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Opinion: This is what local voters think of Bury South’s defecting MP

Opinion: This is what local voters think of Bury South’s defecting MP
Labour voters are happy to have Christian Wakeford on board – we should all accept that people can change

It has been said that Christian Wakeford is a mere career opportunist who detected an early whiff of a Tory bloodbath at the next election. Many on the left and right are suspicious – united in mutual mistrust by a defector in their midst. He’s entered political no-man’s-land; a traitor to some and a begrudgingly accepted newcomer to others. He’s that kid at school who starts midway through when everyone else has made strong bonds. Or worse still, the one who decides to leave the friendship group and buddy up with your enemies on the opposite side of the canteen, potentially divulging humiliating information in exchange for acceptance.

Many will see themselves in Christian Wakeford. It should go without saying, but for those at the back – we don’t all stay the same! Granted, many don’t go as far as to represent a political party before switching course but people do decide to venture away from the yellow brick road from time to time. Of course, our social media makes sure that’s as difficult as possible. A trail of evidence follows us around whereby mischievous internet archaeologists are more than willing to refresh our memory. Nevertheless, many will empathise: he is only human and knowledge is a lifelong process.

As a member of the Conservatives, Wakeford is alleged to have said many disparaging things about the opposition, but in my view his bravery should outweigh that. Laugh as you may, yes, bravery. It takes a certain level of courage and guts (I’m not sure I possess) to cross the floor and sit with the people you’ve been scoffing for the past few years.

Marie, 70, on Prestwich high street has been a Labour supporter all her life. She religiously votes red and will continue to do so. When asked how she feels about voting for someone who was Conservative until (officially) this week she says: “if he’s for the working man I’m happy. All credit to him for not sticking with that man”. She means Boris Johnson. Her eyes and tone tell me she’s not a fan.

But surely people don’t change that quickly. As his critics point out, among other punishing policies, he voted for the £20 cut to the universal credit uplift only last year at a time of great hardship for struggling families. I can empathise with that point of view and within the coming months (probably forever) Wakeford will have to address that. That being said, it should always be remembered that change can happen unexpectedly and swiftly. In his statement to the PM he writes that he: “wrestled with [his] conscience for many months”, and sources suggest this hasn’t been an overnight process. Presumably (and I’m only guessing here) alleged threats to cut funding for a much needed secondary school in his constituency of Bury South being used as a bargaining tool unless he agreed to vote in one particular way could have been the breaking point. A Labour source has also said that the vote in question is related to free school meals.

Amelia and her colleagues at PRES (a modern juice and healthy eating bar) on Bury New Rd aren’t really interested in politics per se but would consider themselves Labour. “Everyone deserves a second chance”. Wakeford’s political shift doesn’t raise eyebrows, instead, they appear happy to have him on board.

On my travels around Bury South, finding a Conservative voter proved to be a near-impossible task (believe me, I tried). Brendan, a cobbler on Radcliffe market thinks someone he knows “is one” in the cafe down the road. Prior to Wakeford making his accusations public regarding the town’s much-needed school, Brendan told me all about it: “how can a town like Radcliffe not have its own secondary school?”

It’s a good question. With a population of just under 30,000, you’d think it a perfectly reasonable request. If Wakeford’s accusations are to be believed, that certainly puts a spanner in the works for the government’s levelling up agenda and will become a talking point within the community. Every other person I spoke to in Radcliffe mentioned that their patience for a much-needed school in the area was wearing thin.

Then there’s Adam, a Jewish constituent who still holds reservations about Labour. A party in his words that has “far from solved its antisemitism issue”. However, he informs me “Christian is a good MP who has made a real effort to get to know the Jewish community. He is an asset to the area”.

In Prime Minister’s Questions, Johnson stated that the Conservative party will win again in Bury South without Wakeford’s help, but I wouldn’t be so sure about that if I were him. In the real world, people are much more forgiving to the centrist renegade. Those who do know Wakeford like him. In fact, I didn’t meet one person who said a bad word about him. The same can’t be said for our PM, I regret to inform him that the “one rule for them, another one for us” slogan is deeply embedded.

It is unfortunate that we’ve lost sight of the fact that politics isn’t football. People shouldn’t be scorned when they are converted but rather welcomed. He is of great value to both Labour and his constituents being a man who has been both on the inside and outside. Whether he left the Tories or they left him is yet to be seen – perhaps it is a little of both. But he is most certainly the injection of reason that Labour has so desperately needed. Forget the polls for one minute, the sign that the left is no longer preaching to the choir shows that the party is moving in an important and vital direction.

Christian Wakeford just might be the best thing that’s happened to Labour in a very long time.