SIR Ed Davey has suffered a high-profile defeat over election tactics at the Liberal Democrat conference on the eve of his keynote speech. 

A plan by the party leadership to ditch a previous commitment to a national housing target for England was blocked in a rebellion led by the party’s Young Liberals group.

The group tabled an amendment that kept a 2021 target of 380,000 new homes per year despite warnings the Tories would put it on their leaflets in the general election.

The party hierarchy fears the target could put off Tory voters in so-called Blue Wall seats across rural southern England who don't want new housing developments.

The LibDem leadership had wanted to set a target solely for social housing of 150,000 new homes a year, housing which is more likely to be in urban areas.

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But after a passionate and rowdy debate in which many younger speakers spoke of being unable to buy a home because of a lack of supply, the party membership backed the rebel amendment.

Two other rebel amendments to the leadership's housing policy paper were also approved on the penultimate day of the party’s gathering in Bournemouth.

During the debate, Janey Little, chair of the Young Liberals, said: “We as young people feel ignored and let down by those at the top of our party.

“This is not the first time we have had to plead our case.”

The party ultimately approved a motion saying: “Conference maintains its commitment to a national housing target of 380,000 new homes per year, to set a clear direction of travel and to indicate serious intent to address the housing crisis.”

Lord applause rang out as the result was declared.

The defeat was a blow to Sir Ed Davey, who is due to make his closing speech tomorrow, and already faces internal criticism for parking talk of rejoining the EU.

Former UK leader Tim Farron was booed for calling national targets “Thatcherism”.

He told delegates: “If there was a credible amendment today to build 380,000 council houses a year, I would back it.

“I reckon I can get away with being a rebel again now, I do not give a monkey’s, but amendment one does not do that. 

“It is a vague and vacuous target, and we have had vague targets for years – they are not radical, they are not liberal, they are not new, they are not effective.

“Vague targets let and empower developers to build the houses that they want but never … the homes that we desperately need, especially that young people actually need. 

“The authors of amendment one do not mean it, but it is pure Thatcherism.”

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Mr Farron said a national target would be an “electoral gift to the Tories” including in the Mid Bedfordshire by-election caused by Tory MP Nadine Dorries quitting. 

He went on: “I will take the hit to stand up against nimbyism, but I will not take an electoral hit to fight the corner of corporate investors.”

LibDrm peer Lord Stunnell called the amendment for a national target the “most right-wing I’ve seen at … conference since we sent Liz Truss to work undercover”.

He said: “Housing developers are in it for the money. Whatever the target, it won’t move the dial. They will always aim to build slightly fewer homes than people want to buy.”

He called on delegates to back the motion to instead adopt a target to build 150,000 new social homes a year, adding: “Don’t spoil it with a pointless gesture.”

MP Helen Morgan, the LibDem housing spokesperson, was also heckled for saying the party would “build 150,000 new homes for social rent every year”, leading to shouts of “where?”.

There were also boos when Ms Morgan said: “National housing targets do not work. They didn’t work a decade ago … they won’t work in the future.”

However many speakers in favour of the amendment warned that ditching the natiional target would be electorally toxic, especially among the young.