Matt Hancock’s resignation as health secretary was a factor in the Conservatives’ defeat in the Batley and Spen by-election, the party’s co-chair has said.
Amanda Milling said Hancock’s behaviour was an issue that “came up on the doorstep” during canvassing in the West Yorkshire constituency.
Labour’s Kim Leadbeater won the seat by 323 votes on Friday, with 13,296 votes, followed by the Conservative Party’s Ryan Stephenson on 12,973 and George Galloway in third with 8.264.
Leadbeater’s narrow win means she will be an MP in the seat previously held by her sister, Jo Cox, who was murdered in 2016.
Milling said the defeat was “disappointing” for the Conservatives, and said Hancock’s resignation had been a factor.
He resigned as health secretary at the weekend for breaching social distancing guidance, after The Sun newspaper published photos and then video of him and aide Gina Coladangelo, who are both married with three children, kissing inside the Department of Health in May.
“It was something that came up on the doorstep, I have to be honest about that,” Milling told Sky News on Friday.
“They had some issues over the weekend in terms of what happened. Matt resigned and that was the right thing to do.”
Milling said: “This was always going to be really a tough battle for us.
“We didn’t win this in 2019. Governing parties don’t tend to win by-elections. This is a Labour hold, not a Labour gain.
“It was a very, very close result. This is not a great win for the Labour Party. They have only won by a matter of just over 300 votes.”
Hancock announced his resignation in a Twitter video on Saturday, saying: "I understand the enormous sacrifices that everybody in this country has made, that you have made, and those of us who make these rules have got to stick by them and that's why I have got to resign."
Leadbeater's narrow victory, after an often bitter campaign, was down from the 3,525-vote win secured by Labour at the last general election in 2019.
The victory eases the pressure on Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who hailed it as a “fantastic result”.
After taking the seat vacated by Labour’s Tracey Brabin becoming the mayor of West Yorkshire in May, Leadbeater also said: “I want to say a huge thank you to the police who, sadly, I have needed more than ever over the last few weeks.”
The Batley and Spen contest saw clashes between Galloway’s Workers Party and Labour supporters.
The most controversial arguments centred on the parties’ stance on international issues, including Kashmir and Palestine, as they battled to secure votes in the area’s Asian communities.
Labour activists said they were pelted with eggs and kicked in the head on the campaign trail at the weekend and West Yorkshire Police said an 18-year-old man from Batley was arrested on suspicion of assault in connection with an attack on canvassers.
Leadbeater was also confronted by a man who challenged her over the situation in Kashmir and her stance on LGBT education in schools amid what he said were concerns from Muslim parents.
Galloway said he would take legal action to get the result set aside, claiming his election effort had been damaged by a “false statement” that he had laughed while Leadbeater was abused on the campaign trail.