Boris Johnson suffered a “crushing disappointment” by-election defeat which today sparked claims that the Tory “Blue Wall” around London could be starting to crumble.
The Conservatives were left reeling by the “surprise” loss in Chesham and Amersham where they saw a majority of more than 16,000 evaporate with the Liberal Democrats clinching the seat by more than 8,000.
Home minister Kit Malthouse told Times Radio: “I can’t pretend it is anything other than a crushing disappointment.”
The seat was a Conservative stronghold, with just two Tory MPs having represented it since its creation in 1974.
Mr Malthouse denied that the “Blue Wall” in the Home Counties was now at stake but admitted there would be a “significant post-match analysis” on what went wrong for the Tories.
Sir John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, stressed there were local issues at stake including HS2 and planning reforms which were particularly resonant.
But he also told The Standard: “This is a degree-heavy, very middle class, Remain-voting constituency in the South East...it therefore shares qualities with quite a few other constituencies in or near (the London area) where the Liberal Democrats did relatively well in 2019, Wimbledon, City of London, Esher and Walton, and quite a few seats in Surrey where they are breaching down the Tories’ neck.
“This is the counterpoint to Boris Johnson’s substantial success in picking up working class, Leave voters particularly in the North of England and the Midlands.”
However, he emphasised that the challenge for the Lib-Dems was whether they could now cut through with clear messages to build support in other constituencies.
Hailing the result, Lib-Dem leader Sir Ed Davey told BBC Breakfast: “I think this will send a shockwave through British politics.”
Suggesting that dozens of Tory seats could fall in the South, he added: “People talked about the Red Wall in the North, but forgotten about the Blue Wall in the South, and that’s going to come tumbling down if this result is mimicked across this country.”
The by-election was triggered by the death of former Cabinet minister Dame Cheryl Gillan, who took the seat with a majority of 16,233 in the 2019 general election - some 55 per cent of the vote.
Last night, Lib Dem Sarah Green took 56.7 per cent of the vote to secure a majority of 8,028 over the second-placed Tories.
The Tories sought to limit the damage, insisting it was difficult for governing parties to win by-elections, but defeated candidate Peter Fleet acknowledged the Conservatives had to rebuild “trust and understanding” with voters.
In her acceptance speech Ms Green said: “Tonight the voice of Chesham and Amersham is unmistakable. Together we have said, ‘Enough is enough, we will be heard and this Government will listen’.”
Tory chairwoman Amanda Milling said the “work starts now to show how it’s Conservatives that can deliver on the people’s priorities and regain their support”.
A Conservative source said: “By-elections are always difficult for the governing party, particularly 11 years into government, but there is no getting away from the fact this is a very disappointing result.”
The victory caught bookmakers off guard - the Tories were firm favourites and the Lib Dems closed at 4/1 with Ladbrokes.
“Fair to say this was a night for the punters,” the firm said.