What transpired at the Mid-Bedfordshire by-election was a political shift of seismic proportions. A seat that had a 24,000-vote majority has now flipped to Labour, sending tremors through CCHQ and pretty much every Conservative MP in the country.
In June 2021, the Liberal Democrats beat the Conservatives in the by-election for Chesham and Amersham, and the majority of the punditry pointed to the strategy of the Liberal Democrats: utilise local issues, including the amount of development in the area. For those not clued up on the area, Chesham and Amersham is in the London commuter belt, and part of HS2 goes through the constituency. At the time, the Conservatives were fully on board with delivering HS2 in full, something that later would be abandoned. The Liberal Democrats successfully used local opposition to the new high-speed rail line to gain favour, and it worked alongside promises to protect the greenbelt and stop overdevelopment.
The Liberal Democrats won the seat with an 8,000-vote majority, triggering a degree of panic in the ‘blue wall’. You may be wondering, what relevance does this have to regeneration and development in the Mid-Bedfordshire by-election? The Conservative Party attempted to mirror what the Liberal Democrats did in Chesham and Amersham, and it failed.
Mid-Bedfordshire is a constituency that is covered with green spaces. The constituency also has a fairly affluent population compared to the rest of the UK. Not traditional Labour land but its constituents were becoming increasingly frustrated with incumbent Conservatives, especially their previous MP who used her role to fuel self-fame rather than push their lives forward.
The Conservative candidate used the election to campaign to ‘Save the Greenbelt’ in Mid-Bedfordshire. The term ‘Greenbelt’ is often a term used in Westminster but not one often used in regular family homes up and down the land.
Saving local green spaces such as parks, playgrounds, beauty spots and football pitches is a campaign that local people would have likely got behind. People usually care about issues that directly affect their daily lives, but the term greenbelt has increasingly lost its meaning as there is no consistency in classifying greenbelt and people often struggle to understand the term.
A more empathetic approach was needed by the Conservatives to hold on to votes here. The party should have taken a more local approach. Which green spaces does the community want to keep? Which derelict pieces of land would the community like to see new housing on? The approach of localism in elections is the way forward of both winning and creating communities that everybody is proud of.
The Conservatives should not forget that a founding principle of the party is home ownership. It’s a principal that stretches through the history of Prime Ministers and it is possible to preserve green community assets whilst also championing home ownership. The Conservative candidate certainly didn’t do this. At a moment when infrastructure is crumbling, people want their politicians to act on their priorities. Instead, the Conservative candidate chose to campaign on unspecified greenbelt land, which wasn’t high on people’s priorities.
Saving green spaces of land is a vote winner, that is obvious and should be undisputed. Nobody wants to see parks destroyed. However, the Conservatives will not win the next election without promising new infrastructure and homes across the country, blocking all development will turn people away at a time when the party cannot afford to lose voters.