Polls have closed in the City of Chester by-election as Rishi Sunak faces his first electoral test as Prime Minister.
The job should hold the seat. He had a majority of 6,164 votes in the last election and polls had indicated a double-digit lead over the Tories in the expected vote share this time around. A result is expected around 3 a.m.
This is Westminster’s first by-election since the resignations of Boris Johnson and then Liz Truss as Prime Minister and the financial fallout from Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget.
The by-election was triggered by the resignation of Labor MP Chris Matheson in October after allegations of sexual misconduct. Parliament’s bullying and harassment watchdog and the Standards Commissioner concluded Matheson had breached the Commons sexual misconduct policy.
The Labor candidate in Chester is Samantha Dixon, local councilor and former leader of Cheshire West and Chester council. Over the past month, party figures including deputy leader Angela Rayner, former leader Ed Miliband and Leeds East MP Richard Burgon have traveled to the constituency to campaign.
Rayner and Keir Starmer tweeted good luck to Dixon on Thursday morning. The Labor leader tweeted“Sam will be a fantastic representative of her community, and as their MP would make the people of Chester proud.”
Cheshire West and Chester Council Labor leader Louise Gittins said after polls closed she was “quietly confident” about her party’s chances. “I think everything went well, bearing in mind that it’s December and it was dark at half past four,” she said.
Regarding the size of Labour’s victory, she said: ‘I think we have to be in line with the national polls. We would like to think of more than 60% of the votes to send a real message to the government that enough is enough. I think the country is fed up with conservatives.
Rob Herd, the Liberal Democrat candidate, said: “I think there is massive dissatisfaction with the Conservatives. I think we will see that with the results tonight. Chester has always been a bit of a national curve indicator.
The Conservative candidate is Elizabeth Wardlaw, a nurse who is also a local councilor for Cheshire East.
The constituency has gone from the most marginal in the country in 2015, when Labor won by just 93 votes, to a solidly secure seat for the party in recent years. Labor won by 9,176 votes in 2017 and by 6,164 in 2019. In 2010, the Conservatives took the seat from Labor with a majority of 2,583 votes.
The Conservatives lost two by-elections in June, one against Labor in Wakefield and the other against the Liberal Democrats in Tiverton and Honiton.