Christian Wakeford: Who is Bury South constituency MP who defected to Labour and will there be a by-election?

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We look in more detail at the history of the marginal Bury South constituency seat and recent election results.

Bury South MP Christian Wakeford’s dramatic decision to defect from the Conservatives to Labour has put the backbencher firmly in the political spotlight.

Mr Wakeford grabbed the headlines with his decision to cross the house and his letter of departure in which he gave a stinging rebuke to prime minister Boris Johnson, calling his conduct in recent weeks “disgraceful”.

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He also strongly criticised Conservative party policies, saying they were making his constituents’ lives worse, not better.

But who exactly is Mr Wakeford and what will happen next following the political drama on Wednesday (19 January)?

Who is Christian Wakeford?

Mr Wakeford was educated at Lancaster University and the Open University, gaining degrees in politics and chemistry.

He worked in the communications and insurance sectors and cut his political teeth at a local level.

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He served as the leader of the Conservative group on Pendle Borough Council and was also an elected representative on Lancashire County Council.

He entered Parliament in December 2019 after a tight election race, becoming one of a number of Conservatives who inflicted headline-grabbing defeats on Labour in the north of England and across the Midlands.

Political commentators quickly dubbed those constituencies “the Red Wall”.

What is Bury South like politically?

Bury South was created in 1983 as a House of Commons seat and has since returned a variety of political results.

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Its first MP was Conservative David Sumberg, who held it all the way through to the 1997 Labour landslide general election when Ivan Lewis took it for the red rosette.

Lewis served in Labour for a decade before he was suspended from the party and then sat as an Independent. He resigned from the Labour the following year.

At the December 2019 election, Mr Wakeford took Bury South for the Conservatives, winning a close election race.

The outcome made Bury South the 10th most marginal seat in the country.

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The constituency covers the suburban towns of Radcliffe, Whitefield and Prestwich in the southern part of the Metropolitan Borough of Bury.

It is also home to a significant Jewish population and Mr Wakeford referred to Sir Keir’s tackling of anti-semitism in his letter.

What was Mr Wakeford’s voting record like?

Political website They Work For You outlines Mr Wakeford’s voting record during his two and a bit years wearing the blue rosette in the House of Commons.

It shows he consistently voted for a stricter asylum system, against measures to prevent climate change and against measures to tackle tax avoidance.

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He also voted against more EU integration on half a dozen occasions.

That means he will now be sharing the opposition benches with some MPs who have very different publicly-expressed views and track records on voting on these issues.

Will the defection trigger a by-election?

There are no rules that require a by-election to be held in a constituency should its MP defect from one party to another.

And a Labour spokesperson indicated on Wednesday that the party and leader Sir Keir Starmer does not see a requirement to hold one in Bury South.

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There have been calls for MPs who change party allegiance to put the question of whether they should continue as an elected representative to voters.

And intriguingly Mr Wakeford himself has been involved in this.

He was a supporter of Conservative MP Anthony Mangnall’s Recall of MPs (Change of Party Affiliation) Bill in 2020 which would give voters the chance to sign a petition to trigger a by-election if their elected representative swapped parties.

Examples of MPs crossing the house in recent years included two Conservative politicians who defected to UKIP (though by-elections were held in their cases) and a number of pro-European elected representatives who joined the short-lived and ill-fated party Change UK.

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