The Liberal Democrats are fighting off criticism from their own members over the party’s “aggressive” positioning against Remain rivals.
The party has come under fire for plowing ahead with plans to replace Canterbury candidate Tim Walker.
He stood down last night over fears his position would jeopardise Labour incumbent Rosie Duffield’s chance of winning the seat.
Duffield, who is pro-Remain, has a majority of less than 300 in what has been traditionally a Conservative stronghold.
While Walker is backed by local campaigners, Lib Dem HQ plans to parachute a replacement before tomorrow afternoon’s deadline.
This afternoon High Peaks candidate Guy Kiddey, a former Economist journalist, said if he campaigned hard in High Peak he would split the vote and the Conservative candidate would win.
The Derbyshire seat was also a surprise Labour victory in 2017, after Ruth George won a 2,322-vote majority.
In a statement Kiddey said he had received an email from James Gurling, the chairman of the Lib Dems’ election campaign, to say that disciplinary action was being taken against Walker.
“I was, and am, appalled at this response,” said Kiddey. His statement also criticised Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson’s “tirades and aggression” saying: “I have spent much time apologising for it on the rainy doorsteps of High Peak, and it seems to have spread through the ranks of the party leadership”.
He told the BBC he would stand – but that he was backing his Labour rival.
“I will encourage people to vote for the Labour candidate who has the best chance of beating the Tories,” he said.
“But I will stand – on the proviso that I get an apology, and Tim gets the apology – […because] it is far better that their votes come to me than go to the Tories”.
He urged Labour and the Lib Dems to work together “even at this late hour” to build an alliance and defeat “a Tory government that will be far worse than anything under Margaret Thatcher”.
A Lib Dem spokeswoman insisted Labour was not a pro-Remain party and rejected any suggestion that it would consider backing down from seats such as Canterbury, regardless of the individual MP’s position on Brexit.
She added: “We will be announcing a candidate in due course to contest the seat of Canterbury. The Liberal Democrats are committed to stopping Brexit and building a brighter future.”
But Best for Britain chief executive Naomi Smith told City A.M. this was a dangerous move, both for the Remain movement and the Lib Dems themselves.
“It’s a decision that makes a Johnson majority more likely and that should weigh heavy on their consciences,” she said, describing it as an “abject failure of Remainer leadership”.
“They need to understand that their vote is soft… It’s not a core vote, and voters will go back to Labour if they feel it’s safe to, or if the Lib Dems aren’t working hard enough to keep them.
“The Lib Dems can’t take their current vote share for granted.”
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