UK election upset as Conservatives lose seat in Blue Wall heartlands

Liberal Democrats land shock win in Chesham and Amersham by-election

Sarah Green of the Liberal Democrats smiles after after being declared winner in the Chesham and Amersham by-election at Chesham Leisure Centre in Chesham, Buckinghamshire, England where she defeated Conservative candidate Peter Fleet early Friday June 18, 2021. (Yui Mok/PA via AP)

The UK’s ruling Conservative Party suffered a shock defeat in a by-election on Thursday in a result that raises questions about the party's vulnerability in its affluent suburban heartlands.

The Liberal Democrats were the surprise winners in Chesham and Amersham, a constituency in Buckinghamshire on the fringes of London, after more than doubling their vote from the 2019 general election.

Lib Dem candidate Sarah Green took 57 per cent of the vote, compared with 36 per cent for the Conservatives, who had held the seat since its creation in 1974.

Tactical voting against the Conservatives appeared to have aided the result, as the main opposition Labour Party won only 2 per cent of the vote.

Nonetheless, the result was heralded by the opposition as a sign that the Conservatives are losing their grip on their traditional “Blue Wall” heartlands in the wealthy south of England.

The Conservatives have made spectacular gains in former Labour strongholds in the north in recent years.

But Britain's departure from the EU, championed by Conservative Prime Minister Boris Johnson, was less popular in London and the south.

His party was widely accused of neglecting its traditional base to secure support from pro-Brexit voters in Labour seats.

“[Voters] have been taken for granted, they feel that the Conservative Party isn’t listening to them,” Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey said.

“Everyone’s talking about the Red Wall in the north, they should think about the Blue Wall in the south.”

Ms Green said the Liberal Democrats “sent a message to the whole country”.

“People in Chesham and Amersham will never be taken for granted again,” the winning candidate said.

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson prepares to greet Bahrain Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa outside 10 Downing street in central London on June 17, 2021. / AFP / Tolga Akmen

'Complex things going on'

Conservative minister Kit Malthouse told Sky News the result was “tough and disappointing”.

“There’re some complex things going on there that we’ll need to understand,” he said.

Mr Johnson was on an electoral high after gaining seats from Labour at local elections in May, including a momentous by-election win in Hartlepool.

But the Conservatives lost ground in some areas of the south, losing mayoral elections in Cambridgeshire and the west of England.

Thursday's by-election was called after the death in April of the previous Conservative MP, Cheryl Gillan.

The Liberal Democrats opposed Conservative plans to reform planning laws that provoked much local hostility in the area.

Plans to build the High Speed 2 railway through the constituency – which the Liberal Democrats said would “blight our area” – also riled locals.

“HS2 and possible new planning rules lost Conservatives a seat yesterday,”  Conservative MP John Redwood said.

“Conservative voters think being green means not building over beautiful places.”

EDITOR'S PICKS
NEWSLETTERS