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Labour easily holds City of Chester seat in first byelection test for Sunak

The Guardian logo The Guardian 02/12/2022 Sammy Gecsoyler and Kiran Stacey
Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

Keir Starmer has welcomed Labour’s commanding byelection victory in the City of Chester, saying Thursday night’s result was evidence voters “want the change Labour offers”.

The Labour leader tweeted his congratulations to Samantha Dixon, the incoming Labour MP, on Friday morning, after she won the seat with the party’s highest ever vote share.

Labour secured a majority of 10,974 on a 14-point vote swing, in a brutal first electoral test for Rishi Sunak.

Starmer tweeted on Friday: “The message to Rishi Sunak’s Conservative government is clear: people are fed up of 12 years of Tory rule and want the change Labour offers. It’s time for a Labour government.”

Receiving 17,309 votes with 61.22% of the vote share, Labour achieved its highest ever majority and share of the vote in the seat. Conversely, the Conservatives received just 6,335 votes and a 22.4% vote share, their worst result in the constituency since 1832. The Liberal Democrats came a distant third on 2,368 votes.

Dixon said in her victory speech early on Friday: “Tonight the people of Chester have sent a clear message. They have said Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives no longer have a mandate to govern.”

Asked how reflective the result was of the national mood, she said: “I don’t think that the voters in Chester are that much different from those across the country. I think that it’s time now for a general election and I think Labour will win as decisively as I have done today.”

Sir John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday the result indicated Labour would win a sizeable victory if a general election were held today.

“This is the best performance by Labour … since David Cameron first walked through the door of Downing Street [in 2010]. It is one indication that Labour are in a stronger position that they’ve been at any previous point when they’ve been trying to try to challenge the Conservatives over the last dozen years.”

He added: “A 13-point swing wouldn’t be enough for an enormous majority, but it would undoubtedly be enough to produce a favourable majority.”

The constituency has come a long way from being the most marginal in the country in 2015, where Labour won by only 93 votes. In 2017, Labour won by 9,176 votes and by 6,164 in 2019.

Speaking after the result, Alison McGovern, the shadow minister for work and pensions and MP for Wirral South, said the people of Chester were “fed up of Tory rule and want the change Labour offers”.

“After the Tories crashed our economy, it’s clear that only Labour can be trusted to help families across the country make ends meet … The Tories have no mandate to govern. It’s time for a Labour government.”

The Conservative candidate, Elizabeth Wardlaw, told local reporters it had “been a very good experience for me” before swiftly leaving the election count.

This was the first Westminster byelection since the resignation of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss and the financial fallout from the mini-budget. While the Tories were not expected to take the seat, the fall in their share of the vote from 38.3% in 2019 to 22.4% on Thursday night is likely to add to fears among Conservatives in Westminster who are already facing dismal opinion polls nationally.

The byelection was triggered by the Labour MP Chris Matheson resigning in October after allegations of sexual misconduct. Parliament’s bullying and harassment watchdog and the standards commissioner found he had violated the Commons’ sexual misconduct policy.

The constituency’s status as a “safe seat” for Labour is a recent development. In 2010, the Conservatives took the seat from Labour with a 2,583 majority.

This is the 11th by-election held since the 2019 election. Labour has won four of them, with the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives each having won three.

In terms of gains, the Liberal Democrats gained three seats while Labour and the Conservatives have gained one seat each. The SNP also held its seat in the 2021 Airdrie and Shotts byelection.

Dixon becomes the third Labour MP to represent the City of Chester in its history. Prior to 1997, the constituency had never elected a Labour MP.

Another byelection, in the Labour safe seat of Stretford and Urmston, will be held on 15 December following Kate Green’s resignation after being appointed Greater Manchester’s deputy mayor for police and crime. No date has been set yet for the byelection in West Lancashire following the resignation of Labour’s Rosie Cooper to take up a role with the NHS.


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