Lessons from Chesham and Amersham

Jun 22, 2021

In a matter of weeks, the decades-long dominance of the Conservative party in Chesham & Amersham has been swept away. Gone because a progressive majority of Labour, Greens, and Conservatives voted tactically in support of Sarah Green, the Liberal Democrat candidate.

Chilterns4ProgressiveAlliance – a local group of residents sprung from Chilterns4EU – campaigned all through the by-election for the party leaders to do a deal between Chesham & Amersham and Batley & Spen. We argued that tactical voting makes the voters do the parties’ work for them. Tactical voting is an unfair and inappropriate burden. But a Democratic Alliance makes parties take responsibility.

Nevertheless, it was left to the voters of Chesham and Amersham, who did indeed step up, take control, working out what was needed and acting upon it.

Chilterns4ProgressiveAlliance made it clear that we would endorse no party in the absence of a public commitment to a Democratic Alliance. But we did provide voters with guidance on the named candidates mostly likely to unseat the Conservatives in both by-elections. We were able to do this with credibility because, as Chilterns4EU, we campaigned in December 2019 for tactical voting in the four Chiltern constituencies of Chesham & Amersham, High Wycombe, Berkhamsted, and Beaconsfield.

Voters have, we think, absorbed some of the key messages we put out – and have drawn their own conclusions in the light of this government’s authoritarian creep, Brexit chaos, pandemic mishandling, corruption, and general lack of decency and integrity.

Today, the outcome of Chesham & Amersham by-election has sent the opposition party leaders the strongest possible signal that voters will accept and, indeed, urgently desire, a national Democratic Alliance. This needs to start, informally, with the Liberal Democrats standing aside for Kim Leadbeater in Batley & Spen.

In Batley & Spen, Labour faces defeat from a consolidated and very right-wing alliance. Polls suggest they are unlikely to win without help. They have a choice of whether to sit on the knife edge of going it alone, or be pragmatic, cooperative, thereby substantially increasing their chance of holding the seat.

Our opposition parties need to learn the lessons from this tale of two by-elections to join forces, come to the table, and agree a national platform we can all support. To do this, they will need our help – our creation of a strategy that mobilises the entire progressive ecosystem, from the ground up, in the effort to remove from power the people who have stolen the Conservative party. Chilterns4ProgressiveAlliance has picked out three critical success factors:

  1. Trust is crucial – Demonstrations of reciprocity are needed, such as Liberal Democrats not campaigning in Batley & Spen after Labour supporters lent their votes in Chesham & Amersham;
  2. Leadership – Party leaders must send clear message through their party ranks to change candidate behaviour on the ground; and
  3. Community – Full national coverage Democratic Alliance is web of agreements adapted by local communities to their own circumstances. So, local parties must talk to one another, to work out how to use targeting and tactical voting. National cross-party agreement supports these local efforts

Chilterns4ProgressiveAlliance will now scale up a national grassroots network of local groups, and partner with Open Britain and others to get the job done. We would welcome your support.

Do please sign and share the petition.

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