Digging Up Our Green and Pleasant Land: Being Political Wing of Building Industry May Cost Tories Dearly

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The Conservatives had been defying conventional logic, winning by-elections while in government — a rare achievement — but now they have been soundly defeated in a safe seat by a minor party, analysis suggests, on the small matter of the countryside being swallowed whole by development. Will the Tories’ big-money donors in the construction industry come to haunt them?

The normal state of play in British politics is that governing parties do not win by-elections (special elections), as the mid-term local votes give opposition parties a small target to focus a lot of resources on, and local voters get a chance to protest the sitting government outside of the normal election cycle. The fact that the Conservatives have won two by-elections in the past four years defies the laws of political gravity, events underlining the apparently unstoppable Conservative machine.

By the way, just three by-elections have been won by the governing party in the past 40 years — all of them Conservative wins.

But in the early hours of this morning, the Conservatives lost an extremely safe seat — Chesham and Amersham, where they had won more than half the vote in every election since the seat was created — to minor party the Liberal Democrats. Is this a return to normality, the status quo where a special election — triggered in this case by the death from cancer of a sitting MP — means losing a seat but not upsetting the government in general?

Or is it, as the fevered rush to analyse the defeat in the media has it this morning, an indication that the Teflon Tories, who have shambled from victory to mighty victory for the past 11 years despite not being very conservative at all, do actually have at least one exploitable weakness that the left can play up to an audience beyond their own followers?

Ask yourself this: What does the opposition actually do? Other than working to get into power itself, a healthy opposition should hold the government to account and aim to influence the direction of the nation while not actually having its hands on the levers of power for the time being.

Labour leaders Ed Miliband, Jeremy Corbyn, Keir Starmer — all losers. Who of these men can honestly claim to have achieved any of these things in any meaningful way?

The fact is it has been much easier this past decade for the right to scrutinise the Conservatives, to point out where they spectacularly failing to live up to their name. There can be no argument that Nigel Farage, who led Britain out of the European Union with 25 years of hard-fought campaigning but without once sitting in Westminster or Downing Street, is the only thing approaching an effective opposition the Conservatives have had since the days of Blair and Brown.

After all, without Farage would David Cameron have left office? Would Theresa May? Would Britain have left the European Union? This is the potential of enormous power for single-issue politics which the big legacy parties shrug off as inconsequential, populist, and unworthy.

Back to Chesham and Amersham, where the pundits have identified campaigning on “local issues” as having served the Liberal Democrats so well they managed to demolish what should have been an unassailable lead in what one broadsheet political editor called “one of the most true blue seats in the country”, even promising to eat his hat if it voted the other way.

To his credit, he did actually upload a video of him eating his hat on Friday morning.

These “local issues” identified as having worked for the Liberal Democrats are the government’s blind insistence on pressing on with the unpopular and stupendously expensive £100 billion+ High Speed Two (HS2) railway and planning reforms. But describing these as local-only issues can serve only to furnish Conservative MPs with a false sense of security.

The route of the HS2 railway carves through dozens of “safe” Conservative seats on its way between London, Birmingham, Manchester, and Leeds. A great many of them are considerably less safe than Chesham and Amersham was until last night, and contain ancient woodlands being felled for the iron road. This is not a local issue, insofar as tens of thousands of Conservative voters in postcodes up and down the country feel the quiet enjoyment of their peaceful, rural homes is being shattered forever for a railway that few can even see the point in.

If HS2 is impacting dozens of constituencies, then the Conservatives’ endless pushes on planning reform is political dynamite in hundreds of rural constituencies. The way the Liberal Democrats express this is in language so plainly small-c conservative that it could almost have been written by the late Sir Roger Scruton, the latter-day patron saint of the rural English way of life:

Summarising the government’s proposed new planning rules, the Liberal Democrats observe:

Land in England carved up… automatic planning permission granted… Much of what makes our area so special is at risk. These plans pose a real threat to the fields and woodlands on our doorstep…

Once lost, our fields and woodlands can never be replaced… the Chilterns [a government-designated “area of outstanding natural beauty”] must be protected.

An amusing irony, isn’t it, that the language used to help deliver the greatest electoral upset against the British Conservative party in years by the globalist left is more conservative than the British right itself.

The Liberal Democrats are not rural, middle-class England’s friends. But, as they are starting to realise, neither are the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats noted, pointedly, that a vote in support of the government yesterday would have been a vote to hand power to developers. Amid the background of a relentless wave of cheap, characterless new build houses submerging green-field England before the new rules to make volume housebuilding even easier come into force, this is looking like a powerful argument.

The problem for the Conservatives is if the political left realise — as surely they now must — this is a chink in their armour they will press the dagger forth. A lot of uncomfortable things, while a matter of public record but are not widely understood by many for now, could bubble to the surface.

One of these is the complex web of relationships, money, and government policy that surrounds housebuilding in this country. There has been comparatively little scrutiny of this so far but it may yet come. The fact that the construction industry and companies supporting the sector are major donors to the Conservatives is known and has been for decades.

These links may invite claims of cronyism from the left and controversy around superficial matters of principle, but less likely is an honest conversation about why Britain, a country with a low birthrate, needs such an incredible number of new houses anyway. This is not for lack of potential political advantage for the left, but because being frank about the link between mass migration, demand on housing, and Britain’s shrinking supply of countryside does not make for dinner party-friendly discussion.

The Conservative party has served its own voter base on the matter of immigration appallingly for years. It made promises at election time about getting the numbers under control that it readily admitted that it never had any interest in meeting in private.

These promises have now been dropped altogether.

While this disregard for voter’s interests can’t be popular, it hasn’t yet moved the needle on the Tory war machine. But should the British public make the link between the Conservative’s failure-by-design on immigration and the policies tailor-made to suit their donors in the construction industry, that could just be a potent cocktail.

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