Tory voters in Chesham and Amersham reveal why they switched their vote to Lib Dems in by-election

HS2, planning reforms and destruction of the green belt: Lifelong Tory voters in Chesham’s Conservative heartland reveal why they switched their vote and abandoned Boris

  • Lib Dems won the Chesham and Amersham by-election today by 8,028 votes
  • Previously the Tories had never lost it and had a 16,000 majority in 2019 election
  • Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Green polled 21,517 votes, 57% of the total
  • Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said win shows ‘Tory blue wall is beginning to crumble’ 
  • By-election was called following the death of Tory MP Dame Cheryl Gillan in April

Long-term Conservative voters in Chesham have revealed they turned away from the party over issues such as planning policy and the environment, with many annoyed by the impact of HS2.

Voters in the Buckinghamshire market town awoke on Friday morning to news the Liberal Democrats had inflicted a shock by-election defeat on the Tories in what was a Conservative stronghold for decades. 

One such constituent, Alan Price, 82, said he voted for Lib Dem candidate Sarah Green despite being a long-time Tory supporter because he was ‘fed up and furious over the building of HS2’. He added: ‘It’s a big, big bugbear for me.’

Meanwhile, Tories warned Boris Johnson he must ‘listen’ to fury about planning reforms and HS2 in the party’s heartlands.

The PM admitted he was ‘disappointed’ after the Lib Dems stormed the ultra-safe seat. But Mr Johnson denied he was neglecting the south, saying the idea was ‘bizarre’ and insisting there were ‘particular circumstances’ accounting for the loss. ‘We are a great One Nation party,’ Mr Johnson said. 

Voters in the Buckinghamshire market town awoke on Friday morning to news the Liberal Democrats had inflicted a shock by-election defeat on the Tories in what was a Conservative stronghold for decades. Pictured, Sarah Green

Voters in the Buckinghamshire market town awoke on Friday morning to news the Liberal Democrats had inflicted a shock by-election defeat on the Tories in what was a Conservative stronghold for decades. Pictured, Sarah Green

Boris Johnson admitted he was 'disappointed' after the Lib Dems stormed the ultra-safe seat

Boris Johnson admitted he was ‘disappointed’ after the Lib Dems stormed the ultra-safe seat

The multibillion-pound railway project to create a new high-speed service from London to the Midlands and beyond has been stoking fury among residents for years. 

Mr Price added: ‘My partner lives in Maidenhead and I used to be able to travel there in 30 minutes or so, now it takes me at least two hours. It’s chaotic. It’s been really hard as she’s become ill. I don’t think they realise how many people it has affected.’

The multibillion-pound railway project to create a new high-speed service from London to the Midlands and beyond has been stoking fury among residents for years.

Many are opposed to the project on environmental grounds, concerned the tracks are destroying wildlife, habitats and the beauty of the Chilterns and surrounding green belt.

However, it is the day-to-day impact of major works causing pot holes and traffic jams that has swayed others.

Shabaz Nawaz, an employee of Simply The Best launderette, said: ‘It’s the railway, HS2, that’s done it. Everywhere around here the traffic is unbearable.’

Jit Mistry, owner of Chesham Post Office, said: ‘This is a beautiful place but people are totally against what’s happening with the railway, and I think that’s what has driven this.’

Carolyne Culver, who supports the Stop HS2 campaign, is pictured in front of a closed road

Carolyne Culver, who supports the Stop HS2 campaign, is pictured in front of a closed road

Workers on scaffolding at the HS2 high-speed rail line construction site in London

Workers on scaffolding at the HS2 high-speed rail line construction site in London

HS2 closed off part of Bottom House Farm Lane and locals can no longer walk or cycle on the road. There is now a long diversion for walkers

HS2 closed off part of Bottom House Farm Lane and locals can no longer walk or cycle on the road. There is now a long diversion for walkers 

Election officials count the ballots in the Chesham and Amersham By-Election at Chesham Leisure Centre

Election officials count the ballots in the Chesham and Amersham By-Election at Chesham Leisure Centre

Sarah Green, centre, making her victory speech in which she said: 'This Conservative Party has taken people across our country for granted for far too long'

Sarah Green, centre, making her victory speech in which she said: ‘This Conservative Party has taken people across our country for granted for far too long’

The Government’s handling of the pandemic also appeared to have been a factor in some people’s decision to vote for the Lib Dems.

