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Lib Dems face uphill battle in West Midlands as they aim for centre-ground voters

By Peter Madeley | General Election 2019 | Published:

Jo Swinson had a crystal clear message as she kicked off the Lib Dems general election campaign – block Brexit so the country can start to come together.

Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson speaking at the launch of her party's general election campaign in London

Quite how she thinks revoking Article 50 and ignoring the votes of 17.4 million people will do this is not entirely clear, although she's going to have a darned good go at it regardless.

"We, Liberal Democrats, will stop Brexit," she promised an audience of campaigners in Westminster.

"I recognise there are differences of opinion on this issue, and I think people recognise and appreciate that we are consistent and we are firm in what we are standing for."

She hit out at Boris Johnson, who she says is "modelling himself on Donald Trump", and Jeremy Corbyn, who "will not give you a straight answer" on Brexit and is unfit to be PM.

She also said that staying in the EU would unlock a £50 billion "Remain bonus" that could be spent on public services.

It's been a while since the Lib Dems have gone into a general election in such good shape, having successfully exploited Labour's weakness on Brexit to become the party of Remain.

The aim is to hoover up centre-ground EU supporters who feel ignored by the two main parties.

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Leader Jo Swinson makes her way to the stage prior to speaking at the launch the Liberal Democrat General Election campaign in London

And with the ranks bolstered by quitters from Labour and the Tories, there is genuine hope that the Lib Dems could come close to the 62 seats it achieved in 2005 under Charles Kennedy.

For some voters, the clear anti-Brexit stance alone has been enough to make them forgive the party's embarrassing failings under Nick Clegg and the Tory coalition.

Even Ms Swinson's own dubious record – which saw her vote to cut welfare payments for the disabled and oppose raising income tax for top earners – has been cast aside by many Remainers, desperate for a chance to turn back the Brexit clock.

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But while there's an argument to be had over just how 'liberal' Ms Swinson is (her views on cancelling the referendum result suggest she is certainly no democrat), there is no doubt that her party's message has resonated with many pro-EU voters.

However, it seems that few of them reside in the heavily Leave-backing West Midlands.

According to party sources, not a single seat in the Black Country is considered a realistic target, while Birmingham could yield one at most in Yardley – although that appears to be a big ask as it is currently held by Labour Remainer Jess Phillips.

"If we hold our deposits around here, that's a win," a source told the E&S.

WATCH: More on the Lib Dem's leader

Tory-held Solihull is considered an outside chance. The nearest 'top tier' target is Warwick and Leamington, where the Lib Dems were miles behind Labour and the Tories in 2017, but run the local council and saw success in this year's EU elections.

Still, Ms Swinson is confident of her party's chances of electoral success, insisting she is offering the country a Lib Dem government rather than a pact with other parties.

"This is the general election. This is the chance for millions of people across the country to decide what they want," she said.

Getting the keys to Number 10 will surely be a bridge too far, but she could well play kingmaker if the Tories fail to get a majority.

Peter Madeley

By Peter Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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