Keir Starmer suffered more woe today after Labour suffered its worst ever by-election result in Chesham & Amersham.
The party’s candidate Natasa Pantelic received just 622 votes – a paltry 1.6 per cent of the total cast – and lost her deposit in the extraordinary contest.
That compared to more than 7,000 votes in the constituency at the 2019 general election and 11,000 two years before that.
Labour MPs blamed an ‘anti-Tory tactical squeeze’ for the dire showing – believed to be the worst at a by-election since the party was formed in 1900.
But Corbynites insisted it was down to the ‘centrist’ agenda being pursued by Sir Keir.
The Lib Dems overturned a 16,000 Conservative majority to take the seat, sparking claims that Boris Johnson’s ‘Blue Wall’ could be about to collapse – even as he tightens his grip on the so-called Red Wall.
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.
Campaigners on the ground say Labour did not put much effort into the seat, possibly because they could see the Lib Dems were best placed to challenge.
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%)
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.
Mr Davey said: ‘People talked about the red wall in the North, but forgotten about the blue wall in the South, and that’s going to come tumbling down if this result is mimicked across this country.’
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.
In a crumb of comfort for Mr Johnson, Labour’s 1.6 per cent share of the vote was its worst performance in any by-election since the Second World War.
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?
‘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!’
It is the first time the seat, 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.
Source: Thanks msn.com