The Liberal Democrats’ win in the Chesham and Amersham by-election has sparked hopes that the Tories’ “blue wall” of seats in the south of England is collapsing.
And it has revived agitation for a “progressive alliance” of Labour, Lib Dems, Greens and nationalists to turf out Boris Johnson at the next election.
It was certainly a drubbing for the government. The Lib Dems increased their vote share by 30 points, overturning a 16,000 Tory majority to win by over 8,000 on a 52 percent turnout.
In the 13 previous elections since the seat was created in 1974, the Conservatives had never received less than 50 percent of the vote. Last Thursday they took just 36 percent.
The specific issues that moved votes included fears that the HS2 rail line is tearing up parts of the local environment—and will depress house prices.
The last Tory MP opposed the project and resigned as a minister because of it. The candidate this time was committed to it.
The Lib Dems, who fought the 2019 general election supporting HS2, managed to convey an air of being against the project.
Possible planning changes that would allow more house building on rural land were also unpopular.
Lib Dem campaigner Bridget Fox tweeted, “Many families move here for the (grammar) schools and pay a premium to do so. The impact of the government’s handling of Covid on schools and exams, and university experiences, has left them livid.”
More generally there was a wave of disgruntled anger at Johnson. Chesham and Amersham backed Remain in 2016 and perhaps the result was part of lingering resentment over the issue.
Meanwhile, the Labour support collapsed to produce the party’s worst ever result in a by-election.
The 622 votes recorded by Natasa Pantelic is rumoured to be about the same as the number of Labour members in the constituency. Pantelic enthusiastically paraded an endorsement from Tony Blair.
One in five people voted for Labour when Jeremy Corbyn was Labour leader in 2017. This time it was one in 60 and Labour came behind the Greens.
Nobody should be cheering a Lib Dem win. It was a victory for the party that enabled the decade of austerity after 2010 by joining a coalition with the Tories.
It is still a party wholly wedded to the interests of business. It is almost a living definition of a bosses’ B-team.
At the last general election, the Lib Dems were for more restrictive spending than the Tories proposed. And they were prepared to override the Brexit vote without even holding another referendum.
This seat is hardly a barometer of working class feeling. It is 531 of 533 in the rank by deprivation of English constituencies.
Many Lib Dem by-election wins are the result of them channelling highly contradictory resentments at governments. They rarely have any lasting effect.
But they do feed the calls for Labour to do a deal with other parties so there is just one candidate to oppose the Tories.
For writer Paul Mason the slump in the Labour vote is a sign the “Progressive Alliance is already happening, whether the Labour bureaucracy likes it or not”.
Such an alliance would strengthen even further the hold of pro-business politics in Labour. Nothing else would be acceptable to the Lib Dems—and neither would be any sort of leftist as prime minister.
More importantly it takes politics away from forums of trade union battles and struggles outside of parliament. Instead what matters is pacts between elites to scheme a way to office.
Labour is already in thrall to pro-capitalist ideas. Deals with the Lib Dems would accelerate the process.