Only Lib Dems can threaten the Tory majority, claims Farron

File photo dated 20/09/15 of Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron, who is to warn that the UK is in "

File photo dated 20/09/15 of Liberal Democrats leader Tim Farron, who is to warn that the UK is in "danger of letting malevolent forces hijack the result" of the EU referendum. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Wednesday August 31, 2016. The leader of the Liberal Democrats will claim that many voters who backed leave are "utterly appalled" that the likes of Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen have tried to "claim the result as a victory for their hateful brand of intolerance". See PA story POLITICS Brexit Farron. Photo credit should read: Ben Birchall/PA Wire - Credit: PA

A resurgent Liberal Democrat party in East Anglia and other rural communities will be the key to keeping Theresa May on her toes, the party's leader has claimed.

Speaking ahead of the Liberal Democrat conference which starts on Saturday, Tim Farron said that with the Labour Party in disarray it was his party which would challenge the Tories in its rural strongholds, as they had done in North Norfolk.

The Cumbrian MP also issued an invitation to disillusioned Conservative and Labour MPs to jump ship and join his outfit.

Mr Farron struck an upbeat tone ahead of his party's gathering in Brighton, claiming there was a 'by-election bandwagon' each Thursday and results since the European Union referendum had been 'staggering', with his party holding all its seats and winning seats from all of the main parties.

'If you want Theresa May to feel in any way on her toes, which you want the prime minister to be for the good of the country, then the only party that can threaten her majority are the Liberal Democrats, and it will almost certainly, more often than not, be in rural communities in places like East Anglia, the West Country.'

The region's Liberal Democrat Norwich South and Colchester MPs in the last parliament both lost their seats in the 2015 Liberal Democrat collapse, but Mr Farron said membership in both Norwich and Colchester was growing significantly, especially since the referendum.

'They are a real prospect for us. I rule nothing out.'

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He warned the Conservatives could be in power for 25 years unless there was a 'real alternative to the Conservatives that is economically competent, cares about equality, cares about rural areas and urban areas and believes that being in government is not a nasty aspiration but a noble one'.

'If you look around the stage, when you see the Labour Party shuffling off in a fist fight and nobody else there then you see the Liberal Democrats and this is our turn and our time and we are going to take it.'

He said he wanted to emulate the Liberal Canadian president Justin Trudeau who won the leadership of the Liberal Party in April 2013 and went on to lead his party to victory in the 2015 federal election, moving the third-placed Liberals from 36 seats to 184 seats.

'We would love to do a Trudeau. I believe we can. People might not think we can do a Treudau, but be sure we can do an Ashdown [former Liberal Democrat leader Paddy, now Lord, Ashdown] and take a whole load of seats off the Conservatives.

'The only way a Conservative government can feel even remotely held to account or under threat is by those Liberal Democrats gains being made in places like Colchester. We are going to be key to what happens next.'

Mr Farron said earlier in the day he wanted to raid Jeremy Corbyn's MPs, but also become a home for disillusioned Conservatives.

'There are plenty of people in the Conservative Party who think they are there because they are pro-business and they have discovered the Conservative Party could end up taking the country out of the single market.'

He claimed that pro-business Conservatives could 'realise they were in the wrong party' amid increased costs for businesses post Brexit and comments from a minister about lazy executives, adding he was making a 'genuine and warm offer'.

Do you have a politics story? Email annabelle.dickson@archant.co.uk

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