In 1962 the Liberal victory in Orpington rescued the party from near extinction (2.5% of the national vote and only 6MPs in 1951) to being once again a recognisable force in British politics. Our candidate Eric Lubbock overturned a Tory majority of 14 000 to win with a Liberal majority of nearly 8 000. From then on, albeit in fits and starts, the Liberals/Liberal Democrats gradually increased our representation until in 2010 we achieved 23% of the national vote, 57 MPs, and formed part of the government.
Then, through inadequate coalition arrangements and being outmanoeuvred by the Troy wiles, we blew it. In the next election of 2015 we were reduced to less than 8% of the national vote and only 8 MPs. Not quite back to square one, but not far off.
The figures for the Chesham and Amersham by election, held yesterday, are remarkably similar to Orpington. Our candidate Sarah Green, with 56.7% of the vote, turned a Tory majority of 16 000 and into a Liberal Democrat majority of just over 8 000.
It would be a nonsense to extrapolate this result to the whole of the country in a general election, but in my view its significance is two-fold:
1. It cements the position our leader Sir Ed Davey. Any murmurings within the party about his less than charismatic impact on the electorate will be silenced. More importantly the media, in spite of his efforts, have more or less ignored him, and therefore us, since his election as leader. Now I suspect they will take more notice of us as serious contenders with political ideas and eventually power to implement them.
2. This by-election victory is the first serious crack in the Teflon-type coating which has protected the Tories since Mr Johnson became leader. Astonishingly, in spite of proven lies, dubious constitutional manoeuvrings and incompetence he and they have continued to ride high in the opinion polls. Serious commentators on politics have long argued that this could not possibly last.
True there have been a few fissures in the carapace. They did not do as well in the recent local elections as it appeared: their poor performance was obscured by the media's attention to their victory in Labour's former stronghold of Hartlepool.
But this by-election could be the start of return to sense in British politics.
Orpington to government took nearly half a century (48 year to be precise). Let's hope it doesn't take as long this time