Polls close in Wakefield by-election

Wakefield by-election count
Counting is taking place at the Thornes Park Athletics Stadium. Credit: Harry Horton

Counting is set to get underway in the Wakefield by-election in what is being seen as a crucial test of Prime Minister Boris Johnson's leadership.

The poll was one of two which took place on Thursday, with voters also casting ballots in Tiverton and Honiton, in Devon.

Both by-elections are being seen as a measure of whether Mr Johnson still enjoys the kind of popularity which secured the Conservatives a landslide election win in 2019. It comes in the wake of the partygate controversy and with the country in the grip of a cost of living crisis.

And it follows a confidence vote in Mr Johnson earlier this month, which saw 148 Tory MPs vote against his leadership.

But Mr Johnson has already said he would not resign if the Conservatives lost the seats. On Thursday he told reporters in Rwanda, where he was on an official visit, he would be "crazy" to step down.

He said he was "full of optimism and buoyancy" ahead of the results.

Speaking to broadcasters in Kigali, he said: "I'm going to be watching the results with interests but always full of optimism and buoyancy but most seasoned political observers know that by-elections in mid-term are never necessarily easy for any government."

The last time a Government lost two by-elections on the same day was more than 30 years ago when Tory prime minister John Major was dealt a double defeat.

Under current Conservative rules, Mr Johnson is safe from a new vote in his leadership for a year.

Wakefield's election count is taking place at Thornes Park Athletics Stadium. The result is expected in the early hours of Friday morning.

Why was there a by-election?

Former Conservative Wakefield MP Imran Ahmad Khan was convicted of molesting a teenage boy Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

The Wakefeld by-election was sparked by the resignation of the former MP Imran Ahmad Khan.

He was the first Conservative to be elected in the city in more than 87 years when he won the seat at the 2019 General Election.

But he quit after being convicted of sexually assaulting a teenage boy earlier this year.

What happened at the last election?

Labour's Mary Creagh lost the seat at the last election. Credit: PA

Wakefield was one of the so-called "red wall" of seats in the former Labour heartlands of the Midlands and the North which were won by Boris Johnson's Conservatives in 2019.

Mary Creagh, the sitting Labour MP, won 39.8% of the votes, losing to Imran Khan, who gained 47.3% and a majority of more than 3,000 votes.

Turnout at the election was 64.1%.

Who were the candidates this time?

Conservative Nadeem Ahmed and Labour's Simon Lightwood. Credit: Conservative Party/PA

There were 15 registered candidates. You can read more about them here. But the election was seen effectively as a head-to-head between Labour's Simon Lightwood and Nadeem Ahmed, the Conservative candidate.

Mr Lightwood, an NHS worker, joined the Labour party 20 years ago. He has studied, worked and lived in Wakefield for the past 10 years. 

Mr Ahmed, a councillor in the city since 2006, raised eyebrows when he said that people could still trust the Conservatives – despite the conviction of Imran Khan – like patients still trust their GPs despite the actions of serial killer Harold Shipman.