Rishi Sunak suffered a bloody nose today as Labour boosted its majority in the Chester by-election – while the Tories recorded their worst performance in the seat for 190 years.
In the PM’s first major electoral test, local councillor Samantha Dixon emerged victorious by a 10,974 vote margin – well up on the 6,100 secured in 2019.
Although Labour was expected to win, the swing of nearly 14 per cent from the Conservatives will set alarm bells ringing in Downing Street.
It is the party’s worst showing in the City of Chester seat since 1832, and backs up opinion polls suggesting that Keir Starmer is on track for a majority at a general election.
Labour MPs quickly started trolling Mr Sunak as a ‘serial loser’, although Tories said there was some comfort in their share of the vote remaining above 20 per cent.
The contest was triggered by the resignation of Labour MP Christian Matheson, who resigned his Commons seat after complaints of ‘serious sexual misconduct’ were upheld by a parliamentary watchdog.
Mr Matheson, who denied the allegations, was facing a four-week suspension and was asked to resign by Labour before he quit.
But campaigners argued that the major factors were Boris Johnson’s forced resignation and the market chaos that ended Liz Truss’s short stint in Number 10.
Local councillor Samantha Dixon emerged victorious for Labour in the Chester by-election by a 10,974 vote margin – well up on the 6,100 secured in 2019.
Rishi Sunak suffered a bloody nose today as Labour boosted its majority in the Chester by-election
Labour MPs quickly started trolling Mr Sunak as a ‘serial loser’, although Tories said there was some comfort in their share of the vote remaining above 20 per cent
CITY OF CHESTER BY-ELECTION: RESULTS
Samantha Dixon (Labour) 17,309 (61.22% vote share, +11.58% on 2019)
Liz Wardlaw (Conservative) 6,335 (22.40%, -15.93%)
Rob Herd (Liberal Democrat) 2,368 (8.37%, +1.53%)
Paul Bowers (Green) 787 (2.78%, +0.15%)
Jeanie Barton (Reform UK) 773 (2.73%)
Richard Hewison (Rejoin EU) 277 (0.98%); Cain Griffiths (UK Independence Party) 179 (0.63%); Howling Laud Hope (Official Monster Raving Loony Party) 156 (0.55%); Chris Quartermaine (Freedom Alliance) 91 (0.32%)
After defeating Conservative candidate and NHS nurse Liz Wardlaw, Ms Dixon said the result sent a ‘clear message’ to Mr Sunak and his new administration.
She said in her victory speech at the count: ‘People in Chester and across our country are really worried.
‘Worried about losing their homes because they can’t afford the mortgage repayments or the rent, worried about whether they can put the heating on, worried about whether they can put food on the table for their families.
‘This is the cost of 12 years of Conservative Government. The Government, which has wreaked havoc with our economy, destroyed our public services and betrayed the people who put their trust in them at the last general election.’
Keir Starmer said the public is ‘fed up’ with the Tory Government.
He tweeted: ‘Huge congratulations to @CllrSDixon (Samantha Dixon) who will be an excellent MP for City of Chester.
‘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.’
Visiting the constituency this morning, deputy leader Angela Rayner said Mr Sunak had ‘failed the test’.
‘It’s very clear that he doesn’t have the mandate to govern and that people want a general election and they want change,’ she told broadcasters in Chester.
Asked if she was disappointed Labour’s win was not quite as great as some polls predicted, she said the party’s majority was ‘huge’.
‘It is clear that this was Rishi Sunak’s first test as Prime Minister, and it was his worst defeat since 1832 here,’ she said.
‘It’s pretty clear that the Conservatives… their branding has absolutely took a pelting.’
Election officials confirmed that turnout was 41.2 per cent, with a total of 28,541 votes cast in the December poll.
Labour was widely expected to hold the seat, having won it in 2019 for the third time in a row with a majority of 6,164 – despite the wider rout inflicted by the Tories under Boris Johnson.
This time around, the party secured more than 61 per cent of the votes and a 13.76 per cent swing from the Tories.
Ms Wardlaw received 6,335 votes, or 22.4 per cent – the lowest share for the Conservatives since 1832.
Ms Dixon told reporters that she believed many people across the country felt the same as voters in Chester.
‘It’s just that here people have had an opportunity to express how they feel,’ she said.
National polls have shown Labour leading the Tories by well over 20 points recently
Samantha Dixon is congratulated on her City of Chester by-election victory early this morning
Samantha Dixon said voters in Chester and further afield were ‘worried’ by the cost of living crisis
Shadow work and pensions minister Alison McGovern jibed that Mr Sunak is a ‘serial loser’ – an apparent reference to his defeat in the summer Tory leadership contest.
The result is the third by-election defeat in a row suffered by the Conservatives, although governing parties rarely do well in such contests.
The previous two took place on the same day in June, with Labour snatching Wakefield and the Liberal Democrats securing an historic victory in Tiverton and Honiton.
The setback, which comes just over a month into Mr Sunak’s tenure as prime minister, will not be fatal for his leadership.
But it underlines the scale of his task to remain in office at the next nationwide poll.
The country is facing a gloomy outlook, after Chancellor Jeremy Hunt’s autumn statement last month ushered in a fresh round of belt-tightening in the public finances as the UK heads into a recession and soaring inflation squeezes incomes.
With many households struggling with rising energy bills, rail strikes and a planned walk-out by nurses also threaten to cause severe disruption in the run up to Christmas.
Lord Robert Hayward, a Conservative peer and elections analyst, said there were ‘no shocks’ at the City of Chester by-election.
But he said the Tories will be ‘relieved’ they got more than 20 per cent of the vote.
‘I think, generally as expected, no shocks but definite satisfaction for the Labour Party,’ he told Sky News.
He added that there is ‘no question’ the Tories have a ‘real challenge on their hands’.
‘But having said that, Rishi comes across to the public at large as managerial,’ he said. His ratings are way ahead of the Tory party’s. His ratings which will worry the Labour Party, are on a par with Keir Starmer, depending on which poll you actually look at.
‘There are some indications that there are opportunities there for the Tory party. But Rishi has to convince the public at large that he can manage out of this crisis, whichever crisis one’s looking at – and there’s a lot of them.’
Mr Sunak is seen as having steadied the Tory ship since taking over following the disastrous Liz Truss premiership.
But there have been few signs of a bounce in the polls, with YouGov research yesterday suggesting Labour’s lead has grown to an eye-watering 25 points.
The Conservatives were on 22 per cent support, down three points on last week, and trailing far behind Labour on 47 per cent. Worryingly for Mr Sunak backing for Reform UK was up four points at 9 per cent.