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Tories warn on fury over planning overhaul and HS2 after by-election shock

Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Green who won the by-election by over 8,000 votes

Tories warned Boris Johnson he must ‘listen’ to fury about planning reforms and HS2 in the party’s heartlands today after suffering brutal by-election defeat with the Lib Dems overturning a 16,000 majority in Chesham & Amersham.

In an extraordinary result, the Lib Dems defied years of electoral woe to storm the ultra-safe seat – which has been held by the Conservatives since it was created in 1974.

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

The bombshell news will fuel 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.

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?’ 

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.  

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’

Counting underway in Chesham leisure centre earlier today

Counting underway in Chesham leisure centre earlier today

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.

Looking down: Losing Tory Peter Fleet

Looking down: Losing Tory Peter Fleet

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.’ 

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.’

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 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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