(Bloomberg) -- 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 City of Chester, in northwest England, winning 61% of the vote. Dixon got 17,309 votes compared with 6,335 for Wardlaw.
That represented a significant 13.8% swing from the Conservatives to Labour -- proving that national opinion polls putting Starmer’s Labour Party far ahead of the Tories are broadly right, according to polling experts.
John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, told BBC Radio that Labour looks to be in a “stronger position than they’ve been at any previous point when they’ve been trying to challenge the Conservatives over the last dozen years.”
The swing in Chester was also in line with the average swing in seats Labour were defending between 1992 and 1997, Curtice added, the parliament which led to the Tories being ousted after 18 years of government.
James Johnson, co-founder of polling firm JL Partners, agreed the Chester result indicated that national polls were right, telling Politico’s Playbook it was “clearly dangerous territory for the Conservatives.”
The by-election was triggered by the resignation of Chris Matheson, following allegations of sexual misconduct. Matheson had represented the seat for Labour since 2015, . Few expected the seat 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.
But the scale of the win will be seized on by Labour as evidence that voters are eager for change at the next general election, which is due by January 2025. Chester is a swing seat that’s changed hands between Labour and the Tories since the 1990s.
“I think I have been in receipt of a very strong message from the voters of Chester that they want the Conservative cost-of-living crisis tackled immediately,” Dixon told reporters after the result, according to the Press Association.
“I don’t think they believe that the Conservatives have the answers, I think they think it’s Labour’s turn now.”
Still, governing parties often get a kicking in mid-term by-elections and the Conservatives will play down the impact of one single by-election on the national picture.
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.
--With assistance from Brendan Scott, Aradhana Aravindan and Rebecca Choong Wilkins.
(Updates with context and quote from John Curtice from paragraph three.)
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