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  • Edexcel Component 1: 3.3 The role of elections and their influence on policy and policymaking

  • AQA Component 1: Elections and referendums: the role of elections and their influence on policy and policymaking

Background: what you need to know 

By-elections provide an opportunity for disgruntled voters to give the government party a good kicking. The electorate of Chesham and Amersham had always been solidly Conservative — as this article points out, the party had never received less than 50 per cent of the vote. But on June 17 2021, fewer than 36 per cent of the constituency’s voters put a cross beside the Conservative candidate’s name, while 56.7 per cent voted for Sarah Green, the Liberal Democrat, turning a Conservative majority of 16,000 in December 2019 into a Lib Dem one of 8,000 eighteen months later.

As the author of the article points out, however, past Lib Dem by-election victories, such as Richmond Park in 2016 and Brecon and Radnorshire in 2019, did not herald a major revival for the party at the following general election, partly because voters behave differently at by-elections from general elections: “At a by-election, voters decide whether to give the government a black eye. At a general election, they decide who they want the government to be.”

Yet Conservative jitters were sufficiently evident in the days following the result, with even Boris Johnson admitting that it was “disappointing”, to suggest that Liberal Democrat Leader Sir Ed Davey’s antics demolishing a ‘blue wall’ of plastic bricks for the cameras may have touched a raw nerve for Conservative MPs in the south-east. As the article points out, this by-election result is not the only sign that the Liberal Democrats have made progress since their electoral disaster in 2015: the party finished second in 91 seats in the 2019 general election, up from just 38 in 2017. Whether this will be enough to lead Boris Johnson’s government to make any policy changes in the coming months (such as dropping its plan to change the planning laws to favour developers) remains to be seen.

Click to read the articles below and then answer the questions:

Chesham and Amersham is the revenge of the Metropolitan Line elite

Question in the style of AQA Politics Paper 1

  • ‘By-election results have little effect on government policy.’ Analyse and evaluate this statement. [25 marks]

Question in the style of Edexcel Politics Paper 1

  • Evaluate the view that by-election results have little effect on government policy. You must consider this view and the alternative to this view in a balanced way. [30 marks]

Mark Rathbone

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