It used to be said that if you put a donkey on the ballot paper in Chesham and Amersham and stuck a blue rosette on its hind quarters it would still win.
Not any more. For the first time since the formation of the constituency in 1974 the Conservatives lost their grip on the seat.
In a result sending shockwaves through Westminster the Liberal Democrats overturned the Tories’ 16,000 majority to win by 8,028 votes in the two previously true blue Chiltern towns.
And it didn’t take long to establish the reason for this political earthquake.
It was HS2 wot lost it.
Talking to voters in Chesham town centre on Friday morning there was barely suppressed fury at the Government’s decision to press ahead with the high speed rail link they regard as cutting a swathe through their local countryside.
Adding fuel to the anger are fears that ministers are planning to ease restrictions on building on the green belt, with what residents say would have devastating consequences for the area.
Tanya Allsop, a retired teacher in her 50s from the consituency village of Ballinger, told The Telegraph: “What we’re talking about is nothing less than the rape of the Chilterns. HS2 and any easing of building on the green belt will devastate the countryside around here.
“Building on the high speed rail link is already causing destruction as well as road closures and huge disturbance.
“I’ve voted Conservative pretty much my whole life but this time I went Lib Dem. I just felt I had to register my opposition to what’s happening to the environment around here and I know many, many people who feel the same and changed their vote from Conservative to the Liberal Democrats.”
During the by-election campaign environmental activists found a sympathetic reception for their long standing warnings that HS2 meant major disruption, with machinery, materials and workers being brought in to construct the tunnels, embankments, cuttings and viaducts along our Chilterns section of the line, between Chesham and Great Missenden.
Locals says construction work is already generating noise, dust in the air and mud on the roads. The Chilterns Conservation Board estimates that 12 million cubic metres of spoil will be produced from the tunnels and construction works – far more than can be absorbed on other parts of the line.
On top of that, numerous and recurrent road closures around the towns of Amersham and Chesham, a result of work on the new route, have caused severe inconvenience in an area where people rely on their cars to get to work, shops and leisure facilities.
Dodging the rain in Chesham town centre – a place not used to heavy political squalls, save for occasional council rows over local planning applications – Roger Phelps, 79 and his wife Sarah, 72, echoed the deep anger at what they considered the Tories’ betrayal over HS2.
“They could have stopped it. They could have voted against it after the last election, but they pressed ahead with it,” said Mr Phelps, a retired company director and, back in his younger days, a former secretary of the Young Conservatives. “On top of that the release of restrictions on building on the green belt has really frightened people.”
“I stuck to the Conservatives, but I know a lot of people who switched or didn’t vote at all because they feel as if they’ve been taken for granted over this issue.
“Boris said it was too late to stop HS2, but they could have done. Instead they voted to plough ahead with it. People here are furious.”
Mrs Phelps added: “Our lovely countryside is being ripped apart by HS2 and I think the Conservatives completely underestimated the strength of feeling over that.”
Of course Thursday night’s result did not come completely out of nowhere. In May the Liberal Democrats took control of Amersham Town Council from the Conservatives, in part as a result of anger of the high speed rail link and the threat to the green belt.
The anger is felt particularly deeply in villages such as South Heath, close to the route of HS2, where the landscape is scarred by construction work just yards from picturesque Chiltern fields and cottages.
Ray Payne, a professor of engineering who divides his time between Chesham and the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, said: “People around here don’t often vote for change, but they have done this time, and the reasons are quite clear. The Conservatives should pay attention to that.
“They have taken voters’ loyalties for granted and pressed ahead with plans for something which is strongly opposed around here.”