Katy Balls

Major Tory upset as Lib Dems win Chesham and Amersham by-election

Major Tory upset as Lib Dems win Chesham and Amersham by-election
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Boris Johnson wakes to a shock Tory defeat in the Chesham and Amersham by-election. Overnight, the Liberal Democrats have turned the seat yellow for the first time in its history. The Lib Dem candidate Sarah Green managed to overturn a majority of 16,000 in the Buckinghamshire seat that has only ever been Tory — after the by-election was called following the death of Conservative MP Dame Cheryl Gillan. Green won a majority of 8,028 — with 21,517 votes to the Conservative candidate's 13,489.

Announcing the news, Lib Dem leader Ed Davey heralded it proof that 'the Tory blue wall is beginning to crumble'. The 25 point swing to the party will certainly come as a nasty surprise for Tory MPs. Ahead of the result, MPs on the ground there were predicting a Tory win with a reduced majority. Both sides were comparing it to the Witney by-election after David Cameron quit the Commons — where votes went to the Lib Dems but the Tories still held onto it with a majority of over 5,000.

So, what does the result point to? The Liberal Democrats heavily campaigned here with regular visits from Davey. As for their campaign, they made this an election about planning reform. Leaflets going out to residents promised to oppose the government's plans for a radical shake-up of the planning system. There was a push on the Lib Dem side to say that the reforms would take powers and decision-making away from local communities. Campaigners for the party also say there was a sense of feeling 'taken for granted' on the doorstep. The Tory party is now so focused on its new voters in the so-called red wall, that some in the original blue wall feel overlooked. Tory MPs say the delay to the roadmap didn't help with some of their voters as it meant the vaccine bounce effect was lesser.

There was a hint of this in the local election results. While the Tories won the Hartlepool by-election, taking the seat from Labour for the first time since its 1974 creation, they suffered losses in places traditionally viewed as their heartlands such as Surrey, Tunbridge Wells and Cambridgeshire. These results unsettled Tory MPs in the south and pushed them further in their opposition to planning reform. It led to concerns that the Tory voter coalition wouldn't hold at the next election. The result of the Chesham and Amersham by-election will only make this problem worse. Johnson's blue wall problem is growing. 

Written byKaty Balls

Katy Balls is The Spectator's deputy political editor.

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