James Forsyth James Forsyth

Could the Tories lose the South?

(Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

The coming Batley and Spen by-election — triggered by the incumbent MP’s election as the first mayor of West Yorkshire — is currently attracting a lot of attention. It is a northern constituency that Labour won at the last election with less than 50 per cent of the vote and that voted to Leave, which has led people to wonder if the Tories can repeat their by-election success there. (It is, though, worth noting that the 2019 Labour share of the vote in Batley and Spen was 43 per cent compared to 38 per cent in Hartlepool). 

But there is a group of Tory MPs who’ll be watching the Chesham and Amersham by-election even more closely. On paper, the seat looks as safe as houses for the Tories. They have held it since its creation in 1974 and at the last election, the Tories garnered 55 per cent of the vote. But the Lib Dem vote share did increase significantly at the last election. It is a Remain voting commuter belt seat and it is similar to some of the areas where the Tories struggled last week. (Although, the results in the seat itself don’t suggest a big Tory problem locally). Among some local activists there is a bit of concern about how energetic the Lib Dem campaign will be. This is compounded by the HS2 issue, the railway line will run through the seat and is deeply unpopular there.

One Tory MP in a nearby seat told me that they were confident that the Lib Dems wouldn’t win it, but if the Lib Dems did succeed in cutting the Tory majority significantly then they and their colleagues in other such seats would become more concerned about the possibility of their seats becoming marginal. These MPs are acutely aware of how previously safe Tory seats such as Kensington and Cities of London and Westminster are now only held by the party because of the split in the Liberal Democrat and Labour vote.

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