An MP who switched sides from the Tories to Labor earlier this year has been confronted by Jewish constituents who were ‘disappointed’ by the defection. Bury South MP Christian Wakeford, who crossed the Commons floor in January, addressed an audience at Whitefield Synagogue on Sunday (April 10).
Conservative campaigners, Labor councilors and members of the Jewish community attended the event organized by the Jewish Representative Council for Greater Manchester together with North West Friends of Israel. Wakeford explained how a threat to pull funding for a new school in Radcliffe if he did not back the government on free school meals preceded a series of scandals which persuaded him to leave the party he had joined 19 years earlier.
The MP, who was elected in 2019, described his decision to defect as the ‘most difficult thing’ he has ever done but said Labor is now a ‘safer’ place for Jews. He was confronted by constituents-some of whom had campaigned for him-who said they were ‘disappointed’ by his decision and demanded a by-election.
READ MORE: Who is Christian Wakeford? Bury South MP who defected from Conservative to Labor
The Burnley-born MP said there is a ‘vocal minority’ of people from both sides of the political spectrum who want him to resign and trigger a by-election in the Bury South seat, but he argued that this would not be in anyone’s interest . Most of the audience did not want a by-election, a show of hands revealed, with one woman saying many voted for Wakeford to ‘stop’ Jeremy Corbyn.
However, some were not satisfied with the response and said he should resign. One member of the audience said: “The truth of the matter is, with respect, you were elected because you stood for the Conservative Party.
“Whether it’s because of Jeremy Corbyn or not is irrelevant. The fact that you are no longer a Conservative member, you should not be representing us.”
Another audience member – who also expressed opposition to Labor – said: “When I heard that you decided to defect and go over to what I would call ‘the dark side’, along with many constituents in your borough – not just in the Jewish community – we felt cheated and we felt you sort of left us to it, despite all the attempts you’ve made, including tonight, reassuring us to the contrary.”
Wakeford was also told that he only won because Ivan Lewis – his predecessor who stood as an independent in the 2019 election – ended up supporting him. Another audience member – an active Conservative member who supported Wakeford’s application to become the party’s parliamentary candidate for Bury South – asked why the MP did not become an independent instead.
He said: “My feeling is one of not as much anger as just disappointment. You’ve explained why you have acted the way you did and the issues that caused you to act in the way you did.
“I don’t think those issues were big enough to actually justify your actions. You could have made other choices.”
Wakeford apologized to those in the audience who campaigned for him as a Conservative candidate and acknowledged that it has also been a ‘challenging time’ for those in Labor locally who have campaigned against him until now. He admitted that his defection might have saved Boris Johnson from a no-confidence vote, but argued that the Prime Minister would have survived.
The Bury South MP described himself as a centrist who was ‘very much on the left of the Conservative Party’ before he defected and said: “There’s a very fine line that divides us – and sometimes that line isn’t there at all.” But he accused the Conservatives of breaking manifesto pledges and said he has joined a party which would support him on issues he is passionate about.
He said: “I was elected to represent the entire electorate – not just the Conservatives. That is still my view and I will continue to do so.”