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The Tories Are Buying Google Ads To Squeeze The Lib Dems In Key Marginal Battles

Tim Farron's party is at only 7% in the polls – but the Conservatives are trying to eat away at that support with paid-for online ads warning of a "coalition of chaos".

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The Conservatives are attempting to squeeze the Liberal Democrat vote with an online advertising campaign targeting marginal constituencies the two parties are contesting.

In a repeat of the Tory tactic that helped David Cameron win a surprise majority in 2015, Google searches for "Lib Dems" and the names of closely-fought marginals are greeted with paid-for links to the Conservative website, warning: "Thinking of voting Lib Dem? – you could be making Corbyn PM."

Similar results were obtained when searching for several of the Lib Dems' top target seats, including St Ives, Bermondsey and Southport. This was also the case when searching for Lib Dems more generally in places such as Southwark, Cornwall and Norfolk.

By contrast, searches including the names of seats where the Lib Dems are not battling the Tories, such as Tim Farron's Westmorland and Lonsdale, do not show the links to the Conservative ads.

The Tories' ability to squeeze the Lib Dem vote in the 2015 general election, which happened largely without journalists noticing, was one of the main contributing factors in Cameron's victory – and left then leader Nick Clegg's party with just eight seats.

Targeted Facebook adverts from the last election show how the Conservatives repeatedly – and successfully – warned Lib Dem voters that backing anyone but the Tories could result in Ed Miliband becoming prime minister, backed by a "chaotic coalition" including the SNP.

This time around the Conservatives appear to be repeating the tactic, buying adverts designed to deter people from voting for the Liberal Democrat by warning that a vote for Tim Farron's party is a vote for a "coalition of chaos" which would allow Jeremy Corbyn into Downing Street backed by the SNP and Lib Dems.

The "coalition of chaos" attacks on the Lib Dems also appear to have been stepped up in recent weeks, with Tim Farron appearing increasingly regularly under the banner in online Tory Facebook adverts and online material produced by the Conservatives.

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Nationally, the Lib Dems pose very little threat to the Tories, and could even lose some of their nine seats in next week's election. According to the latest Ipsos MORI poll the Liberal Democrats are polling at just 7%, compared to 45% for the Conservatives and 40% for Labour.

Despite this, the Conservatives have stepped up their anti-Lib Dem campaign – despatching young activists wearing Tim Farron masks to stand outside Lib Dem events with signs saying "Vote for me – get Jeremy Corbyn" and "I'll prop you up Jeremy".

They've been standing here for literally hours now.

The message is also being used in Tory–Lib Dem marginals seats, where local Conservative candidates are attempting to portray the Liberal Democrats as the party of Corbyn.

"The choice is really crystalising now that it’s going to be either Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn who negotiates, and if you vote Conservative you’ll get Theresa May and if you vote for any of the other parties you could well get Jeremy Corbyn," James Wilde, the Conservative candidate challenging Lib Dem Norman Lamb for the marginal seat of Norfolk North told BuzzFeed News.

"A lot of people are saying that Jeremy Corbyn is Santa Claus, and we’ve seen this movie and we know how it ends, with a lot of borrowing," he added.

Following Lib Dem leader Tim Farron's BBC interview with Andrew Neill on Thursday night, international development Priti Patel echoed the threat that a vote for the Lib Dems would lead to Corbyn in Number 10.

“Tim Farron would prop up Jeremy Corbyn as prime minister and now we know what that means: disruption in the Brexit negotiations because he wants to stay in the EU, a less secure nation because he’d take powers away from the security services, and higher taxes hitting 30 million ordinary workers in the pocket," she said.

Farron has been adamant throughout the campaign that he would not be willing to form a coalition with any other party, most likely in an effort to shake of the ghost of the party's 2010-2015 coalition with the Tories, which has proved damaging to the party's reputation, but that has not stopped May repeatedly asserting otherwise.

Speaking to BuzzFeed News in Cornwall recently, Farron dismissed the Tories' efforts to convince people that the Lib Dems would go into coalition with Labour: "It’s actually quite encouraging if your opponent's main attack line is weak and implausible."

Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Laura Silver at laura.silver@buzzfeed.com.

Jim Waterson is a politics editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Jim Waterson at jim.waterson@buzzfeed.com.

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