‘We offer the most ambitious change’: Ed Davey vows to push a Labour government for radical action

<span>Ed Davey said Lib Dems would apply pressure to a Starmer government – although the focus remained on ousting Tory MPs in the election via tactical voting.</span><span>Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA</span>
Ed Davey said Lib Dems would apply pressure to a Starmer government – although the focus remained on ousting Tory MPs in the election via tactical voting.Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

The Lib Dems will push a Labour ­government to adopt more radical policies on tax, welfare and bringing Britain closer to the EU, Ed Davey has said, amid growing expectations that his party is on course for a far bigger role in the next parliament.

In an interview with the Observer, the Lib Dem leader said that his ­party’s focus remained squarely on ousting Tory MPs via a tactical ­voting drive that he claimed could be the most successful ever seen.

However, with the Lib Dems rising in the polls and a cautious Labour party maintaining a double-digit lead, he said his party would use the next parliament to continue to fight for higher capital gains tax to pay for the NHS, a new youth mobility deal with Europe and an end to the two-child benefits limit – all of which Keir Starmer has rejected.

“We are a progressive, liberal party and we believe in investment in ­public services,” Davey said. “We believe in making taxes fairer, and we believe in really transformative environmental action. I think people who want to see that level of change in our country can vote Liberal Democrat knowing that we’ll have lots of Lib Dem MPs in the next parliament championing that.

“Frankly, if you want the change, I think we’re offering the most ambitious change. I even have Labour people saying that they’re really Labour people, but they hope we get lots of Liberal Democrat MPs in because they can hold the Labour party to account.”

It comes with the latest Opinium poll for the Observer showing that the Lib Dems have increased their vote share to 12%, with Labour down two points on 40% of the vote. Despite informal cooperation with Labour that has seen the parties steer clear of seats where the other is the stronger challenger to the Tories, Davey said his party would press a Labour ­government for more radical action once in power.

“I’ve been in opposition to a Labour government before and I’ve seen that we won the debate on many ­occasions,” he said. “That was great for a fairer society. Our manifesto is a ­programme we want to put in the next parliament. We’ll be ­campaigning on it, voting for it, developing it. If you are winning the argument, you can push the dial.

“On things like our relationship with Europe, the Liberal Democrats are passionately pro-European. It’s been a tragedy that we have seen the Conservatives poison that relationship with our closest friends and allies. Are we going to campaign for a better trade deal with Europe? Yes. Are we going to campaign for allowing young people to move across Europe with an agreement on youth mobility? Yes we are.”

Are we going to campaign for a better trade deal with Europe? Yes

Ed Davey

Some projections have the Lib Dems on course to more than ­triple their current haul of 15 MPs, partly helped by voters backing them in order to remove the incumbent Tory. The grimmest recent Tory projections even narrowly have the Lib Dems as the official opposition. However, Davey said it would be a “historic mistake” to underestimate the Conservatives, despite some high-profile mishaps during their campaign.

“I just think people who want real change should be cautious about the polls,” Davey said. “The Conservatives are not going to give up. They’ve got more money than any other party. They’re going to spend it in the last few weeks on attack ads on social media. Get ready. I remember 2017 when everyone thought Theresa May was going to get a landslide. I thought she was going to get a landslide. I didn’t expect to get re-elected in 2017. Certainly, Liberal Democrats are not going to take voters for granted.”

Other senior party figures are concerned that the Tory warnings of a “supermajority” for Labour are aimed at winning back precisely the kinds of reluctant Tory voters that the Lib Dems had been trying to win over in southern seats, as well as those in the south-west. Davey said he believed his tactical voting plea was cutting through.

“We’re seeing tactical voting on a scale I can never remember, even back in 1997 and 2001,” he said. “We’re seeing it in the blue wall in the home counties, we’re seeing it in the West Country. It’s been phenomenal. This is very much an ABC election – Anyone But the Conservatives. The fact that we are the ones to beat the Conservatives in so many seats, I’m really grateful for people who are thinking about Labour, ­thinking of voting Green, [and] realising if they do, they’ll let the Conservatives in. It has a massive potential effect on the outcome.”

Davey has been enjoying a successful campaign, which has seen him combine policy announcements with increasingly bizarre stunts. This weekend, he is announcing a plan to cut cancer waiting times with a major expansion of radiotherapy treatment – part of his party’s pledge for urgent patients to start cancer treatment within 62 days. It is funded by an overhaul of both capital gains tax and tax breaks for banks amounting to £9bn.

“I lost my dad to cancer and my mum to cancer, so it’s been a huge part of my life,” Davey said. “Surely we should have the ambition to have among the best survival rates in the world. We’ve got some of the best ­scientists, it just needs to be prioritised.”