Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey accused the Government of “unbelievable incompetence” in handling coronavirus, and issued a plea for cross-party talks to resolve the crisis in social care.
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.
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.
The Lib Dems have written to the Tories and Labour inviting them “to begin these talks in earnest”.
Sir Ed said Mr Johnson and his Government had not risen to the challenge posed by the virus.
“With unbelievable incompetence, this Conservative Government is failing our people in one of our darkest hours,” he said.
A public inquiry into the pandemic should focus on the “lies” about a “protective ring” around care homes and the “abject failure” to protect residents, he said.
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 will tell the online event: “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.”