The Christian Wakeford Interview: 'Boris Johnson isn’t suitable to be a leader, let alone a Prime Minister'
Weeks after defecting from the Conservatives, Christian Wakeford tells Eleanor Langford about life as a Labour MP.
In a matter of hours, Christian Wakeford went from a relatively unknown backbencher to one of the most talked about men in Britain. All eyes were on the Bury South MP as he took his place a few rows behind Keir Starmer at Prime Ministers’ Questions, having just taken the seismic decision to defect to Labour from the Conservative Party.
“My number one achievement that day was not throwing up,” Wakeford, 37, says over coffee in Portcullis House. “Considering I was sat behind Keir, I’m sure he’s greatly appreciative of that.”
He describes his phone in the days afterwards as “carnage,” with more than 300 WhatsApp messages, 1,800 emails and “God knows how many missed calls”. Such was his newfound fame that he was even recognised on a parliamentary trip to Ukraine.
Wakeford adds, however, what he was most nervous about was his first meeting with the Constituency Labour Party in Bury South. The atmosphere was apparently “moderate,” with members mainly just “trying to understand” what had led the former Tory to join their ranks.
“I’m committed to working with them, to actually deliver on the issues that really matter, from cost of living to some of the issues I’m passionate about, such as alcohol harm and literacy.”
I was slowly coming to the realisation that the party I had been in for 18 years had changed and I had changed
He continues: “I’m not expecting everyone to be my best friend on day one. It will be a challenge, because I’ve been campaigning against them and they’ve been campaigning against me. It will take some time. Hopefully, they see that there is a commitment there to make it work.”
As for the Parliamentary Labour Party, Wakeford says he’s had a warm welcome. “It’s like being the new kid in school. People want to chat and see how you are in the hallway. It has been very welcoming.”
The reaction from his former party has been markedly more mixed. He says many Tory MPs have come up to him in Parliament to ask after him, kindnesses he says that are “greatly appreciated”. Others, however, have not been as supportive.
“Cancelling my direct debit for the... Party membership the day after was an interesting [experience],” he laughs.
“It was unfortunate that it got into quite nasty personal briefings against me. But if the lowest you can get is personal attacks, then actually that just reinforces that it was the right decision.”
He insists that there was no “final straw” that pushed him to join Labour, and that he had “slowly been going in that direction” for some time. “There had obviously been quite a few moments where [the Tories] had been incredibly annoying,” Wakeford explains.
“They were reeling out minister after minister to defend the indefensible. It was unedifying. I was slowly coming to the realisation that the party I had been in for 18 years had changed and I had changed.”
In the weeks since his defection, Wakeford says the Prime Minister’s response to the fallout from Sue Gray’s update into her “partygate” investigation has done little to make him regret his decision.
“Boris Johnson isn’t suitable to be a leader, let alone a Prime Minister,” he adds. “It all just reinforces that the decision I made… was actually the right one.”
As many Tory MPs mull over the future of their party, does Wakeford have a message for his ex-colleagues on the fence about their leader?
“For those who’ve written letters but have not submitted them, I say: If not now, when?”
He continues: “They owe it to the country and to themselves to actually bring it forward, to make sure that he’s replaced. The longer it goes on, the more damage is caused.”
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