Tories warned ‘no seat is safe’ as Lib Dems put Gove and Hunt on ‘big beast’ hit list

Chancellor Jeremy Hunt and cabinet veteran Michael Gove appeared at the head of a Lib Dem hit list of top Tory targets they believe they can unseat in the general election.

The list is part of a wider strategy by the Lib Dems to “break the Tory blue wall” of traditionally safe seats across the south of England with previously unwinnable constituencies in counties such as Surrey now in their targets.

The revelation came just hours before Mr Gove announced he would be standing down at the general election after almost 20 years as an MP.

Since winning the Chesham and Amersham by-election in 2021, Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey has made no secret of his hopes to repaint the blue wall yellow on the electoral map.

But the plan to pour extra resources into seats held by five current cabinet ministers and five more being vacated by former Tory grandees including Theresa May and Sir John Redwood has echoes of the party’s disastrous decapitation strategy in 2005 which backfired spectacularly.

The Lib Dems believe Michael Gove’s Surrey Heath seat is vulnerable (PA)
The Lib Dems believe Michael Gove’s Surrey Heath seat is vulnerable (PA)

Back in the 2005 election, the Lib Dems put forward a list that included the then Tory leader Michael Howard and one of his top lieutenants, Oliver Letwin, which they believed they could take. In the end, they failed in all of them and most targets increased their majorities.

But this time, with a poll today suggesting the Lib Dems could win more seats than the Conservatives, the party’s leadership is optimistic about pulling off some major shocks.

In the new constituency of Godalming and Ash, which includes the majority of what was previously South West Surrey, Mr Hunt has ploughed £100,000 of his own money to defend the seat as he becomes nervous. Before the boundary changes, he had an 8,817 majority in 2019.

Meanwhile, the Lib Dems believe that Mr Gove’s Surrey Heath seat is also up for grabs. It too was altered in the boundary review but the Lib Dems hope to overturn what was an 18,349 majority in 2019 under the old boundaries.

Jeremy Hunt could be in danger of losing his seat (PA Wire)
Jeremy Hunt could be in danger of losing his seat (PA Wire)

Other cabinet ministers being heavily targeted are education secretary Gillian Keegan in Chichester, culture secretary Lucy Frazer in South East Cambridgeshire, and justice secretary Alex Chalk in Cheltenham.

Few are giving Mr Chalk much hope of holding on with a majority from 2019 of just 981. Ms Frazer is also in trouble, defending a majority of 11,490, while Ms Keegan looks safer with a majority of 21,490. All the nominal majorities have been affected by the boundary review.

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Daisy Cooper told The Independent: “Conservative bigwigs are not safe from losing their seats after their disastrous record in government.

“A string of Conservative ministers have completely botched their jobs, from crashing the economy to letting hospitals crumble and sewage pollute our rivers.

“There is no such thing as a safe Conservative seat anymore. The British public are fed up after years of sleaze and scandal.

“The Liberal Democrats are ready to kick these Conservative big beasts out of office. Across vast swathes of the country, it is a two-horse race between the Liberal Democrats and a desperately out of touch Conservative party.”

The Lib Dems also hope to take out former cabinet minister Greg Clark in Tunbridge Wells who became the 75th Tory MP to announce he was standing down today. Meanwhile, the Lib Dems are aiming at seats of other departing grandees Theresa May in Maidenhead, Sir John Redwood in Wokingham, Dominic Raab in Esher and Walton, and Nadhim Zahawi in Stratford-on-Avon.