Sir Ed Davey has hinted his party would be prepared to do a post-election deal with Labour to prevent the Conservatives from forming a government.
Speaking to Sky News’ political editor Beth Rigby at the Liberal Democrats annual conference, the leader categorically ruled out any agreement with the Tories, saying his party could “play a critical role” in removing them from power.
But pushed over whether he would consider some form of deal with Labour, Sir Ed appeared to be keeping his options more open, saying instead he would not “speculate what else may happen after polling day”.
The question of whether the Lib Dems would be willing to join a coalition with Sir Keir Starmer’s party or offer more informal support if the next election leads to a hung parliament has been a key question during their annual gathering in Bournemouth – but the leadership continues to be cautious when the topic is raised.
Asked if he would “emphatically” rule out any formal or informal deal with the Tories, Sir Ed told Beth Rigby: “I have ruled out doing [a deal] with the Conservatives for a very good reason.
“First of all, I have personally fought the Conservatives all my life, I took my seat from the Conservatives, I fought them at every election, so I and many Liberal Democrat MPs have always been against the Conservatives.
“And even in the coalition… we fought them every day, I fought them really hard, and I said when I became leader of the Liberal Democrats that my job was to beat as many Conservative MPs as possible and to do that, the logic is that we would not put the Conservatives back having beaten so many of their MPs.”
Pushed several times on whether the Lib Dem leader would take a different approach to Labour or not, Sir Ed said: “Beyond ruling out a coalition with the Conservatives and any dealing with the Conservatives, I am not going to speculate what else could happen.
“I am clear about our need to beat lots of Conservative MPs to get more Liberal Democrat MPs elected and I am not going to speculate what else may happen after polling day.”
After further attempts for a yes or no answer, he said there was a “big difference” between the two options, adding: “The differences is… the Conservatives are in government.
“And I think people across our country have never known our country so badly governed [and] the Conservatives are so divided. [We] have to go and by being clear on that, I think that really helps people understand where I’m coming from as leader and where the Liberal Democrats are coming from – we want to defeat as many Conservative MPs at the next election.”
Sir Ed will close the year’s conference with his leader’s speech on Tuesday.