Rishi Sunak suffered the first electoral defeat of his premiership after Labour held on to its Chester seat in the north-west of England with an increased majority.
Samantha Dixon, who served as a councillor for Cheshire West and Chester, gained 17,309 votes in Thursday’s by-election. She received 61.2 per cent of the vote and increased the party’s majority from 6,164 in the 2019 general election to 10,974.
Liz Wardlaw, the Conservative candidate and NHS nurse, received 6,335 votes as the Tory vote share dropped from 38.3 per cent to 22.4 per cent. The Liberal Democrats’ Rob Herd came third with 2,368 votes.
The by-election, which attracted a voter turnout of 41.2 per cent, marked the first electoral test for Sunak following his appointment as prime minister in October.
Speaking after the result was declared, Dixon said Sunak’s Conservative government was living “on borrowed time” and accused the Tories of wrecking the economy.
“His government has no ideas, no plan to address the big issues facing our country,” she said. “It’s time for a general election and it’s time for a Labour government.”
Alison McGovern, shadow minister for work and pensions and MP for Wirral South, said the people of Chester had sent the “clear message” that they were “fed up of Tory rule”.
The vote was triggered by the resignation of Chris Matheson in October after a parliamentary bullying and harassment watchdog upheld two allegations of sexual misconduct against him by a former member of his staff.
Labour frontbenchers, including shadow levelling-up secretary Lisa Nandy and shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh, appeared on the campaign trail with Dixon, who pledged to stand up for residents during the cost of living crisis, make the city a “world-class retail, culture and heritage destination” and crack down on antisocial behaviour.
The constituency had been regarded as a Conservative safe seat for much of the 20th century until it was picked up by Labour’s Christine Russell in the 1997 election. She held on to the seat until 2010, when Stephen Mosley won the seat for the Conservatives.
Matheson regained the seat for Labour in the 2015 general election with a narrow majority of 93. He boosted the party’s majority in 2017, winning the seat by 9,176 votes.