Internal party polling shows the Lib Dems are fast closing on the Conservatives in the Chesham and Amershan by-election race, with one party analyst “confident” they can claim an upset victory.
Liberal Democrat polling figures, seen by City A.M., put the party on 41 per cent and the Conservatives on 45 per cent just days before the 17 June by-election in the usually safe Tory seat.
The Tories won the Buckinghamshire constituency in the 2019 General Election, with 55.4 per cent of the vote to the Lib Dems’ 26.3 per cent.
The Lib Dems gained control of the Amersham Town Council in the “Super Thursday” set of elections, giving the party hope it could carry this over to a by-election win.
Liberal Democrats leader Sir Ed Davey, who has visited the constituency 14 times during the campaign, told City A.M. that the party had focused its campaign around opposition to the government’s planning reforms.
The planning reforms, which are opposed by a swathe of Conservative backbenchers, would make it easier for houses to be built in “growth zones”.
Theresa May has been among those who have opposed the reforms, saying they would see “the “wrong homes in the wrong places.”
Davey said there had been “quite a lot of anger about the Conservatives’ planning proposals” on the doorstep in Chesham and Amersham.
“We have been campaigning against it anyway in many parts of the country and our campaigning on planning has taken off here,” Davey said.
“People are really worried, particularly Conservative voters, that the government is going to allow a developers charter.”
The Lib Dems leader said that anger about HS2 and about gaps in Covid-19 economic support for the self-employed had also been big issues on the doorstep.
The new figures come after earlier internal polling from the party showed the Tories’ lead at 11 per cent.
James Lillis, head of campaigns and elections for the Liberal Democrats, said in an email to colleagues that “we have seen the Labour and Green vote drop considerably throughout the campaign, as well as support for the Conservatives now swinging towards us”.
However, he also warned that “we are now seeing the Conservatives significantly increase their campaigning”, and that “we have seen the Prime Minister make a surprise visit and a letter from the Chancellor sent to every household in the constituency”.
Thursday’s by-election was called after Dame Cheryl Gillan died last month after a long battle with cancer.
It has been a safe Conservative seat since its formation in 1974.
The Conservative candidate Peter Fleet and Liberal Democrat candidate Sarah Green both live in the constituency.
A Tory party source said: “By-elections are always difficult for the governing party, not least one eleven years into office, and we’re taking nothing for granted and fighting for every vote.”
Anthony Wells, director of political research at YouGov, told the Financial Times that the by-election will be tough to win for the Lib Dems, despite the party’s momentum in internal polling.
“When the party won [by-elections] in the 1990s and 2000s, there was an unpopular government that people wanted to protest against,” he said.
“The biggest problem for the Liberal Democrats now is that the government isn’t actually unpopular”.
The Tories are consistently polling nationally in the mid-40s, with the party holding a double-digit lead over Labour.