Johnson’s Tories Suffer Shock Defeat in U.K. District Vote

Boris Johnson’s Conservatives are reeling from a major political upset after losing a special election in a wealthy district outside London that had been a stronghold for the U.K.’s ruling party for almost 50 years.

The Liberal Democrats defied political pundits to win the by-election in the constituency of Chesham and Amersham, northwest of the capital, a seat that had been held by the Tories since it was created in 1974.

For Johnson, the result is a rare but significant blip on his record as an election winner who led his party in 2019 to its biggest majority in Parliament since Margaret Thatcher was leader.

Johnson’s Tories Suffer Shock Defeat in U.K. District Vote

The defeat sparked alarm among Conservatives who fear that Johnson has neglected his party’s base in the south of England as it concentrates on seats in the “red wall” of the north that were long held by the main opposition Labour party.

By-elections are often quirky contests, fought on local issues, and voter swings don’t tend to translate into national politics when general elections are called.

Even so, the victory for Lib Dem candidate Sarah Green is a triumph for one of the smaller parties in British politics. The Lib Dems have not recovered their national popularity since voters punished them in 2015 for spending five years in a coalition government with the Conservatives under Prime Minister David Cameron.

In Chesham and Amersham, in Buckinghamshire, Lib Dem strategists sought to make headway amid unease among local voters over Conservative proposals for reforming planning laws.

Lib Dem Leader Ed Davey hailed what he called “a huge victory” for his party, after Green won 57% of the vote, overturning the 55% previously won by the Tories.

“The people of Chesham and Amersham have sent a shockwave through British politics,” Davey said. “We were told this seat was too safe and the Tories too strong. This Liberal Democrat win has proved them utterly wrong.”

Conservative minister Kit Malthouse said the result was “tough and disappointing”, telling Sky News on Friday that “there’s some complex things going on there that we’ll need to understand.”

The by-election was called following the death of the MP who held the seat, former minister Cheryl Gillan.

The Liberal Democrats won just 11 seats in the 2019 parliamentary general election, on an 11.6% share of the national vote. Their share of the vote rose to 18.2% in both the southeast and southwest of England, and 14.9% in London, according to the House of Commons Library. They came second in 91 seats, 80 of which were won by Conservatives.

The Lib Dems also performed solidly in local council elections in England which took place in May. While the headlines were about Tories consolidating their advantage in former Labour heartlands in northern England, Davey’s party made some gains in the south. The main opposition Labour Party lost council seats overall.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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