Broad Enough for Tories, But Not for Jeremy Corbyn

Labour's decision to welcome former Tory MP Christian Wakeford is dubious at best – but if it comes alongside a refusal to readmit Jeremy Corbyn, it will be a sign of a party abandoning its values.

Bury South constituency MP Christian Wakeford, who was elected for the Tories in 2019, defected to Labour amid a growing row over the series of rule-breaking social gatherings held at Number 10. (Christopher Furlong / Getty Images)

At yesterday’s PMQs, the Labour leader welcomed a new member to the opposition benches like a football manager unveiling their latest signing. Christian Wakeford, elected to Bury South with a wafer-thin majority as a Conservative, had crossed the floor.

It was another hammer blow to a beleaguered Prime Minister clinging to the door frame of 10 Downing Street, as his party and the public clamour for him to be booted from office.

In terms of grabbing the day’s headlines, it certainly succeeded. In a country turned off from the day-to-day detail of politics and the machinations of politicians, leading the news bulletins with someone switching parties has its positives. It signifies to those who voted Tory last time that perhaps it’s OK to come back to Labour.

The positives may last a little while, but there are also huge drawbacks. That same electorate regularly complain about just how little there is between the parties and how opportunistic politicians are. This was a regular cry on the doorsteps as Labour squandered five million votes in the years that followed 1997.

Making it so easy to switch between the two largest parties in Britain where an ideological gulf should exist is not helpful—and that this has happened in a seat which all polling suggests the party would win back at a canter breeds talk of careerist opportunism. There is talk of further such switchers.

Can we at least be candid about the current state of play? Politicians can change their views dramatically. Perhaps Boris Johnson’s lies have prompted a Damascene conversion—stranger things have happened. Labour touting itself on broadcasts this morning as the home of those elected on a Tory manifesto but unhappy with Boris Johnson is bizarre at best.

While the party pores over the social media of its own members, they may well have done worse than looking through the accounts of those seeking to cross the floor. We can but wonder whether ordinary Labour members would pass the vetting process had they labelled frontbench politicians thick, or described their new comrades using obscene language. Perhaps someone could explain why those volunteering in food banks face tougher scrutiny than those who have made them necessary.

The Communication Workers Union’s North West region have expressed concern that the MP was ‘nowhere to be seen’ as they campaigned to save Tesco Mobile jobs in Bury last year. As a party founded by trade unions to represent workers, this should be a huge red flag.

Our party is reportedly on the brink of bankruptcy due to the haemorrhaging of 150,000 members and a lack of enthusiasm from our trade union affiliates. That some are celebrating this as a ‘good thing’ is deeply worrying. Here in Wansbeck, we have lost long-time activists and former councillors because of the hostility they feel from a party for whom they have given so much. No number of Conservative defectors will fill these gaping holes in local organisations.

As Mr Wakeford was welcomed onto the opposition benches, Keir Starmer said that anyone who ‘wants to build a new Britain, built on security, decency, prosperity, respect, is welcome in my Labour Party’. As broad principles, who in the Labour Party wouldn’t want to sign up to them? Those clamouring to cross the floor, though, need to demonstrate their commitment to them with actions rather than words.

We should start by demonstrating our own commitment by treating party members with that same decency and respect. As in football, new signings may be exciting, but sometimes you need to bring a wily old veteran off the bench. If the Labour Party is broad enough to welcome Christian Wakeford then it’s certainly broad enough to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn.

With a plethora of challenges on the horizon, the country deserves so much better than a return to the Punch and Judy politics that has turned so many off. Families up and down the country are experiencing a cost-of-living crisis so much worse than the headline figures we are seeing reported. We owe it to them to offer the radical solutions that will make their lives and their communities so much better.