Polls have closed in the City of Chester byelection as Rishi Sunak faces his first electoral test as prime minister.
Labour is expected to hold the seat. It had a majority of 6,164 at the last election and polls had indicated a double-digit lead over the Conservatives in the expected share of the vote this time. A result is expected at about 3am.
Voter turnout was verified early on Friday as 41.2% (or 28,541 votes), a sizeable drop on the 71.7% turnout (54,560 votes) in 2019.
This is the first Westminster byelection since the resignations of Boris Johnson and then Liz Truss as prime minister and the financial fallout from Kwasi Kwarteng’s mini-budget.
The byelection was triggered by the resignation of the Labour MP Chris Matheson in October after allegations of sexual misconduct. Parliament’s bullying and harassment watchdog and the standards commissioner found Matheson had violated the Commons’ sexual misconduct policy.
Labour’s candidate in Chester is Samantha Dixon, a local councillor and former leader of Cheshire West and Chester council. In the past month, senior party figures, including the deputy leader, Angela Rayner, the former leader, Ed Miliband, and the Leeds East MP Richard Burgon, visited the constituency to campaign.
Rayner and Keir Starmer tweeted good luck to Dixon on Thursday morning. The Labour leader tweeted: “Sam will be a fantastic representative of her community, and as their MP would do the people of Chester proud.”
Louise Gittins, Labour leader of Cheshire West and Chester council, said after polls closed she was “quietly confident” about her party’s chances. “I think it’s gone well, bearing in mind it’s December and it was dark at half four,” she said.
In terms of how large she thinks Labour’s win will be, she said: “I think we need to be in line with national polling. We’d like to think over 60% share of the vote to send a real message to the government that enough is enough. I think the country has had enough of the Tories.”
Andy Carter, Conservative MP for Warrington South said: “This is a seat that has gone to Labour six times over the last seven elections. I’m not expecting that to change.”
Rob Herd, the candidate for the Liberal Democrats, said: “I think there is a massive discontentment with the Conservatives. I think we’ll see that with tonight’s results. Chester’s always been a bit of a bellwether for the national curve.”
The Conservative candidate is Elizabeth Wardlaw, a nurse who is also a local councillor in Cheshire East.
The constituency went from being the most marginal in the country in 2015, when Labour won by just 93 votes, to a firmly safe seat for the party in recent years. Labour won by 9,176 votes in 2017 and by 6,164 in 2019. In 2010, the Conservatives took the seat from Labour with a 2,583 majority.
The Conservatives lost two byelections in June, one to Labour in Wakefield and the other to the Liberal Democrats in Tiverton and Honiton.