Ed Davey has said the Tories are no longer the party of homeowners, business or fiscal responsibility but “the party of chaos”, as he stepped up calls for an immediate general election in an autumn keynote speech.

The Liberal Democrat leader set out his party’s plans for a state-backed mortgage protection fund to stop families falling into arrears because of rising interest rates.

He also said his party would guarantee a GP appointment in seven days, half the period proposed by the Conservatives, and called for the abolition and replacement of Ofwat, the water watchdog for England and Wales, saying it was failing to stop companies pumping sewage into coastal waters.

Davey’s speech at the scheduled Lib Dem conference in September was cancelled because of the Queen’s funeral. He joked that the speech had been delayed for 47 days, the equivalent of “approximately one Liz Truss. And that says it all, doesn’t it?”

Davey said Rishi Sunak was not prepared to call a general election because “he knows he’d lose”, though without explicitly naming Labour as the probable victor.

“It’s obvious we need one. The British people demand one. Even that well-known constitutional scholar Nadine Dorries now says it’s ‘impossible to avoid’ an election. So why hasn’t Rishi called one? We know why. Because he knows he’d lose.”

Davey said it was clear from Liberal Democrat byelection results in Buckinghamshire, Shropshire and Devon. “He knows we will do it again – in seats along the blue wall, and right across the country.

“This is the guy who two years ago was telling us all, ‘Eat out to help out.’ Well, our message to the Conservatives is this: help out by clearing out.”

Davey said he acknowledged that a snap election was not likely to come under Sunak but that it was time to increase support for working families, saying “it’s time to start helping”.

He said revenues could be raised if the Conservatives “put a proper windfall tax on the blood-oil profits of the fossil fuel giants. Reverse your tax cuts for the big banks – they are unfair and unnecessary – and use those extra billions to give people real help with energy bills, to protect pensions and benefits from inflation, to safeguard schools, hospitals and councils from cuts and to help homeowners struggling to pay that Conservative property penalty.”

Davey told the Observer on Sunday that those at risk of default should be helped out with grants of up to £300 a month.

“Never again can the Conservatives claim to be the party of homeowners. Never again can they claim to be the party of business. Never again can they claim to be the party that balances the books. The Conservatives are the party of chaos. And now what worries millions of people is what happens next,” he said in his speech.

“Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng were rightly kicked out of Downing Street for their disastrous policies, but no one else should lose their homes because of them.”

Turning to the NHS, Davey said everyone should have a right to see a GP in seven days and that it was “not an ambition, not an expectation., not a target, but a right”. Davey said it could only be achieved by training and recruiting 8,000 more GPs and fixing pension rules.

Davey also said he wanted to make the next election “the last one to use first past the post” – a hint at terms for a deal with Labour if any supply-and-confidence measures are needed to give Labour a majority.

“In the end, for us, as liberals, it comes down to power. And a proportional electoral system would give every voter equal power. And with fair votes, everyone could make their voices heard. Everyone’s vote would have real power.

“Voter power to hold every MP to account. Putting power in people’s hands. Holding the powerful to account – that is our liberal mission.”



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