I woke up this morning to the news that the Lib-Dems had pulled off what many thought improbable if not impossible and taken the safe Tory seat of Amersham and Chesham in a by-election. Here’s a breakdown of the result c/o Wikipedia
It’s an impressive result, especially when you consider this has been a safe Tory seat since it was established in 1974.
As usual, we’re seeing all sorts of claims about why this has happened. Many are trying to blame it on purely local issues like HS2 and the proposed reform of planning regulations. Good old Nimbyism in other words! What none of these commentators can explain is – if HS2 really was the issue, why now? The project has been around since 2009 and never lost the Tories the seat, even when UKIP were around and stood on an anti HS2 platform. Take a look at the 2017 general election results, the last time UKIP stood. Despite HS2 having gained Royal Assent earlier that year, UKIP’s share of the vote collapsed. They went from 2nd place in 2015 with 7218 votes down to 1525, a fall of just under 79%. In fact, the swing that year was from the Tories to Labour (who also endorsed HS2).
Now HS2’s being built, construction’s well under way so the time to try and stop it is long gone. So *why* would it cause such a political upset now when it never has before – even when the 2nd placed party opposed it in 2015? Why would people who, if they wanted to send a political message about HS2, wait 11 years to send said message? Why wait until the project’s gone from the drawing board, all the way through Parliament via two Governments to actual construction? Talk about shutting the stable door! This is why the idea simply isn’t credible.
Also, whilst the 2021 winner (Sarah Green) may have made anti HS2 noises her party nationally backs the project – as can be seen from this – which is pretty plain.
In fact, the only party of any national standing in this by-election that actually opposed HS2 is the Green party. Their candidate (Caorlyne Culver) ran a vehemently anti HS2 campaign where it was literally all she talked about! Imagine, a ‘green’ who didn’t once mention Climate Change in her campaign and focussed exclusively on local Nimby issues. That must have worked, right? Wrong.
The Greens share of the vote dropped by 1.6%, but that doesn’t tell the full story. When Alan Booth stood for the Greens in the 2019 general election he collected 3042 votes and increased the greens share from 3% to 5.5%
Culver only managed to attract 1,480 votes, a fall of over 51% on their 2019 result. Yet HS2 is meant to be the issue that ‘swung’ it for the Lib-Dems? Of course, blaming HS2 is a convenient smokescreen for some people. It’s noticeable that so many right-wingers are doing exactly that as a ‘look over there’ tactic to avoid talking about what’s likely to be a much more important issue – Brexit and the shambolic performance of the Government on a range of of issues, including Covid and the economy. Plus, blaming HS2 fits their narrative. The right have always despised the project as it’s public infrastructure, hence the likes of the Taxpayers Alliance and IEA always banging on about it. Both big Brexit supporters, you can see why they find it convenient to use HS2 to say ‘look over there’. You can see this phenomenon most on Twitter, where anonymous ‘flag-shagger’ accounts like this one who retweet the likes of John Redwood and the ‘Guido’ website have gone into overdrive.
Also, let’s not forget the fact Chesham and Amersham voted Remain in the 2016 referendum.
There’s clearly other issues at play here other than HS2 but no-one wants to talk about them. There’s obviously been a strong ‘get the Tories out’ movement here as people are disatisfied with Boris Johnson’s government. Look at the actual turnout, which is down by nearly a quarter. Many Tories have obviously decided to stay at home. Plus, look at the collapse of the Labour vote, down by 11.2%, how many Labour voters have decided to vote tactically – and not because of HS2 either!
There’s another clue that the issue of HS2 has been exaggerated thanks to a petition on the Government website that (co-incidentally) closed after 6 months on polling day in Chesham. Started by celebrity petrolhead and car advertiser (don’t you mean ‘environmentalist’? Ed) Chris Packham and backed by the Green Party, Extinction Rebellion and a rag-bag of political interests from left and right, it managed a measly 155,000 signatures UK-wide. To put that into perspective 2.6 million live in constituencies affected by HS2. So, how many signed in Amersham? Actually, it got the best result of anywhere in the UK, but that’s nothing to crow about! Just 4.05% of C&A’s 96046 constituents signed it in 6 months. Which means 96% couldn’t be bothered. Yet (supposedly) they could be bothered to change their long held political allegiences for the very first time in yesterday’s by-election. I smell bovine excrement…
No doubt certain people will continue to try and blame HS2 as a way of ignoring the real reasons people have elected the Lib-Dems and HS2 opponents are already trying to pretend this has strengthened their campaign. Really? How? CCHQ already know there are other far more real issues at play here across the Tory Shires, hence their increasing nervousness – and HS2 only affects a small number of constituencies. In May the Independent published this well-informed article about the Lib-Dems election chaces. Written by Andrew Woodcock it never even mentions HS2 as an issue, pointing out that there are far more important things in play.
