They didn’t see it coming, did they? Tory MPs today are digesting the calamitous (for them) result of the Chesham and Amersham by-election and it’s not a good feeling. Just like Labour after the Hartlepool by-election which resulted in a seat changing hands for the first time since its creation, voters declined to do what was expected of them.
The notion of a safe seat isn’t exactly over, but for a Tory majority of 16,000 to be overturned by Lib Dem Sarah Green with a majority of 8,028 suggests that party heartlands aren’t what they were. Voters don’t care to be taken for granted. And with a thumping majority of 80 seats — well, 79 now — in Parliament, that’s precisely what the party did.
This wasn’t, of course, a general election, but turnout was still 52 per cent. There was a sense during the campaign that voters felt they were being ignored — which isn’t quite the same as saying that Blue Wall (Tory) seats don’t like the way the Government is throwing money at former Red Wall (Labour) areas. If we see this as Buckinghamshire versus Sunderland, we’ll be getting things wrong.
There were two outstanding issues of immense practical significance which made all the difference. One was HS2, which runs through the constituency. People didn’t like it and made their opposition plain. They were ignored by an arrogant Government which likes grand projects and had already made its collective mind up. There are quite a few other Tory seats, let’s note, which are similarly affected by this absurdly extravagant and environmentally damaging project. It was perhaps disingenuous for the Lib Dems to campaign against it here whereas their national policy is different, but that’s the Lib Dems for you.
The other issue is planning. The Government wants to zone areas so that once a place is designated as being available for development, there’s little chance that residents can hold up new housing projects. But you know what? People don’t like to be ridden roughshod over.
The sole good news for Boris and Co is that yesterday’s result is even worse for Labour. Both parties got what they deserved. If Tory MPs have got any sense of self-preservation they’ll be finding ways to scrap the new planning proposals right now.
What do you think of the Amersham and Chesham by-election results? Let us know in the comments below.