Ten first thoughts on Amersham

Mark Perryman

1. The Tories’ vaccine bounce is widely claimed as the reason for  their lead in the polls, and Labour’s low standing in the same. Not in Chesham and Amersham, not for the Lib Dems.

2. This has always been a Tory seat but as recently as 2017 Labour came second with  11,374 votes.  Even in 2019, Labour got  7,166 votes. Yesterday it got 622, that’s some decline.

3. Labour threw everything at this campaign, at one point complaining about a Lib Dem leaflet claiming ‘Only We Can Win Here’.  They did.

4. The Green vote was squeezed too, but whereas in 2019 Labour got twice the Green vote, this time the Greens got twice the Labour vote: that’s some reversal. 

5. But however well the Greens do (and they increasingly do do well – increasingly at the expense of  Labour), what this amounts to in almost every seat is a death-rattle contest to finish third. In the grander scheme of things, will that result in a Tory defeat. Sorry, but no.

6. Batley and Spen was always going to be huge; now it is enormous. If Labour is losing liberal (small ‘l’) and Green voters in the cities, and in the “blue wall”, plus socially conservative red wall voters (and there are reports too of a big fall in BAME, especially Muslim, support), then it’s catastrophic. Even saving the seat on a much-reduced majority cannot disguise this.

7. In Batley and Spen, as in many (though not all) red wall seats, there is only a small Lib Dem and Green vote for Labour to persuade to vote tactically. That alone won’t be enough. To win, Labour also has to inspire its own vote, recent defectors and non-voters to vote Labour. How?

8. Am I glad the Tories lost in Amersham? Absolutely. Is that why thousands of Labour and Green voters voted Lib Dem last week?  Of course. So what’s Labour’s response to them?

9. Ed Davey’s bombastic tweet, while entirely understandable in the morning after such a result, is so very wrong. Yes, there are blue wall seats where only the Lib Dems can beat the Tories – including where I live, in Lewes. But I only have to look around my county, Sussex, to find seats where only Labour can beat the Tories: depending on boundary changes, this is the case in Crawley, East Worthing and Hastings. And blue walls seats are irrelevant if there aren’t red wall gains too, and in almost all of those seats, the Lib Dems can’t win either.

Davey’s tweet on 18 June

Thankfully, by the weekend Ed had got over his bombast to say that in Batley and Spen, the Lib Dems would run a modest campaign, because they recognise that many of their voters there would vote on the basis that only Labour could beat the Tories in this by-election. This is good political sense. It’s about time Labour reciprocated.    

10. If it wasn’t already obvious after losing Scotland again, in the May Scottish parliamentary elections, that Labour cannot win alone, it is now as close to a racing certainty as we get in politics. The only way Keir is getting into No. Ten is as the leader of a coalition.  

He didn’t make that speech in May. Will he now? Because if he doesn’t, by keeping silent the message is that whatever the cost, leading Labour to defeat is more important than leading a coalition to victory.

Mark Perryman is the political education officer of Lewes CLP. His latest book, Corbynism from Below, is available here.