UK's Labour party holds key parliamentary seat in first electoral test for Sunak

Published on Dec 02, 2022 10:12 AM IST

The election was triggered by the resignation of Chris Matheson, who had represented the seat for Labour since 2015, following allegations of sexual misconduct.

The Conservatives in Westminster will seek to distance themselves from what they regard as a local contest. ( AFP)
The Conservatives in Westminster will seek to distance themselves from what they regard as a local contest. ( AFP)
Bloomberg | | Posted by Lingamgunta Nirmitha Rao

The UK opposition Labour party held a key parliamentary seat in a special election, a boost for leader Keir Starmer in his first electoral test against new Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Labour’s Samantha Dixon defeated Tory candidate Liz Wardlaw in the northwest England city of Chester, winning 61% of the vote. Dixon got 17,309 votes compared with 6,335 for Wardlaw.

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“People in Chester and across our country are really worried,” Dixon said, according to the Press Association. They were “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,” she said.

The election was triggered by the resignation of Chris Matheson, who had represented the seat for Labour since 2015, following allegations of sexual misconduct. But few expected Chester to fall into Tory hands, with Labour riding high in the national polls. A YouGov survey on Thursday put the party 25 points ahead of the Conservatives.

Chester is a swing seat that’s changed hands between Labour and the Tories since the 1990s, and the scale of the win will be analyzed by opposition strategists as they look ahead to the next general election, due in January 2025 at the latest. If Labour are to win back power after more than a decade out of office, it’s the sort of constituency they need to consolidate.

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Sunak became prime minister on Oct. 25; his predecessor Liz Truss lasted just seven weeks in office following a tax-cutting budget that sent financial markets reeling and the pound tumbling. Sunak has since reversed her economic policies and set out a raft of tax rises and spending cuts.

The Conservatives in Westminster will seek to distance themselves from what they regard as a local contest. Governing parties often get a kicking in mid-term by-elections.

Dixon has echoed Starmer’s calls for a general election. She added that Sunak’s government was “on borrowed time and people want to change,” framing the result as a judgment on his premiership and describing Chester as a “bellwether constituency.”

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