Battered at the polls, the new leader of the Liberal Democrats began the party’s long road back to Number 10 in a fish and chip shop on Friday.
Sir Ed Davey, who was elected to the top job last week, kicked off his national “listening tour” aimed at winning back voters by working a shift at Taylors in Stockport, Cheshire.
The local constituency of Hazel Grove was held by the Lib Dems for more than 20 years before losing it in 2015 to the Tories, who have kept the seat ever since.
The MP for Surbiton in Surrey said the arch-Remain party that campaigned for a second referendum over Brexit is now firmly in listening mode after three successive general election drubbings.
The 54-year-old said: “This is the start of quite a long journey. I want to go around the whole of the United Kingdom talking to people, but mainly listening. It’s a listening tour.
“The main reason is because I think the Liberal Democrats have not been doing enough listening.
“We’ve had three very poor election results – 2015, 2017 and 2019 – and the voters were sending a message.
“They were saying ‘You used to listen, you used to be on our side, but I don’t think you are now.’
“I’m saying to the party and the country – ‘We are going to listen. We are going to make your concerns our concerns.’
“This is the very beginning, you are here at the very beginning of what’s going to be a long exercise, months and months and months.
“I think the party has been talking to itself too much and not talking to ordinary people and listening and reflecting their concerns, and that’s what I’m determined we do again.
“The problem I’m going to fix is the perception of the Liberal Democrats at the moment.
“It’s not a very good one, is it? Because people have not come to our colours in the last three general elections.”
On Brexit, Sir Ed said his party’s position is not now arguing to re-join Europe but to be close to the EU.
He said: “We’ve got to stop no-deal because no-deal would be a disaster and no-deal was not on offer at the referendum, people said there would be a deal.
“We also think we should be as close to our European friends as possible.
“Covid is causing a huge economic crisis and, if you put a very hard Brexit on that, which the Government look like they want to do, that’s going to make our economic problems even worse.
“So we are not arguing to turn back the clock.”
Sir Ed claimed Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s handling of the Covid crisis has been “absolutely shambolic from start to finish”.
“We wish the Government was doing a much better job.”
“This isn’t about a photo op,” the politician said after posing for photographs.
“Some politicians go and do a photo op and leave; I’ve been here three hours, four hours. A whole lunchtime shift, most of the time without any press, any media, because if you do it that way people open up.”
Asked what his party is going to offer voters, Sir Ed said: “Come back in 10 months.”