LONDON - Britain’s opposition Labour Party retained a parliamentary seat in the north-west of England on Friday, comfortably winning the vote in the first electoral test for Mr Rishi Sunak as prime minister.
Labour candidate Samantha Dixon won the City of Chester constituency, securing 61 per cent of the vote, compared with 22 per cent for the candidate from Mr Sunak’s Conservatives.
Labour’s outright majority rose to 10,974 from 6,194.
The scale of the defeat offers the first electoral judgment on the Conservatives after a chaotic few months when Mr Boris Johnson and Ms Liz Truss were both ousted as prime minister, the latter after markets were spooked by her fiscal plans.
Mr Sunak became prime minister on Oct 25, taking leadership of a divided and fractious party at a time of economic crisis, tasked with tackling the impacts of soaring inflation and restoring financial markets’ confidence.
Governing parties rarely do well in so-called by-elections, which take place outside the schedule of national elections when a lawmaker leaves their position. The next national election is expected in 2024.
British polling expert John Curtice said the 13 per cent swing from Conservative to Labour in Chester confirmed the trend seen in national polls, where the main opposition party is around 20 points ahead of Mr Sunak’s governing party.
Mr Curtice said the scale of the swing could indicate Labour winning an outright majority in Parliament at the next national election, but noted that local elections were rarely a good guide.
“Rishi Sunak is being reminded by the voters of Chester that he’s got quite a lot of work to do to get his party back in a position where we might consider the prospect of the Conservatives winning the next general election,” he told BBC Radio.
Labour has held the Chester seat since 2015, when it was the most marginal seat in the country. It was held by the Conservatives between 2010 and 2015.
By-election defeats earlier this year in two previously Conservative held seats led to the resignation of the party’s chairman and contributed to the pressure on Mr Johnson.
The by-election was triggered after Labour lawmaker Christian Matheson resigned.
An independent panel said he breached Parliament’s sexual misconduct policy for making “unwanted and unwelcome” advances towards a junior staff member. REUTERS