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Tory Defector Christian Wakeford Faces A Tough Battle To Win Over "Upset" Local Labour

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer with Bury South MP Christian Wakeford Alamy

3 min read

Labour members in Bury South are in shock after the defection of Tory MP Christian Wakeford, with some calling for a by-election now he has changed parties.

While his defection was celebrated by Labour leader Keir Starmer, the leader of Labour-run Bury Council, Eamonn O'Brien, and welcomed by the chair of the Bury South constituency Labour Party, Patrick Heneghan, other local party members are sceptical. 

Youth officer of the Bury South Labour party, Joshua Harcup told PoliticsHome there should be a by-election, or at the very least a full selection process in time for the next general election.

Tonight there will be a meeting of the executive committee of the constituency Labour party and the first chance members will have to thrash out their views on the news after it emerged very senior local party members were only given a few hours notice before Wakeford made his announcement.

"Some members have been very upset already, some have questioned 'why now' and if it's because Labour is doing well in the polls," Harcup said.

"Of course some have seen this as a politcal opportunity for the Labour Party," Harcup said.

"I'm shocked and think there should be a by-election. Christian Wakeford has a very mixed political voting record. We know he backed the campaign against 'fire and rehire' but he also didn't turn up to vote when the government was trying not to feed hungry children.

"Right now he's a Labour MP, but he's not the Bury South Labour candidate."Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves is in the neighbouring Tory-held Bury North constituency today to give a speech on the economy and will head out canvassing with local activists.

With a majority of just 402, Wakeford may face a tough battle to become Labour's candidate at the next general election. Boris Johnson said he would take the seat back for the Tories at the next election, and it has elected Tory MPs pre-1997. The last election's Labour candidate, Lucy Burke who gave Wakeford such a close challenge, may want to run again and is already known by the local party.

However Wakeford, who took the seat in 2019 general election as part of the Tory sweep of "red wall" victories, is said to have a popular personal madate and has specifically made in-roads with the area's large Jewish population. He has been learning Hebrew and regularly attends community events.

With many Jewish voters turning away from Labour under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, there is a suggestion Wakeford may be a candidate that has appeal, and he also got the backing of the Jewish Labour Movement. 

Wakeford said in his defection letter to Boris Johnson sent on Wednesday: "[Keir Starmer] has shown that integrity in the way he has led his party on issues that matter to me, not least the vital challenge of combating anti-Semitism."

Harcup said there are other issues to contend with in terms of Wakeford's track record, including his past WhatsApp messages which were highly critical of the party. 

"He hasn't been respectful of the party in the past," he said. 

Councillor O'Brien, leader of Bury Council, said: "This defection is a damning indictment of a Tory government and a hapless prime minister that are out of touch with the people of places like Bury."

However his Tory neighbour, James Daly MP, said it was an astounding decision to abandon the Conservative party that had brought millions to Bury.

He said the new Labour MP "should resign so a by-election can take place".

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