Helen Henderson, 51, who has lived in the area for 15 years, said: ‘They just haven’t coped with the pandemic, and on top of everything the Tories have done over many, many years I just wanted them out.

‘It’s an emotional issue for me because my brother-in-law died from Covid.’

A number of people in the town said they have felt ‘ignored’ by the party that has represented them since 1974 when the seat was created, including young people.

This was a sentiment highlighted by Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey in his victory speech, as he claimed his party would listen to people ‘and take their concerns to Parliament’. 

Thanet MP Roger Gale said: 'Planning policy has to change. But will Johnson and Jenrick now listen?'

Thanet MP Roger Gale said: ‘Planning policy has to change. But will Johnson and Jenrick now listen?’

Counting underway in Chesham leisure centre earlier today

Counting underway in Chesham leisure centre earlier today

Zeeshan Akhlaq, 22, who works at Chesham Mobiles, said: ‘I voted for the Lib Dems so I’m happy. Firstly, I don’t trust the Tories but secondly they [Liberal Democrats] have promised a lot to the younger generation. But also one of the things that swayed me was they actually turned up to the Palestine-Israel demonstration. It made me think that they cared.’

Music shop owner Thanos Kalimeris said: ‘I think the fact the Lib Dems got in is great. The Tories and Boris Johnson don’t care about the ordinary people here and in Amersham. People no longer believe anything they say.’

Aishah Sheikh, 29, manager of Ask hairdressers, said: ‘That Boris Johnson decided to turn up last week, it was obvious they knew this was a possibility. They were worried.

‘The irony is I don’t think it helped the Tories because he turned up without a face mask and was shaking people’s hands. People didn’t like that.’

Another Tory voter to switch sides, Dale Chiverton, said he backed Reform UK but is pleased with the Lib Dem win.

He said: ‘There’s so many issues, but the main one that probably turned Tories off was HS2. It felt like we weren’t listened to. They did the review, it was over budget and they still went ahead.

‘I think if you look at the turnout a lot of people didn’t turn up, I think that was probably people who vote Tory and couldn’t bring themselves to vote for someone else.

‘Sarah Green was everywhere. So many leaflets and posters and they really put the hours in and it certainly paid off so, good luck to her.

‘Only time will tell, she’s one voice in a very large Parliament but she seems quite enthused so I hope she does well. A lot of people in town seem very happy.’

Even those who voted Conservative said they understand why others had not. 

The south is expected to see the bulk of new builds under the government's plans because its formula assumes that more housing is needed in areas where prices are higher. The south also has fewer brownfield sites

The south is expected to see the bulk of new builds under the government’s plans because its formula assumes that more housing is needed in areas where prices are higher. The south also has fewer brownfield sites

Emma Hogg, 53, a charity shop volunteer, said: ‘I don’t think the Conservatives have done a bad job with the coronavirus pandemic, I mean no government has had to face this before. But with people in lockdown for 18 months and then another four weeks added just before the vote, people are just desperate for a change. People are frustrated and I get that.

‘We also pay very high rates and tax here and nothing gets done, the roads are full of pot holes and even though that might seem like a small thing, when you’re paying premium rates something like that affects people’s day to day lives.

‘People are very angry and fed up and this is an expression of that.’

Supporters of other parties admitted they went with the Lib Dems as a tactical vote.

Labour member Peter Vandersli said: ‘I voted Lib Dem because I thought they had a chance of winning. Brexit was the main reason behind my vote. Rather than Brexit itself, I think the problem is the deal Boris [Johnson] has negotiated.’  

Lib Dem leader Ed Davey said the 8,000-vote margin of victory showed that Boris Johnson’s ‘Blue Wall is beginning to crumble’. 

