Wakeford won Bury South with a majority of just 402 votes in 2019
In an effort to maximise the political damage on Boris Johnson, Christian Wakeford, a member of the 2019 intake of Conservative MPs, made public his dramatic decision to defect to Labour – just over 10 minutes before prime minister’s questions.
With the prime minister already facing the threat of a no-confidence vote, the 37-year-old added to his growing in-tray of problems, becoming the first MP to defect from the Tory party to Labour since 2007, when Quentin Davies crossed the floor of the Commons.
The Bury South MP – previously critical of the “indefensible” reports of parties in No 10 during Covid restrictions – had been in conversations with Labour for some months over the move and first met with Sir Keir Starmer on Monday.
In a letter to the prime minister on Wednesday, the former councillor and ‘red wall’ MP hit out at Boris Johnson’s “disgraceful” conduct in recent weeks and claimed the Conservatives were “incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves”.
The evening before defecting to Labour, he made clear his feelings about the prime minister, as he revealed he had submitted a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson to the chair of the 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs, Sir Graham Brady.
His name also featured in newspaper reports in November 2021, after he was said to have called the disgraced Conservative Owen Paterson a “c***” to his face during a botched vote in Parliament to protect the former MP from a 30-day suspension.
He later told Times Radio the incident was fuelled by a mixture of “anger and codeine”, adding: “I clearly have a broken ankle at the moment, it’s not the best mix”.
Mr Wakeford was first elected to Parliament just two years ago to represent Bury South – a seat held by Labour since 1997, but swept up by the Conservatives when Boris Johnson emerged victorious at the 2019 election with the largest Tory majority in decades.
However, he won the seat with a wafer-thin majority of just 402 votes, and with the governing party plummeting in the opinion polls, Mr Wakeford could have faced tough competition to retain his seat as a Conservative at the next election.
Welcoming him to Labour’s ranks, Sir Keir said on Wednesday he was “delighted” the former Conservative had decided to join Labour on the “endeavour” to “build a Britain which guarantees, prosperity and respect for all”.
But not all wings of the Labour movement were equally enthusiastic about the defection, with the left-wing group Momentum and the affiliated group, Young Labour, citing his voting record during the two years he spent on the Conservative benches.
The latter said he 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” and urged the party to hold a by-election and “uphold Bury South members’ right to choose their own Labour candidate”.
Some believed the call for a by-election may have also been shared by Mr Wakeford, who pledged his support for a backbench bill in 2020, which called for any MP who switches parties to face a recall petition.
But challenged on his previous support for the legislation, he told reporters during his first interview after defecting on Wednesday: “I supported my friend, but I think we’ve also seen a Conservative Party that’s broken promise after promise and at no point have they ever gone out to renew a mandate to say, ‘We’re breaking our manifesto promise, are you OK with that?’ And we’ve seen that on quite a few different issues.
“And I think if they were serious about it, we (would have had) a general election already. I’m going to get on with the day-to-day job and I will be looking forward to the general election when it comes.”