Lib Dems are the real challengers in Neil Parish’s seat, says Ed Davey | Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats view themselves as the likely challengers to the Conservatives in the forthcoming Tiverton and Honiton byelection, Ed Davey has said, despite his party finishing behind Labour in the past three general elections.

The Conservatives have held the Devon seat continuously since it was created in 1997, but could face a tough battle following the resignation of MP Neil Parish after he admitted twice watching pornography in the House of Commons chamber.

While Labour have finished ahead of the Lib Dems in the constituency at every general election since 2015, Davey’s party is set to declare itself the most likely to defeat the Tories based on stronger local election results in the area.

This is what they did in December’s North Shropshire byelection, coming from a distant third in 2019 behind the Tories and Labour to win the Conservative stronghold by nearly 6,000 votes after the resignation of another disgraced MP, Owen Paterson.

Asked about his party’s chances in Tiverton and Honiton, Davey told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday show: “I believe the Liberal Democrats can be the real challengers in that. We have a real legacy of success across the south-west.

“We showed in the North Shropshire byelection, where we were third at the previous general election but we beat the Conservatives. No one gave us a chance, but in those rural communities across North Shropshire we found lifelong Conservatives who feel they have been taken for granted.”

The Lib Dems and Labour vehemently reject the idea of formal pacts, with both Davey and Keir Starmer denying their parties had stood aside in some areas in this Thursday’s local elections.

However, both have shown a willingness to campaign less hard in seats where the other has a better chance of defeating the Conservatives.

The Lib Dems would be expected to do this in the other looming byelection, in Wakefield, where Labour hopes to regain the seat following the resignation of the Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan after he was convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.

A Labour source said: “All parties are sensible about putting in the appropriate time and resources to seats where they have the best chance of winning, or creating a good story by gaining ground.”

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Asked whether the Lib Dems were deliberately standing aside on Thursday in areas such as the north-east of England, where the party is fielding candidates in 56% of council seats, against 78% when they were last fought four years ago, Davey denied any deal.

“There’s no pact now, there’s not going to be a pact in the future,” he told the Ridge show. “The Liberal Democrats are actually fighting Labour in many areas: in Hull, in Sunderland, in Sheffield, in Haringey, in Southwark.

“These council numbers are a bit of a distraction, and pretty desperate from the Conservatives. Let’s remember, they always fluctuate from election to election. And actually, the Conservatives are fielding over 100 fewer candidates this time.”

Starmer also dismissed the idea of a secret pact, as alleged by the Conservative party chair, Oliver Dowden. “I wouldn’t take anything Oliver Dowden says particularly seriously,” he told the Ridge show. “There is no pact, everybody knows there is no pact.”

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