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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