The Liberal Democrats have kicked off their annual conference with a call for people to vote tactically in the general election to remove Conservative MPs, until proportional representation makes this unnecessary.
Gathering in Bournemouth for their first autumn get-together since 2019, a conference rally heard video addresses from Carol Vorderman and Steve Coogan. Neither are party members but they said people should vote in a way to ensure Tory candidates lost.
The Lib Dems have benefited significantly from traditional Labour voters and even disenchanted Conservatives switching their support to overturn big Tory majorities in a string of recent byelections.
Coogan, the actor and comedian, told the rally that while he normally voted Labour, he would switch to the Lib Dems in the marginal Lewes constituency where he lives to try to oust the incumbent Tory, health minister Maria Caulfield.
“I’m not a member of the Lib Dems, and despite the beard and the fleece I generally vote Labour,” Coogan’s video said. “But where I live in Lewes, the candidate best placed to kick the Tories out is the Lib Dem candidate, so I vote for them.”
He backed proportional voting rather than the current method of first past the post, which Coogan called “an electoral system that robs millions of people of their vote”.
Vorderman, the former Countdown co-presenter, already works with a tactical voting website called Stop the Tories.
She told the rally: “We desperately need to end a system where only marginal seats matter, end a system which delivers parliaments that fail to accurately reflect votes cast and end a system where only the winner’s votes count.
“It doesn’t deliver parliaments that properly reflect the will of the nation. It has to change. But how do we get there? Well, in my opinion, the first step is tactical voting.”
The introduction of proportional representation (PR) is a longstanding Lib Dem aim, and one the party is closely associated with. It hopes to use the conference – following three years in which it was scuppered first by Covid and then the Queen’s funeral – to set out more policies before an election very likely next year.
Plans being debated include a proposal for a £5bn a year guarantee of free care packages for all in England, set out by the leader, Ed Davey, before the conference.
One policy formally adopted on Saturday commits to a doubling of statutory shared parental pay from just over £172 a week to £350, and increasing the amount of time it can be claimed from 37 weeks to 46 weeks.
However, as well as the videos about PR, the conference-opening rally included other trusted Lib Dem favourites, such as criticism of the government’s record on sewage discharged into rivers and the sea.
In another crowd-pleaser, Davey posed with one of the party’s ubiquitous election props – a giant clock with the slogan “Time’s up for Rishi Sunak”, used after the local elections in May.