Lib Dems' manifesto puts candidates in position to tear down Tory blue wall

Victory in Eastbourne for youthful Josh Babarinde could signal domino effect across southern England

Josh Babarinde, Lib Dem prospective parliamentary candidate for Eastbourne. Photo: Josh Babarinde
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Largely unseen amid the battles between Labour and Conservative is the rising third force in British politics of the Liberal Democrats, who could well have a major impact on the general election.

While they have a modest international profile, the Lib Dems have a powerful election machine, beating the Conservatives to second place in last month’s local elections and overturning Tory majorities of more than 20,000 in several by-elections.

Indeed, their potential to capture seats across southern England, in what is called the Conservative “blue wall”, could lead to a political earthquake where the Lib Dems overtake the Tories in parliamentary seats.

Leading that charge in Conservative-held Eastbourne is Josh Babarinde, a 30-year-old candidate whose likely victory next month could herald the first breach in the blue wall, leading to its collapse.

In a manifesto launch on Monday, the Lib Dems promised higher taxes, focusing on the wealthy, flights, banks, energy companies and tech giants. The extra funds were music to the ears of Baberinde, who is promising better local services on the doorsteps of the south coast town.

In an increasingly upbeat campaign, the Lib Dems are eyeing their best result since taking 65 seats in 2010 under the leadership of Nick Clegg, who became deputy prime minister and is now vice president of Meta.

Blue Wall down

If the dominant Lib Dem signs in Eastbourne, which outnumber the Conservatives in the Victoria Road area by about five to one, are anything to judge by, then Mr Babarinde is on course to become MP for the town’s 104,000 residents.

“It would be a catastrophe for the Conservatives if they lose Eastbourne, a real sign that the blue wall is coming down and that they’re on course to get under 100 seats,” he told The National as we walked Eastbourne’s streets.

“I've been knocking on doors, since I was 16 years old and I've never experienced such discontent with a Conservative Party,” said the Eastbourne-born candidate.

Walking alongside him brings mini-celebrity moments as cars horns honk in support and people stop to chat.

Teacher v pupil

It is perhaps unsurprising that his support is high, as we are just a short distance from Cavendish School, where he was head boy in 2009, popular among both staff and pupils.

That explained why the potential MP respectfully addressed a woman as “Miss” when she opened her door.

“Josh was one of those pupils that you never forgot, absolutely a born leader,” said his former teacher, who did not want to be named.

The current MP, Caroline Ansell, also taught Mr Babarinde, who is now likely to put her out of a job in a constituency where the Conservatives have a majority of 3,205.

If Eastbourne goes Lib Dem it could mean a domino effect across southern England that sees them emerge as the second biggest party in Westminster.

The Electoral Calculus polling company currently puts the Conservatives on a mere 75 predicted seats with the Lib Dems' “high” tally at 73 MPs.

Ebbing blue vote

The Lib Dem charge to seize a swathe of Tory seats was given a boost by its manifesto release on Monday that led on National Health Service funding.

It is neglected local issues that most infuriate voters, especially Eastbourne’s long-promised maternity hospital – a pledge made by Boris Johnson – that has yet to materialise.

Instead, women in labour have to endure the 45-minute car journey over the South Downs hills to the nearest ward in Hastings.

“People see the state of our NHS, the state of our beaches and our rivers and our poverty locally and it's no wonder that many of them tell me ‘I can’t do it this time, I can’t vote Conservative,'” Mr Babarinde said.

“With Nigel Farage’s Reform taking votes, the Conservatives are really struggling to hold on to core support as they've let a lot of people down.”

Save the NHS

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey has also caught the public’s imagination with his high-profile publicity stunts to highlight England's sewage problem, such as tumbling into lakes.

But he has also seen support across the political divide following an emotional party political broadcast in which he spoke of his own experiences as a carer for his severely disabled son, John.

The party's key manifesto promise is to “save the NHS” which has a £165 billion budget, with a pledge to recruit 8,000 more GPs funded by a tax raid on the super-rich and banks.

That, said Mr Babarinde, was “getting a lot of cut-through” on the doorsteps, something witnessed by The National, where “there is not a lot of love here for Conservatives”, as one resident put it.

Ms Ansell was contacted for comment but did not respond.

Updated: June 11, 2024, 7:50 AM