Why Selby and Ainsty by-election win gives Labour real hope of general election success

The constituency will now be represented by 25-year-old Keir Mather. Credit: PA

Few people were expecting Nigel Adams’ immediate resignation as Selby and Ainsty MP on Saturday, June 10.

He’d already announced he was standing down at the next election, but quit parliament after missing out on a seat in the House of Lords.

Labour hadn’t yet selected a candidate in Selby, while the Conservatives had picked their candidate less than 24 hours earlier.

I was stood with a senior Labour official when the news of Mr Adams' resignation came through. They told me Selby wasn’t on their target list, but they would give it a go.

Mr Adams’ 20,137 majority in 2019 was seen as a stretch too far to overturn, but one Labour would try to chip away at.

Over the next six weeks, as Labour’s campaign took off from a standing start, party officials tell me the reception they got on the doorstep was surprisingly positive. As the door knocking continued, belief grew that Labour could overcome a bigger Tory majority than it had ever managed before.

The Conservative campaign struggled to get started. Their candidate dropped out for family reasons early on. The party also realised it had very little on-the-ground data as the seat had been considered safe, solid blue territory.

Rising mortgage costs became a big issue - the constituency has one of the biggest percentages of mortgage holders in the UK.

Frustration at the chaotic Conservative leadership changes last year came up time and time again.

Voters felt abandoned by their former MP who had “sulked off”, according to one man I met outside a polling station on Thursday. “He’s the worst MP this constituency has ever had,” he told me.

As Labour sniffed it had a chance here, it threw everything at the campaign. The party directed anyone who could to campaign in Selby, rather than Uxbridge.

Labour’s headquarters, plastered with the face of its 25-year-old candidate Keir Mather, was bang in the centre of Selby town centre and buzzing with party activists. The Conservative HQ - just a few hundred metres away - was almost hidden from view.

Boundary changes mean a small slither of this constituency will switch to the neighbouring Harrogate seat - a top Liberal Democrats target - at the next election. No wonder almost the entire Lib Dem operation here focused on just those 300 households.

Labour officials I spoke to in the week leading up to this by-election felt cautiously optimistic about their chances in Selby, yet not one dared to openly admit they believed victory was likely.

It will be tough seat to keep hold of outside of a by-election, but Labour’s win here has given the party hope that it’s large lead in the polls can transfer into real votes.

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