The Liberal Democrats have pulled off an extraordinary victory in the Buckinghamshire constituency of Chesham and Amersham, taking the formerly safe seat from the Tories in a byelection.
In a shock result, the Lib Dem Sarah Green secured 21,517 votes, leaving the Conservative Peter Fleet trailing with 13,489, and giving the Lib Dems a majority of 8,028.
The contest was called after the death of the local MP Cheryl Gillan, who had represented the constituency since 1992 and held it in 2019 with a majority of 16,223.
Ed Davey’s party will hope the surprise win shows that a swath of seats across the home counties could be within their grasp at the next general election.
Davey said his party secured a huge swing of 25 points to win Chesham and Amersham, claiming: “The Tory ‘blue wall’ is beginning to crumble … 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.”
Green said she was “humbled by the faith you have placed in me” and promised she would hold the government to account.
“This Conservative party has taken people across the country for granted for far too long,” she said.
Speaking on Friday morning, the policing and crime minister, Kit Malthouse, said the result was very disappointing and that there would be “significant post-match analysis” to discover what went wrong.
He denied, however, that the Tory party was ignoring its traditional home counties supporters in favour of creating a new base in the north of England and said it was common for governments to lose byelections.
“It’s worth pointing out that only just a month ago we had fantastic results across the home counties and local elections,” he told Sky News. “So there’s some complex things going on there which people need to understand and no doubt people at party headquarters will be focusing on the result and trying to understand how we can win Chesham and Amersham back at the next opportunity.
“It’s tough and disappointing as I say. We would have hoped for a better result … can’t pretend anything otherwise but we’ve seen this byelection phenomenon in the past. Our job now is to win back the trust and the people in that lovely part of Buckinghamshire.”
Senior Conservative figures including the party co-chair Amanda Milling had poured into Chesham and Amersham to canvass in recent days, determined to show that the “blue wall” across the home counties remains intact.
Boris Johnson also made a visit to the area to back Fleet earlier this month, telling local paper the Bucks Free Press (BFP): “I think he’s a superb candidate, he’s a local man, he’s lived here for a while and has a long career in business. He has a huge amount to offer parliament and the constituents.”
The prime minister highlighted hopes of turning the nearby Chilterns into a national park, and ensuring development takes place on brownfield land, not the green belt. And he claimed that if Fleet won, he would be the tallest Tory MP. The BFP said the candidate, who towered over Johnson as they toured the streets, was “around 6ft 9in”.
The result will alarm Tory strategists at Conservative HQ. Johnson has made significant gains in former Labour-held areas in the Midlands and the north-east, including snatching the Hartlepool seat from Keir Starmer’s party last month in a rare gain for a governing party in a byelection.
But he also needs to avoid alienating his party’s more traditional supporters.
Some home counties Tory MPs, including the former prime minister Theresa May, who represents Maidenhead, and Damian Green, whose seat is Ashford, in Kent, have recently been highly critical of Conservative policies, including Johnson’s planning reforms and his cuts to overseas aid.
The Lib Dems appear to have succeeded in picking off disenchanted Conservative voters in Thursday’s byelection, and Davey will hope it marks the beginning of a renaissance for his party after a very disappointing performance in the 2019 general election.
At last month’s local elections, the Lib Dems took control of Amersham town council.
Lib Dem activists on the ground had insisted the race for the seat looked “neck and neck”, with former Tory voters on the doorsteps complaining they felt neglected by the governing party.
The Lib Dems said the government’s proposed planning reforms had also featured heavily in the campaign.
Turnout in the byelection was just over 52%. The Green party candidate, Carolyne Culver, got 1,480 votes, with Labour’s Natasa Pantelic receiving 622.