Tory MPs Say They Were “Blindsided” By Christian Wakeford’s Labour Defection
(UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor)
Close allies of Bury South MP Christian Wakeford say they were “shocked” by his decision to defect to Labour from the Conservative party over concern about Boris Johnson’s leadership.
Sources close to the MP say they initially didn’t believe the reports, with one suggesting they thought it was “absolute bollocks” until it was confirmed by the party.
“I nearly tripped up reading the news…clearly he’s good at secrets ,” one Tory MP told PoliticsHome.
Another MP close to him said they were “still a bit confused” by his decision, which was announced shortly before Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, but added that they would still support him.
Wakeford’s decision comes as Johnson fights to stay in Downing Street amid a major backlash from Conservative MPs over his involvement in alleged parties held at Number 10 at the height of lockdown.
But a senior minister told PoliticsHome that the MP’s defection was unlikely to focus anger against the Prime Minister, and would be more likely to have the opposite effect.
“There is a small but shared feeling amongst colleagues that we’ve managed to take a step back from the brink to take a breather,” they said.
“The rally cry for the PM from his backbenchers earlier will have come as a relief to many and a reassuring sign for now that not all hope is entirely lost.”
They said the incident had “fostered a renewed sense of collective thought amongst Conservative colleagues that the priority now should be not battling amongst themselves”.
“There is a reason the good people of Bury South did not vote for a Labour MP,” they added. “Time to knuckle down and continue with the job that members were elected under this Prime Minister to do.”
Despite allies close to Wakeford saying they were “blindsided” by his decision, others suggested that they were less surprised. Wakeford was “always the most likely person to defect”, one Tory MP told PoliticsHome.
Tory MP Lee Anderson told GB News it was “good riddance to bad rubbish”, and that he was not surprised by Wakeford’s departure.
"He's been very vocal in his non-support of the Prime Minister, he's upset colleagues quite a few times with some of his tweets and his messages,” Anderson said.
Many of Wakeford’s fellow 2019-intake MPs have also reacted angrily to his decision, with one calling the Bury South MP “completely naive”.
Another said: “[It’s] disappointing that anybody would do something like that, but it is what it is. If anything it has galvanised the rest of us and I think will backfire on Labour. Doesn’t seem to have gone down well with their own members either.”
This view was echoed by a third MP, who described Wakeford as a “slightly wayward, erratic and unreliable colleague” with a “very poor attendance record on his select committee”.
But there was some sympathy among his cohort. One 2019 MP said: "I can't think of anything more nightmare-provoking than the prospect of going to my first CLP meeting and asking the activists who previously have heckled me in the street to defend me on the doorstep."
PoliticsHome understands that Wakeford has been in talks with Labour for several months, but only began seriously considering leaving the Tory party at the start of 2022.
Wakeford himself said it had been a well-considered decision. “This isn’t a matter of just deciding this morning I wanted to be a Labour MP,” he told Sky News in his first interview since the announcement.
“This has been months in the build-up and goes back to issues of free school meals, Dominic Cummings, Universal Credit, the cost of living crisis, and now partygate.
“There’s been a lot of build-up and a lot of soul searching and many sleepless nights. Ultimately it’s the right decision and I hope my former colleagues can understand that even if they don’t agree.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer welcomed Wakeford to the party, saying he "has always put the people of Bury South first".
Other Labour MPs have also praised their newest colleague, with one shadow minister describing him as “a top bloke, really decent and a welcome addition to the party”.
Plymouth MP and former shadow minister Luke Pollard said: “The Prime Minister's time is coming to an end. Decent Conservatives are losing faith in a man who lies and shows no real understanding of why his lies and parties are so offensive.
“I welcome Christian Wakeford to the Labour Party. There are more decent Tories in Parliament and the country who have had enough of the PM and it’s time their voices were heard.”
Additional reporting by Adam Payne and John Johnston.
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