by John Oxley
Friday, 2
December 2022
Analysis
10:13

Chester result could have been worse for the Tories

The outcome doesn't suggest a 1997-style wipeout
by John Oxley
The Chester high street. Credit: Getty

Rishi Sunak’s Conservatives have faced their first electoral test since Boris Johnson’s resignation tipped them into months of electoral chaos. It did not go well. Although Labour was always expected to win the City of Chester by-election, the margin of victory points towards deep trouble for the Conservatives, and how far they have drifted from their electorate.

Chester is by no means a historic Labour stronghold. The pretty, affluent city was solidly Tory from 1910 until 1997, and since then has been a swing seat. The Tories took it back from Labour in 2010, before losing by just 93 votes in 2015. Since then, it was one of the losers of the Tory realignment, with the Labour majority rising to over six thousand in 2019. Yet last night was a cake-walk for Labour.


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With all the usual caveats of by-election weirdness and lower-than-usual turnout, the Tories were hurt in Chester. The Labour majority now sits at over ten thousand, taking 61% of the vote share, with a 14% swing. The Lib Dems also gained against the Conservatives. On every measure, it’s the Tories’ worst performance in the city since the Great Reform Act. If matched across the country, Labour would form a government.

The only glimmer of hope for Sunak is that this by election swing is not as bad as those suffered in the latter days of John Major. The hysterical polls that suggested a total wipe-out of the Tories under Truss may have been overstated. When people get to the ballot box, they are perhaps a little more forgiving. These numbers point to a 1964-style result, rather than a 1997 one. Equally, Reform had little impact in taking votes from the Tory right.

It is however small comfort. The party’s failure last night shows it is losing ground in areas where it should have a fighting chance. It is a seat the party held within the last decade, in a relatively wealthy enclave. Samantha Dixon is only Chester’s third ever Labour MP. That it should tilt so far towards Labour indicates the Conservatives are losing more and more of what were once core voters.

The Conservative majority in 2019 was delivered by deftly bringing together a coalition of long-standing Tory voters with new converts run over by Brexit and Johnson. The danger now is that both sides of that equation might desert them.  The result in Chester certainly indicates the former is going elsewhere or staying at home, no longer enthusiastic about the Tories as they were under Cameron, or as scared of Labour as they were under Corbyn. Polling suggests the latter isn’t staying around either.

Chester confirms that the Tories are on course for a defeat at the next election. The party has 18 months to mitigate this. The headwinds are against them, with the cost-of-living crisis still to bite fully. If they keep scandal-free and competent, they might just hold together a good portion of their voters and deliver a bad, but not eviscerating result, like in Chester last night. If not, a full blowout beckons.

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Matthew Powell
Matthew Powell
2 months ago

The Tories are finished but Labour have no idea how to fix the UK’s problems. Starmer wants to take them back to the glory days of New Labour, which are the root of all of todays problems.

A globalised low productivity economy, uncontrolled mass migration, removal of democratic accountability for public institutions whilst at the same time shamelessly politicising supposedly independent bodies, bloated inefficient public services and NGO’s living off tax payer money, an education system that produces thousands of graduates too many but who are at the same time pathetically under skilled and unproductive, a divisive and unfair devolution settlement tearing the UK apart, stoking racial animosity for political gain by introducing discriminatory policies baked into law.

All of these are New Labour policies that the Tories failed to over turn and to which Starmer now wants to double down on.

As Einstein said, “The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
2 months ago
Reply to  Matthew Powell

Your second paragraph sums it up beautifully.

Adam McDermont
Adam McDermont
2 months ago

I for one hope that the ”Conservative Party” dies. They are committed to the demographic replacement of the white-British population and spending millions on housing invaders in hotels while our own people shiver on the streets. They should not just be removed from power. They should be brought before a court of law. Treason. What have they conserved? Socially, they may as well be as left as Labour. 
The Heritage Site | Adam McDermont | Substack

Andy Moore
Andy Moore
2 months ago
Reply to  Adam McDermont

The same applies to Labour as well, Neither party has served the country well over recent decades.

