Tory MPs in prosperous southern seats will be feeling rather nervous this morning. The Lib Dem victory in Chesham and Amersham, see Katy’s blog here, is another illustration of how the decline in tribal voting means there are far fewer safe seats than before.
One immediate consequence of this result is that it will harden backbench Tory opposition to planning reform. In this campaign, the Lib Dems repeatedly attacked the Tories for wanting to take away local communities’ ability to block developments. This struck a particular chord in a constituency that has HS2 running through it. (Though, the Tories should not forget that their electoral success is closely correlated to how many homeowners there are. A decline in property ownership would be a medium-term disaster for the party.)
It will also increase Tory worries about how the levelling up agenda is perceived in the south. Tory MPs who campaigned in the seat said that they faced regular complaints that the party is now more interested in its red wall voters than its traditional supporters.
Now, it should be said that this was a by-election. The Lib Dems put in a huge effort; activists flooded in from across the country in a way that they could not do in a general election. HS2 also meant that there was a lot of Tory dissatisfaction for them to work with. But combine the Tory defeat here with their victory in Hartlepool and it is clear that the political geography of England is changing. The focus now will shift to whether the Tories can find a way to hold together their new electoral coalition of both their traditional supporters and the new voters that they have won since Brexit.