As for the Green party, this was an awful result for them. They let their candidate run an appallingly dishonest and parochial campaign (see this blog). If HS2 was such a big thing, they should have increased their vote, instead they did the opposite. Their big question now is will they learn from their mistake – doubtful as they refuse to listen to anyone but themselves. As of Friday night the Chiltern Green party still couldn’t bring itself to update their website or Facebook account to even mention the result! It’s like it never happened!
No doubt the ructions of this result will continue to echo around for days as many people try to put their spin on it. The Psephologists will be going into a frenzy of speculation over what it means for the Government, the opposition and maybe even HS2.
What won’t happen is HS2 being cancelled, despite the extravagent claims. In the meantime, go get some popcorn and enjoy the media fun!
Next week I’ll be blogging from the Calvert area as I’ll be on an HS2 site visit, showing you what’s really happening on the ground, away from the rarified atmosphere of political punditry and daft claims.
I’ve a small favour to ask…
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It was interesting to see the interview with the Lib Dem leader this morning, where he agreed his candidate had run an anti-HS2 campaign, but didn’t mention the pro-HS2 party policy. Until you mentioned it, I’d assumed that despite all his banging on about “green” policies, they were against electrically-powered mass transit too.
Paul Bigland said:
Indeed. The Lib-Dems have paid lip-service to the HS2 antis in Chesham and Amersham in order not to alienate them and ensure victory. But they know they can do that with impunity as they won’t have to vote against HS2 as it’s a done deal and they can safely vote for Phase 2B by saying ‘but this isn’t about A&C, this is about the North’.
It’s a pity the interviewer didn’t know that – he could have made things much more interesting by demanding to know where the Lib Dems stood on the policy and whether it was acceptable to ignore national policy if that gained votes.
Paul Bigland said:
Yes, that would have been worth watching! Sadly, so many Journo’s are hoplessly ill-informed and poorly researched.
James King said:
Broadly speaking your analysis is probably not too far wrong, however what you probably underestimate now that HS2 is being built is how fed up anyone in the local area is with roads being shut, extra traffic, shortage/extra cost of materials as HS2 are taking them all. It would be a protest type vote without any expectation that it will get cancelled. That affects way more people than those that have the misfortune to be directly in the way of it.
Feel free to call in next week when you are at Calvert, we are two miles up the road….I don’t expect you will be visiting any of the people adversely affected by HS2 for a bit of balance?
I think there is probably a lot in this. I listened to Ed Davey on R4 this morning and whilst he was a bit flakey when asked about his candidates outright opposition to HS2 (in direct contrast to his national party) he did make a lot of how HS2 ltd was behaving badly and not listening to locals concerns about such impacts and how he and the candidate had intervened on the locals behalf with HS2 ltd. Must be remembered the Lib Dems are past masters at looking two opposite ways at the same time.
Planning and ‘building over the countryside’ without local support seemed, as far as he was concerned, the main issue. Brexit was not mentioned once.
I am in favour of HS2, however this blog post has more than a bit of a ‘shove it down their throats’ perception which I doubt would persuade one person living near the route, putting up with construction disruption for several years, of the merits of HS2. Indeed I would think it would have the effect to harden their view against it and the writer.
Paul Bigland said:
The Lib-Dems have always played the local politics card and them saying they’ll stick up for people in C&A really isn’t a problem. The fact he chooses not to mention Brexit is merely anther example of the malaise in UK politics right now where no-one will eb honest with voters about the elephant in the room (or the clown at the negotiating table). Perhaps, when voters lead, the politicians will start to follow – even though we desperately need it to be the other way around.
