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Local councillor endures Tories’ heaviest defeat in Chester

Labour secured a majority of 10,974 on a 14-point vote swing in a first electoral test for Rishi Sunak in the Chester by-election, where a Cheshire East councillor standing for the Tories recorded the lowest vote the party has seen in the seat.

Receiving 17,309 votes with 61.22% of the vote share, Labour achieved its highest majority and share of the vote.

Conservative candidate Coun Liz Wardlaw, from Astbury, received 6,335 votes and a 22.4% vote share – the Tory Party’s worst result in the constituency since 1832. The Liberal Democrats came third on 2,368.

Coun Wardlaw, of Astbury, who represents Odd Rode Ward at Cheshire East, had spent most of her time recently campaigning in the west of the county ahead of the contest, called after the resignation of the city’s former Labour MP, Chris Matheson.

He was found to have made “unwanted and unwelcome sexual advances” towards a junior member of staff, although he disputed that there had been “sexual motivation”.

Coun Wardlaw was announced as the Tory candidate in October, a relative unknown in Chester but a familiar face to those living in the villages in her council ward, which includes Scholar Green and Rode Heath.

Speaking to the Chronicle ahead of the vote she said it was going “really well”.

“I’m really busy and I’m coming home exhausted in the evening,” she said.

“There’s a fantastic Conservative Association over there and they’re pulling out all the stops to help me. There’s quite a lot of positivity on the doorstep, which is great because I wasn’t sure what reception I’d get.”

According to Coun Wardlaw, the issues that cropped up when out canvassing in the walled city ranged from electric car charging points to preservation of Chester’s heritage.
In the run-up to the by-election, she appeared on Politics North West, the BBC’s regional political programme, along with others. A nurse by profession, she worked for the NHS for 40 years before coming out of retirement to assist with the pandemic response.

She was beaten by Labour’s Samantha Dixon, a former leader of Cheshire West and Chester Council who has lived in the city since she was four.

The Guardian reported that Ms Dixon said in her victory speech early today (Friday, 2nd December): “The people of Chester have sent a clear message. They have said Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives no longer have a mandate to govern.”

Asked how reflective the result was of the national mood, she said: “I don’t think that the voters in Chester are that much different from those across the country. I think that it’s time now for a general election and I think Labour will win as decisively as I have done today.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has welcomed Labour’s victory, saying the result was evidence voters “want the change Labour offers”.

The Labour leader tweeted his congratulations to Ms Dixon, the incoming Labour MP, on Friday morning.

Sir John Curtice, a professor of politics at Strathclyde University, told BBC Radio Four’s Today programme that the result indicated Labour would win “a sizeable victory” if a general election was held today.

The Guardian reported that Coun Wardlaw told local reporters it had “been a very good experience for me” before “swiftly” leaving the election count.

Mr Matheson retained the City of Chester seat for Labour in the 2019 general election with a majority of 6,164 votes, beating Conservative Samantha George, who came second with 20,918 votes.

Lib Dem Robert Herd came in third with 2,368.

The other parties trailed even further behind, although the Rejoin Party beat UKIP in what was possibly a tense lower league battle.

The other results were
• Bowers, Paul: Green Party, 987;
• Barton, Jeanie: Reform UK, 773;
• Hewison, Richard: Rejoin EU, 277;
• Griffiths, Cain: UKIP, 179;
• Hope, Alan (known as Howling Laud Hope): The Official Monster Raving Loony Party, 156;
• Quartermaine, Christopher: Freedom Alliance, The Real Alternative (“A UK political party for personal freedom and liberty”), 91.


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