Liberal Democrats issue West Country rallying call at 2019 party conference

Chuka Umunna votes on a motion ahead of his speech at the Liberal Democrats autumn conference in Bournemouth. Credit: PA
  • By ITV News West Country political correspondent David Wood

If I am honest, the Liberal Democrats are always optimistic but here in Bournemouth for their annual conference that optimist is heightened and it is understandable why.

The party is recovering from near political oblivion after the Coalition Government, in the 2015 general election the party was kicked out of all of the 14 MP constituencies it held across the West Country.

Now with an election almost certain in the coming months the party is eyeing up winning many of them back.

Chuka Umunna walks to the stage ahead of his speech. Credit: PA

The Lib Dem's confidence comes after its success at the MEP elections in May, where in our part of the world two MEPs were voted in and also the local election which saw councils like the Cotswolds, Bath & North East Somerset and Somerset West and Taunton turn Lib Dem.

That said, the party's come back won't be official until they have more MPs in the West country. Right now, it is just Bath and Totnes (and that is only after former Tory Sarah Wollaston joined the party).

Sarah Wollaston (centre) joined the Liberal Democrats from the Tories. Credit: PA

In its sights are seats like St Ives, Cheltenham, North Devon and Wells as well as North Cornwall, Taunton.

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As ever the party is confident and believes the yellow shoots of recovery across the West Country are growing, but there is some quiet concern in some areas about the party's new Brexit policy.

On Sunday the party voted to campaign in the next election (if a second referendum hasn't been held) to revoke Article 50 - in effect to cancel Brexit. The Lib Dems have always believed remaining in the EU is the right thing to do, but this policy has proved controversial.

WATCH: Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson says party will "revoke Article 50" if the party secures a majority at next General Election:

One candidate in one of our Lib Dem target seats told me it 'risks putting a wall between our leave supporters' and others have said the policy risks the party being appearing on the extreme of the Brexit debate.

Here lies the major problem for the Lib Dems in the West Country as only one of its target constituencies (Cheltenham) voted the remain the rest voted to leave.

We don't know exactly when the next general election will be, but we can be sure the West Country will be a key battle ground with the Conservatives, Labour, Brexit Party and the Lib Dems.

  • Follow David Wood for the latest West Country political updates here.