As for the style of my blog. I tell it how it is. I don’t have to pander to OFCOM, or anyone else for that matter. I present the facts and analyse them in my own style. I’m not here to waste my time trying to persuade deeply entrenched HS2 antis of the error of their ways. I might as well try and convert religious extremists. I’ve spent years exposing their spin and dishonesty so I doubt they’ll suddenly warm to me now. Instead, I’ll continue to provide a counter to the nonsense we’ve had to put up with from those opposed to HS2 for the past 11 years – and hopefully do so in a starightforward (maybe acerbic) but entertaining fashion!
Wether their view of me ‘hardens’ or not is immaterial. HS2 is now a fact of life and I’m not standing for any elections. You won’t catch me out kissing babies on the election trail or making promises I can’t keep for the sake of a few votes. If they can’t face reality no amount of sugar-coating is going to make it any more palatable to them. To paraphrase – ‘Nimbys gonna Nimby’ and if people really can’t accept some temporary distruption to your life for the good of the country, then they’re leaving in entirely the wrong place.
Paul Bigland said:
I’m sorry, but you’re seriously suggesting people are going to suddenly change the voting habits of a lifetime because of some traffic congestion and being ‘fed up’? So then why didn’t they vote for the one party whose policy is to oppose HS2 (the Greens) and not the Lib-Dems who support it – despite what their candidate may claim? I’m sorry, but it doesn’t make sense. As for the materials claims, that’s just spin. The reality is that it’s nothing to do with HS2 and ditching your lifetime political party won’t change it.
I realise that truths are uncomfortable for some people but there’s no way on God’s green earth that (suddenly – after nearly 12 years) the people of Amersham and Chesham decided to vote LibDem because of HS2 – and that includes all the Labour voters who suddenly decided to switch even though they’d simply be going from one pro-Hs2 party to another!
I think to some, HS2 has become a mantra, much like Brexit. All those blue voters in the north didn’t decide they liked Boris, they just hate Europe and voted for a party that promised nothing other than getting Brexit done. They didn’t care how they had voted all their lives – it was a mania to defeat the “evil” Europe. Boris could have told them they would be sending their firstborn for dog food, and they would still have voted for him.
Hated of HS2 in some quarters is the same. We still get the stuff about saving a few minutes between London and Birmingham from people whose research stopped at working out what the acronym stood for. They would jump for any party who they belive (remember, they are credulous) will rid them of this railway.
That said, in this case I think it’s more the new planning rules that swung this. All those newcomers in the area don’t want any more newcomers joining them.
Paul Bigland said:
I wouldn’t disagree about the dogmatic mantra part. But it still doesn’t explain why, when Tory’s had 11 years to change their vote they’ve done it now – when it’s a wasted vote. UKIP was more to many folks liking, which is why they came 2nd in 2015. They still got nowhere. But the Lib-Dems have pulled off the supposedly impossible. The idea this is because of HS2 is just too implausible.
The fact there have been any number of opportunities for people to vote based solely on their opposition to HS2, and not just in this constituency, and yet that we have never seen any such voting strategy impacting in any material way on any results seems to be lost on some.
Yes for some HS2 may have affected how they voted, but not in any significant numbers and that’s even with the far more visible presence of HS2.
Paul Bigland said:
Precisely. Plus, this wasn’t a minor swing away from the Tories (and Labour’s worst ever result). The very idea this can be explained away by a sudden conversion to the anti HS2 cause beggars belief, but you can see why some folk are pushing that narrative as a smokescreen.
James King said:
I read your blogs on HS2 precisely because I get different views and information unreported anywhere else on HS2. Very occasionally I can almost see some logic in it due to what you say about capacity. It’s your blog and you can write how you like but Clive is bang on in his last paragraph.
You’ll never really understand an area unless you spend a decent amount of time there so for example you’ll go to Calvert next week, see some building work, the PR people will tell you a load of puff about how great it’s going and you’ll write it up as such. You will not know what the area was like before HS2 and how much it is changed/changing. It’s not just HS2, like in A & C people are fed up with the scale of new housing that is happening too, it’s real now so they have to experience it every day. You’ll give your usual ‘nimby’ shout to anyone that disagrees with you but I’m sure you wouldn’t like the level of this happening in the Calder Valley!
I think you’ve totally over-analysed the by election, fundamentally people in A & C are sick of the way their area is going so want to give a bloody nose to those they see responsible, they’ll vote for those best placed to do it regardless of the actual policies of those people, for previous examples see Brexit, Labour’s blue wall, even Donald Trump. It’s also a by election which often produce strange results anyway plus a low turnout.
