Tackling cancer and Conservatives will pave way to power, Ed Davey hopes

Sir Ed Davey pledges that anyone referred for cancer treatment will be seen in two months under a Liberal Democrat government - Political Correspondent Harry Horton and Westminster Producer Lewis Denison report from Bournemouth

Party conference speeches are often judged, perhaps unfairly, by the number of standing ovations they receive from party faithful in the audience. In Bournemouth, Sir Ed Davey received only one - at the end.

In fact, the biggest applause came when he talked about “fixing our broken relationship with Europe” - a topic he’s tried to avoid for most of the week.

Overall, Liberal Democrats will feel it’s been a good week for the party. Delegates arrived here in an excitable mood following a series of impressive by-election wins.

Sir Ed’s first conference speech as Lib Dem leader had two broad themes: attacking the Conservatives and promising to prioritise cancer treatment.

The Lib Dems say they are second to the Tories in 80 seats and unseating Conservatives will be the priority at the next general election.

“The corruption of Boris Johnson. The chaos of Liz Truss. The carelessness of Rishi Sunak,” Sir Ed told his conference. “This whole Conservative shambles. They all have to go.”

If voters take only one thing from his speech, Sir Ed wants it to be his focus on cancer.

It is a deeply personal issue for him. He lost both parents to the disease and he spoke at length in Bournemouth about caring for his mother while a young teenager.

His dad died with Hodgkin lymphoma when Sir Ed was just four, "then when I was nine, cancer came for mum too", he told the conference.

"When she was fighting the cancer with the naturopath, my top task was mashing up carrots and apples for the healthy juice drinks she lived on... Putting pads on her legs and sides so she could give herself small electric shocks when the pain got really bad," he said.

She died when he was 15 years old and he is now determined to use his position to tackle the disease.

"That’s why today I am announcing our new and ambitious plan to end unacceptable cancer delays and boost survival rates."

But his plan to fix cancer services was lacking in detail. The Lib Dems would spend £4 billion over five years to recruit and train more staff, however he did not explain how this would be funded.

This, they say, would guarantee patients receive cancer treatment within two months of an urgent referral. Where the money for this comes from will, we’re told, be explained in a fully costed manifesto at the next election.

At the end of Sir Ed’s speech, former Lib Dem leader Lord Ming Campbell admitted energy “had been a bit lacking” in recent years, but felt the party was “going somewhere” once again.

Many Lib Dem members will leave Bournemouth feeling optimistic about their party's prospects. Given their woeful electoral performance at recent general elections, that will be seen as success by party leadership.

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