The Conservatives suffered a blow to their re-election hopes after losing to Labour’s Samantha Dixon, who cruised to a comfortable victory in the City of Chester by-election on Friday 2nd December. The by-election was called due to the previous Labour MP, Christian Matheson, resigning in disgrace after accusations of sexual misconduct.
Historically a safe Conservative seat (voting in its first Labour MP in 1997), the constituency in recent years has swung towards Labour. The 11,000 plus majority that Samantha Dixon won will cement it as a safe Labour seat from now on. It is also worth noting that residents largely voted for Remain in the 2016 EU membership referendum.
Obviously this is a disastrous outcome for the Conservatives and Rishi Sunak’s electoral chops. His first test has ended in failure with Labour almost doubling their majority in the consistency. Solace can be taken in the fact that the defeat was expected and has not been too humbling compared to other by-election defeats; but it does lead to the question of whether the Conservatives have the ability to secure the decisive majority of MP’s they currently enjoy at the next general election.
The overwhelming nature of such a victory has also further emboldened Labour’s call for an early general election. On-going economic woes and the ‘cost of living crisis’ have gifted Labour a resonant angle of attack and was cited by Dixon as a piece of key messaging in the election campaign. A 40% turnout in a constituency which has been trending Labour over the last decade might seem to dampen expectations, other by-elections successes – such as Wakefield and Batley and Spen – will help make the case that Keir Starmer’s Labour is a serious contender for power.
Having now been in power for 12 years, the Conservatives can no longer pass the responsibility for the economic and social malaise that engulfs Britain onto the opposition. Labour can now present themselves as a credible alternative with a plan to resolve these multiple crisis as well as having the advantage of attacking the dismal economic record and alleged corruption scandals, such as the PPE procurement fiasco.
With polling showing that the public expects Labour to win at the next election, the Conservatives will be reluctant to call an early election. If events continue the way they are, their hand may bee forced.