New MP for South Ribble

Friday, 5 July 2024 11:09

By Paul Faulkner - Local Democracy Reporting Service

The newly-elected MP for South Ribble says he never aspired to end up in Parliament when he first entered the political fray as a borough councillor 17 years ago.

Paul Foster took the constituency from the Conservatives as part of a near Lancashire-wide rout of the Tories.

However, Reform UK put in a strong showing in the seat, scooping almost 9,000 votes – almost one of five of all those cast – to finish third from what candidate Andy Hunter said was practically a standing start.

Labour secured a majority of 6,501, overturning the Conservatives’ notional majority from 2019 – based on an estimate of the result that would have occurred at the last election had the new constituency boundaries that came into effect this time round been in place then – of 8,515.  The Tory vote share almost halved.

The result means the seat remains the very definition of  a bellwether constituency – continuing its run of matching the national outcome of every general election since it was formed in 1983.

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) in the moments after his victory was declared, the man who has spent the last five years leading South Ribble Borough Council said he was “absolutely overjoyed and very humbled” to have won. However, the army veteran denied that it had ever been his aim to head to Westminster.

“It’s something that…just evolved over the last year or two, following being leader of the council – particularly through the Covid crisis.  And I felt I was the best person to lead my community forward now, with the number of challenges that we face.

“It’s not quite sunk in yet, but I’m going to give it everything and ensure that my residents in South Ribble get all the support they need.

“It’s been hard-won – and I now have a job to do in Westminster to support my community,” Mr. Foster said.

He acknowledged that his success had been helped by “the national picture”, but added that “an awful lot of hard work” had gone into his campaign at a local level.

He also described as “bittersweet” the fact that he would now be resigning as borough council leader- saying he had no intention to try to do both jobs.  The LDRS understands that the process for finding his replacement from within the Labour group at the district authority could begin as soon as this weekend.

Meanwhile, Conservative Katherine Fletcher, who had represented the constituency since 2019, said in her concession speech it had been a “privilege” to do so – and talked of “the pride you get when people let you know that you’ve done a good job to help them”.

However, she also addressed her party more broadly, warning them of the direction she thought they should take in defeat, rather than the one they may be drawn towards.

“Conservatives…may now well be tempted to look inwards – and I would encourage the opposite.  In our rooms together in private, we should look for different voices, diverse voices, potentially even discordant voices.

“We need more people from outside politics – we need more women, we need more people who’ve created wealth and created jobs, we need more state-educated people.  And in those rooms… will be saying what was true decades ago and is still true now – we need a Northern Powerhouse,” concluded Ms. Fletcher, who also congratulated her replacement.

Reform UK candidate Andy Hunter reflected on his third place in view of the fact the party had “only kicked off in South Ribble a few weeks ago”.

“So I think our numbers tonight…are pretty impressive and we’re not going away, if you watch what’s going on across the country.”

Wishing Paul Foster well in Westminster and encouraging his political opponents to keep fighting for their own parties, Mr. Hunter added:  “Keep on believing what you believe in, everybody – and watch this space next time round.”

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat candidate Ange Turner thanked all of those who had done battle in the seat over the last six weeks for a “clean and fairly-fought campaign”.

FULL RESULT

Katherine Fletcher (Conservative Party) – 13,339 (28.6 percent)

Paul Foster (Labour Party) – 19,840 (42.5 percent)

Andy Hunter (Reform UK) – 8,995 (19.3 percent)

Stephani Mok (Green Party) – 1,574 (3.4 percent)

Ange Turner (Liberal Democrat) – 2,972 (6.4 percent)

Turnout: 63.4 percent

 

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