The Liberal Democrats are targeting MPs in the Home Counties and Sir Ed Davey hopes the local elections will provide a “target” for an attack on Conservative heartlands.
The Liberal Democrat leader said a combination of disgruntled former Tories and left-wing voters moving out of London posed a long-term threat to Conservative strongholds.
“So there are some fundamental trends as well as the short-term trends, which I would be worried about if I were in Tory central office,” he said.
Key to the prospects of success for the Lib Dems are the “Surrey Shufflers”, voters who left London for the “halo” around the capital.
Sir Ed is hopeful that his party will make significant progress in local contests on May 4, mainly in the areas where the Tories are rivals – the so-called Blue Wall.
The Lib Dems won around 700 seats in the 2019 local elections and are hoping to get more this time.
Key targets include the areas surrounding Westminster constituencies, including Dominic Raab’s seat of Esher and Walton, as well as Eastbourne, Wokingham, Guildford, Stockport, Cheadle and Hazel Grove.
But Sir Ed said: “What’s exciting for me – as well as doing well in the seats, we’ll have to do well in the next general election to beat Conservative MPs – is the gains we’re going to make in areas traditional Tory. We’ve had fights with the Tories in the past at Westminster level, but we’ve fallen back a bit.
“And if it does well in the local elections it can start.”
In an interview with the PA news agency in his Westminster office, Sir Ed also hinted that longer-term trends could see the Lib Dems replace the Tories in the wealthy Home counties.
“I’m focusing on the general election but I think about the long term, and the demographics, I think, are interesting,” he said.
“There are people who have lived for a long time who are struggling and feel that the Tories have lost their way and they feel that they have taken them forever, and we have won some of that vote – some of it was left but . not all of it.
“And then there are what some people call the shufflers in Surrey… these are people who have moved out of London who might have voted Labor in London before, who are not going to vote Tory.
“If we reach them they will be very easily pressured and will move to us comfortably.
“And we think that those types of people maybe in the past generations would have moved to the Conservatives then but we think we can hold on to them.”
He suggested that there is a parallel to the process seen in south-west London, where seats such as Richmond Park, Twickenham and Sir Ed’s own Kingston and Surbiton were “solid Tory” but are now held by the Lib Dems after their breakthrough was first done in council elections.
Aiming to defeat the Conservatives – although the Lib Dems face several battles with Labor in these elections – Sir Ed has put down talks of an alliance with Sir Keir Starmer’s party.
He said voters “feel a need to be heard and they don’t want people to start talking about markets”, adding: “I’m not going to be bothered by that stuff.”
The Lib Dems were reduced to just eight MPs in 2015 on the back of Nick Clegg entering a coalition government with the Tories five years earlier – a government in which Sir Ed was a Cabinet minister – and, in the run-up to 1997, Paddy . Ashdown has held talks with Labor about a possible deal.
Criticizing his predecessors, Sir Ed said: “I’ve seen a lot of leaders and what I’ve noticed is that a lot of them were in danger of what happens after a general election and I don’t think they did . no good for us.
“So I couldn’t be more clear to my team – we’re not going to do that. We’re not going to think about what happens next.”