The Liberal Democrats have served notice that the Vauxhall constituency of Labour Brexit supporter Kate Hoey is likely to be a high profile target for them in London, but will have to overturn a huge Labour majority without the help of the Green Party not fielding a candidate.
In a display of Lib Dem confidence, party leader Tim Farron fronted a press conference close to Vauxhall Bridge and Underground station alongside local candidate George Turner to announce that party membership has reached a near-record 100,000, and re-state his view that only his party offers “a decent, functioning opposition” to Theresa May and the Conservatives and a “vehicle for change” in the country.
Farron described Hoey as “effectively the Ukip candidate” in Vauxhall, after Ukip leader Paul Nuttall praised her at the weekend as one of the “good Brexiteers” from other parties he didn’t wish to see lose their seats.
Nuttall said he would be talking to local branches in seats where standing aside would help such candidates from any party, but the Green Party has told On London that its local membership has decided against standing down to help Remainer Turner overhaul Hoey, following suggestions that a decision on the issue would be taken later this week.
Asked earlier at the press conference about the possibility of the Greens standing aside, as they have in Ealing Central and Acton to assist Labour’s Rupa Huq’s defence of a wafer-thin majority there, Turner said he would “of course” welcome such “a fantastic gesture” from them were it to be made. He added that, if elected, he would make sure that “their issues were front and centre of the political debate for the people of Vauxhall.”
The Greens are active in this area of London and finished third behind Hoey and the Conservatives in 2015, slightly ahead of the Lib Dems with 8% of the vote. They also won a seat on local Lambeth Council in 2014, one of a handful they hold across the capital.
Turner said that as well campaigning against a “hard Brexit” and in favour of voters having the final say on whatever deal the government makes over leaving the European Union, he would be campaigning hard on housing, an issue he specialises in as a journalist. He expressed concern over the redevelopment of the Nine Elms area beside the Thames, which partly lies within the Vauxhall seat and is characterised by expensive high-rise flats. Hoey’s majority in 2015 was 12,708, representing a 54% vote share.
Farron was again challenged to say if he regarded gay sexual acts, as distinct from being gay, is a sin – an issue of particular relevance in Vauxhall, which has a long-established and prominent LGBT community. He replied that he has not going to answer the question, saying, “One’s personal faith is one’s personal faith” and “what counts is your actions and your beliefs in politics.” But he defended his record on gay issues, insisting “I am passionate about LGBT issues,” which had been “at the heart of our party’s programme for decades and will continue to be under my leadership.”