Ex-Ukip members are standing as “Liberal Party” candidates in Lib Dem target seats

In Cornwall's key marginals, confusion over party names could make all the difference.

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A strange battle has broken out in Cornwall, where voters might be left feeling a little confused by what appears on their ballot papers.

In all six of the county's constituencies there will candidates standing from both the Liberal Democrats and the "Liberal Party". 

"It's quite dishonest of the Liberal Democrats to call themselves Liberal Democrats," said Steve Radford, a councillor in Liverpool and leader of the Liberal Party.

Three of the Liberal Party candidates in Cornwall have until recently been active campaigners for Ukip. Bob Smith was a founder member of Ukip with Nigel Farage and is standing in St Ives and the Scilly Isles. Paul Nicholson was a Ukip candidate for councillor in Penzance in 2017 and is standing in Truro and Falmouth. Elmar Liepins was a proposer for a Ukip parliamentary candidate in 2015 and is standing in North Cornwall.

On the subject of people joining from other parties, Radford had this to say:

"The presumption that because someone belonged to Ukip they are not a liberal is a false view."

"We've had a surge in the past year. A surge in Cornwall. A surge in other parts of the country as well."

But Andrew George, the Liberal Democrat candidate for St Ives and the Scilly Isles, is concerned that voters will be confused by the similar names of the two parties. In 2017 he lost the seat by a mere 312 votes to the Conservatives.

"The so-called Liberal Party is the moribund shell of a few disgruntled former Liberal Democrats who are pursuing a rather strange grudge campaign," said George. "Ukip have entered this moribund shell to deceive the electorate."

However, Radford disputed the Liberal Democrat claim on the designation "liberal".

"What's liberal about saying we had a referendum, you peasants got it wrong, you are all uneducated, we are going to ignore whatever you have to say. By the way we believe in tariff barriers and a centralised European Union."

The controversy dates back to the 1988 merger of the SDP and the Liberal Party but could well have ramifications in this year's election. Until 2015, the Liberal Democrats had a strong presence in leave-voting Cornwall and are hoping to make a number of gains. Across the country the Liberal Party are standing in 18 seats as opposed to four last time out thanks to a "significant" donation from member Peter White.

When asked whether he would consider changing his party's name, Radford responded:

"Why don't you ask the Liberal Democrats to change their name to the remain-remoan alliance, we-know-better-for-the-peasants, we-don't-believe-in-democracy party?"

George had this to say to the electoral commission:

"If Ukip are successful in their efforts to deceive the electorate... we reserve the right to look further into the matter."

George Grylls is the winner of the Anthony Howard Award 2019.