a ‘non-priority’ list which includes many seats where the Liberal Democrats are currently second place across the South of England. This list has subsequently been used by the Liberal Democrats in their campaigning.

The Liberal Democrats have recently been targeting just two seats in Surrey, however the Financial Times now claims the party is looking at 20 seats across the South East and London, with a particular eye on the growing fiscal burden on voters in the region.

The party had been strict with its targeting – avoiding a repeat of 2010 and 2019 when its votes were spread across a host of second places and precious few first places. This approach has started to change recently, with a long list of seats almost on a waiting list to become a target closer to the election if their numbers look promising.

Ed Davey will go on to tour a handful of seats in Surrey this afternoon, which will give us a good idea which seats are not only promising targets, but those which may be targets soon. do we know where he is touring this afternoon?

We’ll be watching closely as the Liberal Democrats start to firm up their ambitions in the home counties for 2024.

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