What are the PM’s controversial proposals for planning overhaul?   

Boris Johnson has vowed to build 300,000 homes a year by 2025.

But the proposals set out by the government have put the PM on a collision course with many of his backbenchers. 

They have been dubbed a ‘developers’ charter’ that would hit the party’s ‘Blue Wall’ shire constituencies.

Critics say that locals will have far fewer powers to object to construction they do not want. 

Countryside campaigners have warned the reforms – the biggest shake-up of the system for 70 years – would mean ‘open season for developers’ in rural areas.

Dozens of Tories including Theresa May and Damian Green previously united to defeat the Government’s botched plans for an algorithm to decide how many homes should be built in each area. 

In response an updated ‘Standard Method was unveiled’ in December. This considers housing targets, brownfield capacity and local house prices to come up with a number of homes that each local authority has to build.

One analysis found nearly 400,000 homes could be built on greenfield areas in southern England over the next five years to meet revised housebuilding targets.

The south will see the bulk of new builds because the government’s formula assumes that more housing is needed in areas where prices are higher. The south also has fewer brownfield sites.

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The bombshell news has fuelled fears that the Brexit-driven political realignment that allowed Mr Johnson to smash Labour’s Red Wall is now loosening his grip on traditional Tory heartlands. 

In a crumb of comfort for Mr Johnson, Keir Starmer suffered another disaster with Labour’s 1.6 per cent share of the vote its worst performance ever in a by-election. 

Chesham & Amersham, in Buckinghamshire on the outskirts of London, voted strongly for Remain at the 2016 referendum. Opposition to the overhaul of planning rules and HS2 are also thought to have been a major factor – with Lib Dem candidate Sarah Green against the rail project even though the national party supports it.

In a round of broadcast interviews this morning, policing minister Kit Malthouse said the defeat was ‘obviously very disappointing’ – while arguing governments typically perform badly in mid-term by-elections.  

But Tory backbencher Bob Blackman told MailOnline that it was a wake-up call on how badly government planning reforms are viewed across the south, and pointed out that the late former MP Cheryl Gillan had been the ‘foremost campaigner’ against HS2. 

‘This is Tory heartland and very expensive housing. People were obviously annoyed about HS2. A lot of the countryside will be despoiled,’ Mr Blackman said.

‘A lot of us have been saying for quite some time, it’s all very well to say we want to see more housing built… but they have got to listen to the advice we have given. Local plans should be made sacrosanct so local people have their say about what is going to be built where, and not have national targets that ride roughshod over local people.’

Mr Blackman added on the planning loosening: ‘Across the South East it is the real threat.’ 

Thanet MP Roger Gale said: ‘Planning policy has to change. But will Johnson and Jenrick now listen?’ 

Other MPs voiced concerns that Mr Johnson was losing more affluent ‘bookshelf’ Tories for Red Wall voters who ‘go down the bookies’. 

The loss appeared to surprise even Conservative MPs who have been spending a lot of time campaigning in the constituency. Lib Dem claims that they were on the cusp of victory had been dismissed as ‘what they always say’, with predictions that any challenge would be seen off once postal votes were counted. 

Liberal Democrat Sarah Green won with a majority of 8,028 over Conservative David Fleet, gaining 21,517 votes – nearly 57 per cent of the total – to his 13,489, 35.5 per cent, on a turnout of just over 52 per cent.

Green candidate Carolyne Culver got 1,480 votes, with Labour’s Natasa Pantelic receiving just 622.  

Mr Davey said: ‘This is a huge victory for the Liberal Democrats. The people of Chesham and Amersham have sent a shockwave through British politics.

‘We were told it was impossible for any party to beat the Tories here in Buckinghamshire. 

‘We were told this seat was too safe and the Tories too strong. This Liberal Democrat win has proved them utterly wrong.

‘Across the south, the Tory Blue Wall is beginning to crumble. Here and in great swathes of the country, only the Liberal Democrats can beat the Conservatives and breach their Blue Wall.

It is a rude awakening for the PM after he basked in the Tory success in seizing Hartlepool from Labour last month.

