Tories will be 'love-bombing' Lib Dems to win votes in 2015
The chairman of the Conservatives believes the party can seduce Liberal Democrat voters in the Westcountry through the promise of a referendum on Britain's membership of the EU.
Grant Shapps told the Western Morning News the Tories will deploy a "love-bombing plus" strategy to win vital marginal seats from their coalition partners in Devon and Cornwall.
As the WMN revealed in January, the Tory strategy to win in 2015 aims to oust 40 rival MPs.
Ten of the target seats are in the greater South West – and all of those are held by the Lib Dems – making the region a key battleground. They include North Devon, North Cornwall, Somerton and Frome, St Austell and Newquay, St Ives and Torbay.
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Mr Shapps, who is spearheading the Tory election campaign, says the party will update the 2010 "love-bombing" strategy – where the Tories claimed to offer policies Lib Dem supporters favour – for the coalition era.
He said: "In the past, when they (Lib Dems) used to play the role of the party of opposition to everyone it was completely sensible to place your vote with them.
"Actually, if now what you want to see is the kind of Britain where we have the best chance of succeeding in the world, where we take our responsibilities to re-negotiate our relationship with Europe seriously, make sure we have a proper system of immigration which is not open to abuse ... a lot of these things are seen as Conservative concerns, and actually they mirror your (Lib Dem voter) concerns much more closely than these people you used to vote for as a protest.
"I'd sort of describe it as 'love-bombing plus'. As we've been saying for ages now, if you're Lib Dem and you have got values that Lib Dems espouse, then actually you've seen as Conservatives we have been quite a liberal government. (Look at) our major social reform (same-sex marriage). It's quite hard to paint us as nasty, socially illiberal."
He added voters tended to be more eurosceptic in Devon and Cornwall, making the Conservative pitch that "we are the only people that will offer you an in-out referendum" compelling, he said.
The Lib Dems are targeting at least four seats in Devon and Cornwall. Party leader Nick Clegg revealed his election pitch to the WMN in January, arguing the coalition would not be doing "fair things" if it "wasn't for the Liberal Democrats in government" – claiming income tax cuts and school funding targeted at the poor were their ideas.
But Mr Shapps suggested Lib Dems being in power "gives them less of an advantage".
"In the past they can vote Lib Dem in the South West with a romantic idea that they were up there in Westminster being different from all the other parties," he said. "It's pretty difficult for them to do that now."