Christian Wakeford: Tory MP defects to Labour moments before PMQs

Wakeford accuses PM of ‘disgraceful’ leadership in recent weeks

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Wednesday 19 January 2022 17:39
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Keir Starmer welcomes defected Tory MP Christian Wakeford to Labour-.mp4

The Conservative Red Wall MP Christian Wakeford has defected to the Labour Party, in a major blow to Boris Johnson just moments before prime minister’s questions.

As the prime minister faces the escalating threat of a leadership challenge over allegations of rule-breaking parties in No 10, Sir Keir Starmer welcomed the Bury South MP into Labour’s ranks.

Just yesterday, the former Tory MP submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson to the chair of the 1922 committee, Sir Graham Brady, amid wider discontent on the Conservative benches.

In correspondence with the prime minister on Wednesday, Mr Wakeford revealed his decision to quit the party altogether, saying: “My decision is about much more than your leadership and the disgraceful way you have conducted yourself in recent weeks”.

Speaking to broadcasters later, the new Labour MP said he had been mulling a defection for months, and accused his former party of trying to “defend the indefensible”.

“This isn’t a matter of just deciding this morning I want to be a Labour MP – this has been many months in the build-up,” said Mr Wakeford.

“And whether it goes back to the issues over free school meals and Dominic Cummings, or over Universal Credit and the cost-of-living crisis, the Owen Paterson affair or now partygate, there has been a lot of... soul-searching that’s taken many sleepless nights.”

Mr Wakeford said he had been elected as “a moderate and a centrist” and remained one even after changing party. He said he was not aware of other Tories planning to follow him into Labour, but added: “If there is another one who chooses to cross the floor, I will greet them with open arms myself, and I’m sure we’ll have a pint and chat.”

In a coup for the Labour leader – announced just over 10 minutes before prime minister’s questions – Sir Keir welcomed Mr Wakeford to Labour, insisting “he has always put the people of Bury South first”.

“As Christian said, the policies of the Conservative government are doing nothing to help the people of Bury South and indeed are only making the struggles they face on a daily basis worse.”

He added: “I’m determined to build a new Britain which guarantees security, prosperity and respect for all and I’m delighted that Christian has decided to join us in this endeavour.”

The move, however, means Mr Wakeford’s letter of no confidence will not be counted towards the threshold needed to trigger a vote on Mr Johnson’s leadership within the Tory party.

In a letter to Mr Johnson, the Bury South MP, who was first elected in 2019 in the constituency that had elected Labour politicians since 1997, said the country needed “a government that upholds the highest standards of integrity and probity in public life”.

However, he went on: “Sadly both you and the Conservative Party as a whole have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves.”

Mr Wakeford, who said he had “wrestled with my conscience” for months over the decision, went on: “I can no longer support a government that has shown itself consistently out of touch with the hard working people of Bury South and the country as a whole.

“Under Keir Starmer, the Labour Party is back firmly in the centre of British politics, in touch with working people, and ready to provide an alternative government that this country can be proud of, and not embarrassed by.

“My decision is about much more than your leadership and the disgraceful way you have conducted yourself in recent weeks.

“However, I don’t believe all politicians are the same and I do believe in the power of politics to be a force for good. So does Keir Starmer. He has shown that integrity in the way he has led his party on issues that matter to me, not least the vital challenge of combatting antisemitism.

“I will always put the people of Bury South first and will continue to speak out for the changes the area needs. Changes that can only be delivered by a Labour government with Keir Starmer.”

But the move was not welcomed in all wings of the party, with the affiliated Young Labour organisation saying Mr Wakeford had “consistently voted against the interests of working-class; for the £20 universal credit cut, for the Nationality and Borders Bill and for the Police and Crime Bill.

Insisting Young Labour “does not welcome him”, they also urged the party to “uphold Bury south members’ right to choose their own Labour candidate and constituents should be able to reassess their MP”.

Also citing his voting record, the left-wing campaign group, Momentum, which was set up to support the policies put forward during Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, suggested Mr Wakeford should be “nowhere near the Labour Party”.

“The decision by Starmer to accept him is an insult to the millions of working people who want to see a fairer country,” they added.“Wakeford should be booted out of Labour and a by-election called immediately. Labour must back a candidate that will stand up for the people of Bury South and against this Tory Government.”

Facing the news of the defection at prime minister’s questions amid cheers on the Labour benchers, Mr Johnson said: “As for Bury South, let me say to him, the Conservative Party won Bury South for the first time in a generation under this prime minister on an agenda of of uniting and levelling up and delivering for the people of Bury South.”

“We will win again in Bury South,” he added.

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