William Cameron
William Cameron
2 months ago

I was a Tory paid up member but no more . This bunch of third rate chancers are not fit to run anything

Last edited 2 months ago by William Cameron
Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 months ago

For your sake William, I hope you are not related to the ultimate chancer of the same name …

Last edited 2 months ago by Ian Barton
Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 months ago

Chester today, and its electorate, may be somewhat different to pre-1997. The city is still both pretty and affluent; but it has seen an expansion of its higher education sector, where previously it had a smallish college and law school. There may well be other demographic changes that reflect a more urban/liberal population, where once there was ‘old money’. The population may be less concerned about issues that predominate in other, less affluent, areas of the north and are comfortable with swapping Lab/Con/Lib Dem as they see fit. Such a population will have little interest in Reform UK and will probably hold its nose when encountering those who share its concerns.
More telling will be bye-election results that come from the more deprived red wall seats, where voters may now feel abandoned both by Labour and the Tories. They voted Tory and got Net Zero, increased immigration, higher taxes and the further capture of public institutions by neo-Marxists. Will they revert to the party that kick-started, facilitated or actively supports many of the things that they dislike and didn’t vote for?

Last edited 2 months ago by Al M
Graeme Kemp
Graeme Kemp
2 months ago

Maybe it also shows that Labour is both disproportionally middle-class in terms of membership and voter base…?

Michael W
Michael W
2 months ago

I still can’t understand why 22 people would vote for the Tories now, never mind 22%.
For the good of the nation the Conservatives must be removed removed from power and destroyed as a party.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
2 months ago
Reply to  Michael W

Along with Labour.
Conservatives aren’t conservative, labour doesn’t represent the working class and the liberal Democrats are neither liberal nor democratic. I wonder why anyone outside of the metropolitan hipster types bother voting at all.

Eric Parker
Eric Parker
2 months ago
Reply to  Michael W

Calm down, dear!

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 months ago
Reply to  Eric Parker

Feel free to add some counter-argument.

Alison Tyler
Alison Tyler
2 months ago

Who has a workable vision?

polidori redux
polidori redux
2 months ago

The voters aren’t paying attention yet.
They will be forced to when the sh*t hids the fan. This is the phoney war.

David Forrester
David Forrester
2 months ago

The writer appears to have not taken account of the student population in Chester which seems to have an impact on the Tories winning the seat during previous elections. I think it had been until then a target seat. Although with the current situation I am not really surprised at the by election result.

Tony Price
Tony Price
2 months ago

If they keep scandal-free and competent – ha ha fat chance of either!

Hugh Bryant
Hugh Bryant
2 months ago

Whoever wins the country will still be governed by a tiny cabal of Oxford graduates none of whom have been anywhere near the sharp end of economic life.

Steve George
Steve George
2 months ago

I think the circumstances of the previous MP’s resignation was a stro g headwind against Labour that will not apply in a general election. Given this, I’d suggest this is a better result for Labour (and it’s pretty good anyway) than this article admits.

Steve Elliott
Steve Elliott
2 months ago

Don’t you think that New Labour under Tony Blair was a much more attractive proposition than Kier Starmer’s Labour? At the time I mean, whatever you think of New Labour now. It’s all very well hating the current government and wanting to vote them out but if the alternative is less than ideal what are you to do?
So it looks like Labour will probably win the next election but perhaps not as well as they’d like.
Also didn’t Tony Blair promise to reform the house of Lords? He did get rid of some Hereditary peers but I think his reforms didn’t go anywhere near as far as people had hoped. So we’ve kind of gone full circle on that.

Last edited 2 months ago by Steve Elliott
Red Napier
Red Napier
2 months ago

Delightful post. Thanks

Nicky Samengo-Turner
Nicky Samengo-Turner
2 months ago

Chester? just Scousers with flash cars and breast jobs…

Alphonse Pfarti
Alphonse Pfarti
2 months ago

Maybe in the Cheshire countryside, these days – Essex of the North, apparently.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
2 months ago

Not a classy contribution to the thread Nicky …

Last edited 2 months ago by Ian Barton