Conservatives have been bullish about the prospects of grabbing another Red Wall seat, Batley & Spen, from Keir Starmer’s party in another by-election happening on July 1.  

A Tory source said: ‘By-elections are always difficult for the governing party, particularly 11 years into government, but there is no getting away from the fact this is a very disappointing result.

‘The work of regaining the support of the people of Chesham and Amersham starts now.’ 

A senior Tory MP said waspishly: ‘There may be a lesson that you don’t launch a contentious free trade agreement 24 hours before a by-election.

‘That might speak to a lack of political thinking… and an arrogant we are not losing anything at the moment.’

They told MailOnline there is a risk that ‘bookshelf’ Tories are being abandoned in favour of voters who ‘just go down the bookies’.

‘There is an element of a more red in tooth and claw, working class Toryism, versus the leafy home counties ‘gin and jag’ Toryism.

‘Are we losing the bookshelf voters, people with bookshelves with books on them, for the people who just go down to the bookies?

FULL CHESHAM AND AMERSHAM BY-ELECTION RESULTS 

Sarah Green (LD) 21,517 (56.69% share)

David Fleet (C) 13,489 (35.54%)

Carolyne Culver (Green) 1,480 (3.90%)

Natasa Pantelic (Lab) 622 (1.64%)

Alex Wilson (Reform) 414 (1.09%)

Carla Gregory (Breakthrough) 197 (0.52%)

Adrian Oliver (FA) 134 (0.35%)

Brendan Donnelly (Rejoin) 101 (0.27%)

Lib Dem majority 8,028 

Turnout 37,954 (52.11%)

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‘That is the difficulty.’

The MP said the government needed to ‘build a suite of policies that builds and sustains a broad church’.

‘With the surprise that the Red Wall finally tumbled all of the thinking has gone into that. But don’t bank Tory votes elsewhere. They need to be won, they need to be held, and they need to be convinced to stay. That is a challenge,’ they said.

Polling guru Sir John Curtice told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘It has exposed a flank in more traditional middle-class constituencies in London and the south-east, some of whom have contained quite a lot of Remain voters.

‘That area is hearing the Tories talking endlessly about levelling up and wondering what really is in it for us?’

‘And given the opportunity of a by-election to say ‘Hang on we are not quite sure about this’ – they have taken it!’

Mr Johnson has vowed to build 300,000 homes a year by 2025 in a bid to ease the housing crisis.

But the proposals set out by the government have put the PM on a collision course with many of his backbenchers. 

They have been dubbed a ‘developers’ charter’ that would hit the party’s ‘Blue Wall’ shire constituencies.

Critics say that locals will have far fewer powers to object to construction they do not want. 

Countryside campaigners have warned the reforms – the biggest shake-up of the system for 70 years – would mean ‘open season for developers’ in rural areas.

Voter say HS2 and planning turned them off the Tories 

Long-term Conservative voters in Chesham say they turned away from the party over issues such as planning policy and the environment, with many aggrieved at the impact of the development of HS2.

Voters in the Buckinghamshire market town awoke on Friday morning to news that the Liberal Democrats had inflicted a shock by-election defeat on the Tories in what was a Conservative stronghold for decades.

One such constituent, Alan Price, 82, said he voted for Lib Dem candidate Sarah Green despite being a long-time Tory supporter.

He said: ‘I just wanted to see a change. Like many, I’m so fed up and furious over the building of HS2.

‘It’s a big, big bugbear for me.

‘My partner lives in Maidenhead and I used to be able to travel there in 30 minutes or so, now it takes me at least two hours. It’s chaotic.

‘It’s been really hard as she’s become ill. I don’t think they realise how many people it has affected.’

The multibillion-pound railway project to create a new high-speed service from London to the Midlands and beyond has been stoking fury among residents for years.

Many are opposed to the project on environmental grounds, concerned the tracks are destroying wildlife, habitats and the beauty of the Chilterns and surrounding green belt.

However, it is the day-to-day impact of major works causing pot holes and traffic jams that has swayed others.

