Last week’s by-election upset of the Liberal Democrats converting the previously Tory Chesham and Amersham to an 8,000 majority of their own, has sparked immediate and profound questions. The shock of the Lib Dems winning the seat was magnified by the scale of which they won it with a 25-point swing which brought the first significant defeat of Boris Johnson’s premiership. Several senior Tories have been insisting that local issues such as HS2 and planning reforms made this a unique victory. It’s true that the Lib Dems are very good at by-elections with the ability to singularly focus on the issues most crucial to local constituents and they were certainly able to capitalise on those here. While that strategy may hand you big one-off wins , it’s not one that will work on a larger national platform.
However, there are suggestions that this election is a sign of something bigger: cracks in the so-called ‘blue wall’ of traditionally Conservative seats in the south. The concept of a blue wall is less talked about than that of its red counterpart, but the perception that it may be vulnerable is growing and starting to concern Conservatives in those seats. A key factor of this potential blue wall crumbling is demographic changes. People have been moving out of London to the surrounding areas at increasingly higher rates and that’s only been exacerbated by the pandemic. A year of being stuck at home has certainly made people realise that their tiny flat just won’t cut it. As these former city-dwellers flock to more rural towns and villages, they bring their values and voting patterns with them: essentially exporting left-leaning votes over a wider area.
But even if the Tories are becoming vulnerable in these seats, will Labour be able to capitalise on it? It may not be the most sensible strategy as trying to win seats Labour has never won before when the party’s power is so depleted is a big ask. But it also may be the best one as it seems increasingly likely that many Conservative MPs in the red wall are here to stay. Labour will have to win back at least some of those Northern seats to ever gain a majority, but perhaps Starmer will turn his eye to the South as a primary target. Afterall, building a majority of first-time wins certainly worked for the other side.
All of this speaks to the political realignment that’s seems to be happening across the country and makes us wonder it will mean for British politics if these changes are permanent? In 25 years, will we all be voting for parties we’d never thought of supporting before? One by-election certainly isn’t a crystal ball, but it does make you wonder…