General Election 2019: Turn of the century? S-Leigh bells ring for Tories as Labour lose historic seat

Conservatives disrupted the red heartland by 1,965 votes in Leigh, as elected Tory MP James Grundy attacked Jeremy Corbyn and Labour’s pro-Brexit stance for the party’s historic loss.

Jo Platt’s re-election campaign clearly fell far short as she lost the staunchly held red seat to party rival – Conservative James Grundy – who secured 45.27% of votes, a massive swing of +32 from 2017.

In his victory speech delivered to raucous cheers and resounding applause, James Grundy MP launched an attack on the Labour leader.

“This should not be considered her fault that she has not won. On this occasion however it was not to be (for Labour) through a combination of anger over Brexit and anger over Jeremy Corbyn.”

“Let it be clear that it is his fault that Jo lost tonight, and no reflection on her. I stood on a campaign promise to get Brexit done and fix our town. I intend to stick by that promise.”

After becoming the first female MP for Leigh in 2017, Jo Platt was clearly upset by the result. In a reaction to the historic loss, Councillor Platt admitted: “It’s a weight on your shoulders. I am devasted more for the people of Leigh.”

“We are still very aware that the Leigh people need that Labour representative. We will carry on fighting.”

Responding to MP Grundy’s verbal attack on her party’s leader, she replied: “To blame one person for this I don’t think is quite correct. We’ve had the most chaotic time in Westminster in regards to Brexit.”

Instead Jo Platt blamed Tory social policies, alongside increasing electorate resentment towards Brexit.

“It was nine and a half years of austerity that we have endured. The fact is that Brexit might be part of that anger.

“I’ve had thousands of conversations during this election campaign. They [people] will tell you that they wanted to get their Brexit done.”

The loss of Labour’s one fifth majority from the 2017 General Election is a likely reflection of the 2016 Brexit referendum, where Leigh voted resoundingly pro-leave, in contrary to councillor Platt’s firm pro-EU stance.

Labour have been campaigning fiercely in Leigh with one Labour supporter – Samantha Brown – admitting: “My children don’t know who I am, I’ve been up since 6am with my husband.”

As Labour made one final push for supporters ahead of the polls opening at 7am yesterday morning, she said: “We have been campaigning hard all day handing out flyer.”

She added that she didn’t plan on sleeping tonight “whatever the result” and instead planned on watching the national polls.

There was disruption elsewhere, as UKIP suffered a blow thanks to The Brexit Party. Standing for the first time, the party no doubt contributed to the decline in the number of UKIP votes (-5.0 swing from 2017), only receiving a miniscule 1% of votes compared to a 5.9% share in 2017.

The party’s shocking win has disrupted the 97-year held Labour seat which was first won from The Liberal Party back in 1922 – now surpassing the memory, and even the lifetime, of some of its voting constituents.

It ends what was one of the longest held party seats and, as the polls indicate, one that is not likely to change any time soon. 

When asked whether he had begun writing a victory speech prior to the exit poll announcement, James Grundy MP laughed before saying he had a “cautious sense of optimism” and that he remained “superstitious” until the exit poll gave an indication of the result.

Ahead of the exit polls YouGov MRP poll had brought a little festive fear, reporting that the Tories led by a narrow margin of one over the staunchly held Labour seat which suggested that Tory candidate Grundy could narrow the sweeping 20% majority won by Labour’s Jo Platt in 2017. 

As five other candidates fought hard to sway voters in the hope of unsettling the traditional Labour seat, yesterday’s result indicates the Conservatives campaign was clearly not in vain reflecting a shift in party alliance and support from 2017.  

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