By-election loss was ‘warning shot’ over planning reforms and HS2, Tory chair says

Tories lose Amersham and Chesham to Liberal Democrats at by-election

Jon Stone
Policy Correspondent
Saturday 19 June 2021 15:44 BST
Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey and Sarah Green, the party’s new MP for Chesham and Amersham, celebrate her by-election victory on Friday
Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey and Sarah Green, the party’s new MP for Chesham and Amersham, celebrate her by-election victory on Friday (PA)

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The government has been sent a “warning shot” by voters in Amersham and Chesham over planning reforms and the building of the HS2 railway, a senior Tory has said.

Amanda Milling, co-chair of the Conservative Party, said her colleagues had heard the message from the constituency “loud and clear”.

The Liberal Democrats captured the semi-rural seat at this week’s by-election following the death of its sitting MP Cheryl Gillian.

The huge 25.2 per cent swing represented the first time the seat had been won by a party other than the Tories since its creation in 1974.

Big issues at the election included the government's planning reforms, plans to build houses near the towns’ pair of London Underground stations, and the HS2 railway, which is under construction nearby.

"I am in no doubt that Thursday’s result is a warning shot and we are listening. And as co-chairman, I will ensure that we learn the lessons from this campaign," Ms Milling said in an article in the Daily Telegraph.

“Over the coming weeks and months, we will take stock of what happened in Chesham and Amersham and look at how we can regain the trust of voters there.”

In a broadside at the victors, she added: “The concerns about planning and HS2 were loud and clear. These concerns were genuine but the Liberal Democrats employed their usual duplicitous tactics.

“Despite the fact the Lib Dems stood on a manifesto in 2019 that backed HS2 they painted themselves as anti it. They also led a scaremongering campaign on planning, despite the fact the planning bill has not even been published yet.”

Ms Milling also noted that “governments 11 years into power don’t win by-elections” and said the Conservative Party would direct money to “projects” in marginal seats.

The result is unlikely to affect HS2, which is already under construction, but it could yet lead the government to rethink some of its planning reforms.

Tory MPs in the party’s more rural heartlands have banded against the reforms, which the government says will encourage housebuilding.

In the wake of the defeat Boris Johnson described the by-election result as “disappointing” and attributed the result to local issues.

He insisted the government was focused on “uniting and levelling up within regions across the whole country”.

The result of the by-election may not be indicative of a wider trend, as polls still suggest the Conservative have a commanding lead over the other parties.

The Liberal Democrats are also accomplished by-election campaigners and have in recent years won many seats at standalone contests and then promptly lost them at ensuing general elections.

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