Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey accused the government of “unbelievable incompetence” in handling coronavirus, and said that the Tories are failing people “in one of our darkest hours”.
In his first conference speech as leader, Sir Ed claimed Boris Johnson “refuses to take even the slightest responsibility” for the “chaos and harm” caused by the pandemic, while also taking swipes at Dominic Cummings.
In a highly personal speech, Sir Ed, who talked about being a teenage carer for his mother and the parent of a disabled son, said the pandemic made it “more urgent” to fix the social care system.
“The cross-party talks on social care, long promised by Boris Johnson, cannot wait any longer,” he said at the online event.
“With unbelievable incompetence, this Conservative government is failing our people in one of our darkest hours,” he said.
On the coronavirus, he continued: “Their failure to get protective gear to frontline workers in hospitals and care homes? Not his fault.
“When Johnson’s chief adviser undermined public trust by breaking lockdown with his trips to Durham and Barnard Castle? Different rules, for him.
“When Johnson’s “world-beating” test-and-trace system turns into a shambles? Claims instead a huge success.
“When children’s entire futures were thrown into doubt by the summer’s results fiasco? Blame the civil servants. Blame Ofqual. Blame the teachers. Blame anyone but Boris Johnson.
“Johnson’s hero, Winston Churchill, said that the price of greatness is responsibility. It seems that’s a price this prime minister isn’t willing to pay.”
The Kingston and Surbiton MP, who served as a cabinet minister in the coalition, acknowledged the party’s “deeply disappointing” performance in the last three general elections.
He told viewers: “At the national level at least, too many people think we’re out of touch with what they want.”
And he also pointed to the party’s lack of ethnic diversity.
“Unless we have black Liberal Democrat MPs can we truly say we are listening to Britain’s black communities as they demand a voice?”
Sir Ed used his speech to set out why his personal experience had driven his interest in the care system.
“I’ve been a carer for much of my life,” he said.
“First as a teenager, when I nursed my mum during her long battle against bone cancer.
“My dad had died when I was four. My mum was my whole world.
“So on one level, it was easy caring for mum: I loved her. But it was also incredibly tough.”
Then he organised care for his grandmother and now, as a father to his nine-year-old disabled son John.
“John needs 24/7 care – and probably always will.
“And that’s my biggest challenge: John will be on this planet long after Emily and I have gone.
“So we worry. No-one can possibly love him like we do. Hold him like we hold him.
“And our fears are shared by so many parents.”