CHESHAM and Amersham had never been anything but a shade of blue since the constituency’s inception in 1974, but a stunning Liberal Democrat victory has shown the continual realignment of the electorate in recent years.
A 25.2 per cent swing to Sarah Green was well-earned, and can be put down to a slick campaign on the ground compared to a complacent Conservative one.
However, the Labour vote – at just 1.6 per cent, well behind the Green Party – was dismal. Starmer’s party was just a percentage point ahead of the brand-new Breakthrough Party, who received little media coverage (with the exception of Redaction Report).
Granted, a portion of traditionally Labour-leaning voters would have ticked the yellow box this time around to dent the Tories.
But there was no official ‘hands-off’ instructions for Labour voters in the seat. Natasa Pantelic, a dedicated local councillor, was put up for the election, while Tony Blair even made a supportive appearance.
While performances in individual seats can’t necessarily be compared to by-elections, where turnout is much lower and the issues more local – it’s worth remembering that Labour came second in the seat in 2017, picking up 11,374 votes – or a fifth of the electorate.
They performed markedly worse in 2019, losing 4,000 votes, but still came well ahead of the Greens in third.
Thursday’s result must be seen as a failure for Labour in two ways.
Firstly, Starmer has been insistent that the government’s strong polling has to do with the successful rollout of the vaccination programme.
He has, inadvertently or not, portrayed Boris Johnson’s bumbling government as competent and decisive – and therefore, difficult to overcome.
But the Liberal Democrat performance in Chesham and Amersham has decimated Starmer’s premature excuses.
Johnson’s government is there for the taking – but whether it be the local elections, Hartlepool, Chesham and Amersham or (likely) Batley and Spen, it appears the Labour leadership is barely even trying.
Which brings us onto the second point – these sort of seats should be Starmer’s bread and butter.
Sir Remain lost Hartlepool (partly) because of Brexit – what excuse does he have in a constituency that voted 55 percent to stay in the EU?
Labour has gone from a party in 2017 that fought for every corner of the country to one that appears content in opposition.
Tom Harris noted in The Daily Telegraph that one of Blair’s first successes was in a seemingly unwinnable 1995 by-election in Littleborough and Sandworth.
He wrote: “On paper it was a shoo-in for the Lib Dems, who had come a respectable second place behind the Conservatives at the 1992 general election. Labour had come third at the time with about half of the Lib Dem vote. But in 1995, the excitement about, and momentum behind, Blair’s Labour made the party feel that there were no longer any no-go areas for the party and it fought an energetic, confident campaign. Labour’s candidate, Phil Woolas, didn’t win, but he increased Labour’s vote by an astonishing 15 per cent and came a close second to the winning Lib Dem candidate, with the Conservatives pushed into a humiliating third place.
“Two years later, Woolas won the redrawn seat.”
Labour may be focusing their efforts on Batley and Spen, where the Tories now look a shoo-in themselves – but a dire performance in the crumbling Blue Wall once again begs the question of where Starmer is taking the party.
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