Shabaz Nawaz, an employee of Simply The Best launderette, said: ‘It’s the railway, HS2, that’s done it. Everywhere around here the traffic is unbearable.’

Jit Mistry, owner of Chesham Post Office, said: ‘This is a beautiful place but people are totally against what’s happening with the railway, and I think that’s what has driven this.’

The Government’s handling of the pandemic also appeared to have been a factor in some people’s decision to vote for the Lib Dems.

Helen Henderson, 51, who has lived in the area for 15 years, said: ‘They just haven’t coped with the pandemic, and on top of everything the Tories have done over many, many years I just wanted them out.

‘It’s an emotional issue for me because my brother-in-law died from Covid.’

A number of people in the town said they have felt ‘ignored’ by the party that has represented them since 1974 when the seat was created, including young people.

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Dozens of Tories including Theresa May and Damian Green previously united to defeat the Government’s botched plans for an algorithm to decide how many homes should be built in each area. 

In response an updated ‘Standard Method was unveiled’ in December. This considers housing targets, brownfield capacity and local house prices to come up with a number of homes that each local authority has to build.

One analysis found nearly 400,000 homes could be built on greenfield areas in southern England over the next five years to meet revised housebuilding targets.

The south will see the bulk of new builds because the government’s formula assumes that more housing is needed in areas where prices are higher. The south also has fewer brownfield sites.

It is the first time Chesham & Amersham, which was formed in 1974, has ever been lost by the Conservatives

Dame Cheryl Gillan held a 16,000 majority from the 2019 General Election when she died in April.

The Tory Party co-chairman Amanda Milling tweeted: ‘For decades Cheryl stood proud for the people of Chesham and Amersham. 

‘I’m deeply disappointed @pdfleet can’t carry on that legacy The people of C&A have spoken. 

‘Work starts now to show how it’s @Conservatives that can deliver on the people’s priorities and regain their support.’

In her acceptance speech, the new MP Ms Green said: ‘Tonight the voice of Chesham and Amersham is unmistakable. 

‘Together we have said ‘Enough is enough, we will be heard and this Government will listen’.

‘This campaign has shown that no matter where you live, or how supposedly safe a constituency may appear to be, if you want a Liberal Democrat member of Parliament, you can have a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament.

‘If you wish to reject Conservative mismanagement and vote for a voice that will represent you and stand up for your rights then it is the Liberal Democrats who will continue to fight your corner.’

She added: ‘This Conservative Party has taken people across our country for granted for far too long.

‘We will continue the work of holding this Government to account for letting Covid rip through the care homes. 

‘We will speak up for the three million people excluded from financial support throughout the pandemic and we will challenge Boris Johnson to be far more ambitious in tackling climate change, supporting our frontline workers and backing our small businesses.’

Defeated Tory candidate Peter Fleet said: ‘Clearly this was a very disappointing result, not the result that I was expecting nor my team.’

He added: ‘It’s an absolutely extraordinary result which must take into account the fact that the Liberal Democrat party didn’t just throw the kitchen sink at this constituency, I think it was the microwave, the table, the oven, the dishwasher, the dog, the cat and anything else that was lying around as well.

‘And we should consider that when we reflect upon the extraordinary nature of the result.

‘It’s clear that that on this occasion the constituents here in Chesham and Amersham have chosen a different candidate to represent them, to serve as their Member of Parliament.

‘I look forward to how we can start to rebuild that trust and understanding amongst all those people in Chesham and Amersham and as far as the Conservative Party is concerned that work actually starts in the morning.’ 

And Orkney and Shetland Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael tweeted: ‘A fantastic result tonight for our new MP @SarahGreenLD – a testament to her dedication and that of the many @LibDems volunteers and staff who met Chesham and Amersham voters and gave them a voice after they felt left behind by Boris Johnson’s Conservatives. This is huge.’

Chesham and Amersham, named after the market towns in the constituency, had had just two MPs in its history, Sir Ian Gilmour until 1992, and former Welsh secretary Dame Cheryl Gillan until her death in April. 

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