In an interview with The Evening Standard ahead of his party’s virtual conference, he rejected suggestions that Labour under Sir Keir Starmer would further squeeze his party’s support.
“Even if he does nothing else, the fact that he’s not Corbyn, is a big boost to the Liberal Democrats because in the Liberal Democrat/Tory marginal seats that we failed to win last time, probably the main reason we failed to win was fear of Jeremy Corbyn,” he said.
“For many people across London, fear of Jeremy Corbyn was worse than their fear of Brexit. So the fact that he is not Corbyn is a massive boost to us.”
He insisted that his party and Labour are “not competitors” because of the way the first-past-the-post system works.
“If you look at the top 20, the top 40 where we are second, Labour is hardly there at all,” he added.
Former Cabinet minister Sir Ed, MP for Kingston and Surbiton, also tore into the Government over its handling of the Covid pandemic including on support for the capital.
“London is going through a massive transformation…some of it will be temporary because of Covid, but a lot of it looks like it could be permanent,” he said.
“For London to adapt as it has over the decades and centuries to this new world, and I think it is a new world, where the office economy based in central London, with all that massive commuting, alters to a certain extent…where is the thinking?
“This Government is just so slow on the short term and it’s completely absent on the long term.”
He believes a swathe of city centre offices might be turned into housing, easing pressure for more homes in outer London, projected public transport demand may decline, and community hubs may be set up in local high streets for work meetings.
However, he also warned his party at Westminster it had to focus more on issues that matter more to voters, such as Covid, jobs, the NHS, social care and local issues, stressing that its Brexit campaign had “clouded” out other policies.
“We have had three very disappointing election results in five years and the voters have been sending us a message that they don’t think that we are on their side, they don’t think we have got their backs, that we don’t share their values,” he explained.
“Faced with that reality, we have got to have some humility and we have got to go out there and try to be more relevant to their lives.”
Pressed on whether Britain should rejoin the EU if the Conservatives lose the next election, he emphasised: “We are pro-European in our DNA, and I’m a passionate pro-European.
“We are not hiding that, we fought the good fight on Remain, we lost.
“But we have also got to accept that Brexit is happening and we have got to deal with the world in front of us not necessarily as how we would like it to be.
“Now, we arguing against a No Deal, against a bad deal, we want Britain to be as close as possible to our European colleagues, and let’s try and win that fight.”
After the disastrous December 2019 general election result for the Lib-Dems under Jo Swinson, Sir Ed said: “Mine will be a listening leadership.”
He has already embarked on a “listening tour”, with stops so far in the North West, Cardiff and Fife in Scotland.
An Ipsos-MORI poll for The Standard showed 17 per cent are satisfied with him as party leader , 25 per cent dissatisfied and 57 per cent “don’t know”, though Nick Clegg had more in the latter category after becoming leader.
“I’m humble enough to realise that the ‘don’t knows’ will probably outweigh the others for a little while to come yet,” said Sir Ed.