The Sunday Telegraph

Why would any conservati­ve vote for this soft-Left, eco-extremist bunch of statists?


Why would anyone vote Liberal Democrat? It is a question I have often mulled, despite being guilty of it once myself. My excuse is that I did it when I knew nothing about politics and simply thought that the name sounded about right. I was, in other words, a walking demonstrat­ion of why we need to raise the voting age.

But I digress. The principal reason that people vote Liberal Democrat is because the party is neither of the other national parties. Not being either the Conservati­ves or Labour gives the Lib Dems a quite enviable flexibilit­y. The party can outflank Labour to the Left on some issues. It can outflank the Conservati­ves to the Right on certain others. It can change its domestic and foreign policies at any given moment. And it can run contrary policies simultaneo­usly, often contrastin­gly at a local level and at a national level. On paper, being a Liberal Democrat looks like it could be a lovely life. Though as their minuscule showing in Parliament reminds us, life is not lived on paper.

Still, last week’s striking Lib Dem by-election victory shows that there is life in the third-party protest vote yet. And while few people saw the Liberal Democrat victory coming in Chesham and Amersham, they should have done. Firstly, because when a government has a strong majority, by-election voters can treat themselves to a third-party vote that they know will resound while not causing the whole country to tilt red.

But there are a deeper set of issues at play here as well. It is a reminder that the Conservati­ves cannot take their natural voter base for granted, any more than Labour can theirs. Many of those shire Tories are asking: where is the red meat for the blue voter?

Most of the emissions of this Government are indistingu­ishable from the sort of interventi­onist, soft-Leftism that voters could (if they wanted to) get almost anywhere else. Every time a Conservati­ve minister tries to do something Conservati­ve (witness Priti Patel on borders), she seems to get no support from colleagues. Yet waffle on about carbon neutrality or building back better in a more non-binary, feminist manner (as Boris Johnson did at the G7) and there seems no party pushback at all. It is as though if you cut to the heart of the modern conservati­ve party, all you get is a sort of sludgy green.

And of a very curious type. There is a lot to be said for looking after our planet. But there is something very strange about a shade of green that waffles on about saving the world while giving every impression of wanting to concrete over some of the most beautiful parts of it.

To be fair to the Government, there is a rationale to its planning reforms. It is struggling to close the supply-anddemand problem in the housing market. The asset bubble has made housing impossible for most young people in our country, and building more homes is the Government’s best chance of addressing what is a terrible problem. But travel around the south-east of England and there is one thing you will see in particular. Building. Everywhere our market towns are spilling out, our villages are spilling over, and people fear that places which once had identities of their own are becoming part of one great, ugly, southern conurbatio­n.

Those who complain about this are dismissed as Nimbys. But they are not. They are people who wonder whether building cannot be done more sensitivel­y, with a greater emphasis on providing the infrastruc­ture to support the increased population. Some even wonder why we need to have net immigratio­n of around 300,000 a year (pre-pandemic) to provide almost exactly the same number of new dwelling places each year.

Much of the same sentiment pours from those who complain about HS2, a folly that cuts a swathe through Tory England and whose only discernibl­e attraction is that it will allow

people to get out of Birmingham faster.

These issues might be addressed. The Government might find a better way of providing new homes. It might scrap HS2 and spend the money on transport schemes that Conservati­ve supporters might actually want to use. But even then, what reason would the voters of Chesham and Amersham, or indeed any part of middle-class south-east England have to vote for the

Tories with any great enthusiasm?

Where exactly is the conservati­sm in this Government? Aside from the odd bit of culture war material thrown

to voters like a tiddler fish to a performing seal, it is hard to find anything.

Is it especially conservati­ve to seriously consider plans to make people pay tens of thousands of pounds for a new environmen­tally friendly boiler, or give up their car because they cannot afford electric? All while forcing people into one of the most expensive rail and undergroun­d networks anywhere in the world? This is a sort of conservati­sm that you have to be exceptiona­lly well-off to afford. A sort of Soho Farmhouse conservati­sm. One which you might aspire to be able to afford, but hardly gives anyone a leg-up on the way to getting there.

Or on tax and spending, where the Conservati­ves have broken with the Thatcherit­e view that it is taxpayers’ money they are spending in such enormous quantities. Why would traditiona­l Conservati­ves bother to turn up to vote, when all they are being sold is a different shade of the Left-wing mantra that every problem in life can be solved with a bit more public spending?

On issue after issue, even on lockdown, the Conservati­ve Government has taken the most interventi­onist path at every turn. It has pushed for safety-ism when it should have been pushing for dynamism. It has ignored the fears of small business owners and prioritise­d a few larger industries which were already in a better position to weather the Covid storm. And through all of this it has engaged in levels of borrowing that Jeremy Corbyn would find fiscally imprudent.

Will the small businesses who have been juddered into a stop-start, promises-dashed policy for the last year forgive the Conservati­ves for 2020-2021? Will the shires forgive a Tory party that talks about the importance of green while destroying ancient forests to build HS2? Perhaps. At the next election the Conservati­ves will be able to threaten those same shires with the fact that matters would be worse under Labour. And they may well be right. But that is not a message of invitation. It is simply a threat.

In such a situation the voters of Chesham and Amersham may be said to have spoken for much of England. Faced with two parties that take their voters for granted they lent their vote to a party which is grateful for any vote it can get and will say anything at all to get them. The people of Chesham and Amersham have used the Lib Dems as a useful tool. We shall see whether or not it cuts.

Last week’s striking Lib Dem by-election victory shows that there is life in the third-party protest vote yet

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 ??  ?? HS2 protester in Aylesbury, Bucks. Those who complain about such schemes, that tear down ancient forests, are dismissed as Nimbys
HS2 protester in Aylesbury, Bucks. Those who complain about such schemes, that tear down ancient forests, are dismissed as Nimbys

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