Building materials shortages in this area IS NOT SPIN, we are doing building work at the moment and it is a fact that stone and cement are short/more expensive due to HS2 and East/West.
Don’t forget when you’re at Calvert next week that the invitation to visit and see a different side of the HS2 experience is still open…..(it not all bad either!)
Paul Bigland said:
You seem to think I’ve never visited your area. I have, on many occaisions over the years. I’ve also studied the demographics of it and learned a lot over the past 9 years of watching opponents of HS2 trying every trick under the sun to stop it happening because – at heart – most of this is about Nimbyism. Oh, I know you hate that being pointed out and use any figleaf you can to pretend otherwise, but it’s patently obvious. Look how many people who had no track record of environmentalism suddenly had a Damascene conversion once it was announced HS2 would be darkening their door and now drive to demonstrations in their SUVs.
You mention housing. So, Bucks is ‘full’ now is it? No-one else should have the right to because of the inconvenience caused to those who already live there? Let ’em go live somewhere (anywhere) else eh? – just as long as long as existing residents aren’t inconvenienced. Nimbyism is the curse of the UK.
Of course some people want to dress up the Amersham result as a referendum on HS2, because that fits their narrative and distracts from the real reasons. The only problem is – it’s not going to work because the wealth of historic election data shows otherwise – along with a growing number of local voices who’re saying “No, that’s NOT why we voted against this shambles of a Government”. Also, all the political parties will know the real reasons through their own internal polling and feedback from local activists and associations.
Re building materials shortages. What is spin is that the shortages are caused by HS2. Anyone who reads the trade press of the construction industry (and many of us do) knows that the real reasons are Covid and problems in the supply chain – not HS2. But, again – the truth doesn’t fit your narrative.
I was amused about your claim that I’d become a Nimby if HS2 affected me. I lived in London through the 80s, 90 and beyond. I was no stranger to new builds or the temproary disruption they cause. In fact, I was part of them, being involved in the redevelopment of three old council estates in E London in the 1990s. I also spent many years documenting the building of HS1 in London, Kent and Essex. Watching those areas go through (and survive) what’s happening to you now. I also worked on a brand-new railway being built in Staffs in the mid 2010s.
When I lived in N London I actually supported the building of a new concrete works. Much of middle-class N8 opposed it for all the usual emotive scaremongering reasons inc dust and lorries. The plant was bringing in materials by rail, so actually taking lorries OFF the roads. It got built and now all the furore has subsided it’s obvious it was scaremongering.
It’s the same where I live now. A large new housing estate and industrial units was built in the Calder valley below me. Did I object? No. People need somewhere to live/work and the Council benefits from the extra income. Besides, we gained a new bridge over the Calder which has created a mini bypass to the local town. Yes, I suffered from vibration whilst piles were driven for over a year, but it was temporary.
So no, I don’t object to stuff being built around me as I know this is not all about me. It’s about the country as a whole and the generations who will come after me.
I dub this “the BANANA By-Election” – a howl at the the moon from those who just don’t want anything to happen “near them” and are frustrated that the Tories are not playing their tune.
The UK population is expanding and those additional soles need somewhere to live and work. And before anyone start shouting “brownfield sites” – why shouldn’t the occupants of new homes be offered “somewhere nice” instead of ghettoised in old (urban) industrial estates. (BTW – isn’t Calvert a “brownfield site – it’s an old quarry…?)
Lack of building materials could be scapegoated on anything – how about Sizewell C..? But of course, that’s not happening “near me” so that’s all right then.
For me,an interesting political dimension is the collapse of the Labour vote and why that has (presumably) swung to the LibDems. Doubtless the Tories are not best pleased, but Labour must have it’s head in it’s hands as it’s loyal base is still deserting it in droves.
What I’ve always failed to understand about the opposition to HS2 in the Chilterns is the seeming blind spot to the M40. A 6 lane monster spewing pollution and noise 24/7 with nothing in tunnel. Was it opposed? HS2 will be a two track railway when it’s done, fully electric, surrounded by trees and other greenery. It doesn’t compare with the horror that is the M40. HS2 has no stops in the area but the release of capacity on the existing main line may well improve service at Berkhamsted nearby. It could also provide freight paths to reduce traffic on roads. So I don’t get it.