Sarwar says he is not against defections but Wakeford must “prove himself”

Elliot Chappell

Anas Sarwar has said that he is not “principally against” Conservative politicians defecting to join the Labour Party but has warned that previously Tory MP Christian Wakeford must “prove himself” to his constituents and “in terms of the values we would expect people who are Labour MPs to adhere to”.

Addressing a Zoom meeting hosted by Labour in Communications this afternoon, the Scottish Labour leader argued that Labour must win the support of people who have previously voted SNP and Conservative to win in Scotland and the wider UK.

Asked to comment on the defection of Wakeford to Labour earlier this week, and whether he would accept a Conservative MSP into the ranks of Scottish Labour, Sarwar said there were “certain tests” that had to be considered.

“One is, if you look at Christian Wakeford’s voting record with the Conservatives, I think anyone’s that is fair minded and decent would recognise that it’s not filled with glory, to put it mildly. But, in saying that, he had to adhere to a Conservative whip and he would now be expected to adhere to a Labour whip,” he said.

“And the second thing is, one of the fundamental things that people in politics often forget, and I think Labour probably forgets more than others, is if we constantly put people in an ideological box – and say they voted Labour in the past, or they didn’t agree with us in the past – and therefore they cannot be on our side now, the end result of the is Labour perpetually losing elections.”

Bury South MP Wakeford, elected to represent one of the ‘Red Wall’ constituencies lost to the Tories in the 2019 general election, defected to Labour amid the ongoing ‘partygate’ scandal. But, in a statement to Boris Johnson, he said it was “about much more than your leadership and the disgraceful way you have conducted yourself”.

Sarwar told viewers today: “The only way Labour can win an election is if people who currently are voting Tory, or currently are voting SNP, or at the last election voted Tory or SNP, if enough of them decide to vote Labour next time.

“That’s the only way Labour can win, so we have to reach out. We have to bring people on and win them on the argument, on a bigger, bolder vision.”

Bury South Constituency Labour Party (CLP) held its first meeting since the Tory MP defected to the party. Wakeford was not in attendance, but attendees heard that a special meeting will take place next week where he will address members.

CLP chair Paddy Heneghan said afterwards that it was a “constructive meeting” in which “members welcomed the fact we now had a Labour MP”. LabourList was told that around half the speakers focused on how the defection was helpful to Labour – but many were clear that Wakeford has work to do to win trust of members and voters, and the need for a fair, timely selection process was raised.

“I’m pleased Christian Wakeford has now seen how divisive and wrong for our country the Conservative Party is, how misguided Boris Johnson is,” Sarwar said this afternoon, adding that it is “on him to prove himself” but warning that “we should shut our eyes to defections and people willing to change their minds”.

Asked whether he would accept a coalition with either the Conservatives or the SNP, the Scottish Labour leader said that “these decisions are made by the Scottish Executive Committee and with local government committees”.

“My personal view is that we shouldn’t be doing formal coalitions with either the SNP or the Tories. We should be going in to maximise Labour votes, maximise Labour councillors,” he added.

“Both of them are bad for our country. Both of them are divisive. Both of them are implementing cuts. Both of them are driving up child poverty. And both of them go against our fundamental values.”

Also asked to comment on his relationship with Keir Starmer, Sarwar said: “If I think something is right for Scotland, I’m going to say it and I don’t care if someone in the UK Labour Party doesn’t like it.

“When it comes to Scotland, when it comes to the Scottish Labour Party, when it comes to the ideas that are right for Scotland, when it comes to our processes, when it comes to our policies, when it comes to our ideas, when it comes to our campaigning. I’m in charge. I’m the boss.”

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