The Liberal Democrats have scored a massive victory in the Chesham and Amersham by-election, overturning a 16,000 majority in a seat that has always voted Conservative.
The party’s candidate Sarah Green won by 8,028 votes, with the Tories in second on 13,489, the Green Party in third place on 1,480 and Labour in fourth after their worst election performance in history saw them win just 622 votes.
Lib Dem leader Ed Davey celebrated the victory by “knocking over a wall of blue bricks”, the BBC reports, and claiming that his party is now the “main threat” to the Tories in many areas of the country. So are the Conservatives in danger of losing their blue heartlands?
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The Lib Dem win in Chesham and Amersham will go down as “a legendary victory to rank alongside famous by-election upsets of the past”, says BBC political correspondent Iain Watson.
Overturning such a large Tory majority was partly the result of classic “pavement politics”, he continues, with the Lib Dems “relentlessly campaigning on local issues such as HS2” and the Conservatives’ proposed planning laws.
But looking beyond this by-election to future electoral clashes, the “Lib Dems claim the political geography of the UK is changing”, he adds.
In the New Statesman, former Conservative MP David Gauke agrees that while the Lib Dems were able to “ruthlessly exploit local issues”, the “deeper problem” for Boris Johnson is that “there are a number of traditionally Conservative-voting constituencies” where “relatively liberal and educated” Tory voters “feel uncomfortable with the new direction of the party”.
Gauke says that “there is a political realignment underway in British politics” in which “most of the former Red Wall will stay Conservative” but where 30 or so “seemingly safe” Tory seats could be lost.
What the ex-cabinet minister calls the “first phase” of the realignment came when the red wall fell to Johnson, leaving his party “dominant”. But what may happen next is “the crumbling of the Blue Wall”, which “would make our politics much more competitive”.
The shift appears to have been missed by many journalists, with The Times’ Red Box editor Patrick Maguire saying that the media owe the Lib Dems “an apology”.
“For weeks the Liberal Democrats told anyone who would listen that their campaign in Chesham and Amersham was taking off,” Maguire continues, but they “were almost totally ignored, as was the contest itself”. And Johnson will now rightly be concerned about “the loyalty of his traditional core vote”, he adds, voters Gauke describes in the New Statesman as “the home counties’ middle classes”.
Lib Dem leader Davey this morning described the win as his party’s “best ever by-election victory”, telling the BBC that “if it was repeated across the south, literally dozens of Conservative seats would fall to the Liberal Democrats”.
“People talked about the Red Wall in the North, but forgot about the blue wall in the South, and that’s going to come tumbling down if this result is mimicked across this country”, he added.
The “warning signs were there in the local elections in May”, the Evening Standard says, when the Tories lost council seats in areas such as Tunbridge Wells, Surrey and Oxfordshire. But having made “further inroads” into former Labour strongholds, Tories were “tempted to look north”.
So far, Johnson has “been gaining more ground in the north than they have been losing in the south”, the BBC’s Watson says.
But the massive swing away from the Conservatives in Chesham and Amersham may suggest that Davey is right about there being “bigger conclusions to be drawn” about the direction of travel among the Tory base.
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