Tory MPs regrouping post-defection? The Labour leadership is relaxed about it

Sienna Rodgers
© Rupert Rivett/Shutterstock.com
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Since becoming Labour leader, Keir Starmer has made consistent efforts to show that he is not Jeremy Corbyn and the party has changed. What better way of doing that than welcoming a defector from the Tories while Starmer’s predecessor is barred from the parliamentary party? The decision to welcome Christian Wakeford, the MP for Bury South, when he crossed the floor yesterday is clearly a divisive one within Labour. Many on the left will look at his record and see that he not only followed the Tory whip on controversial issues (as you would expect) but also called Labour a “bunch of c****” amid its criticism of the Universal Credit cut and was enthusiastic about the nationality and borders bill. Going from Tory to Labour is probably the most difficult of all switches. But the Labour leadership is squarely focused on the electoral benefits.

The hope among Starmer allies is that Wakeford’s defection sends a clearer message than conference slogans, political speeches or whip suspensions ever could that Labour has been dramatically recast into a party acceptable for 2019 Tory voters to support. There may be some regrouping now among Conservative MPs, many of whom will have an emotional reaction to something that feels like a betrayal, but it does not improve Boris Johnson’s situation: he still has veteran David Davis calling on him to “in the name of god, go”; dire polling, especially in so-called ‘Red Wall’ seats; and the Sue Gray report coming out soon.

If anyone had been under the impression that Johnson was sincere in his disastrous interview on Tuesday, when he bowed his head, looked tearful and claimed “nobody told me” about the Covid rules he made, PMQs corrected the record. No 10 must have realised that his contrition performance wasn’t going down well with Tory MPs, who prefer ‘big dog’ to puppy-dog eyes. So he came out fighting, even laughing. He has chosen to prioritise his image as it is seen by those on the green benches behind him rather than by the public.

A pause in Tory letters of no confidence going in, possibly even causing the threshold of 54 not to be reached until after the May elections, is a scenario that Labour insiders are “relaxed” about, as one put it. If the Tories are saddled with Johnson for several more months, all the better, in fact. And the longer he is in place, the more difficult it is for potential replacements like Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak to keep quiet – which helps ensure they cannot start with a clean slate. In the meantime, work is ongoing within Labour to attract other defectors. To know more about how it happened with Wakeford and what comes next for his local party, read our account here.

As fate would have it, Rachel Reeves will deliver a speech this morning in Bury. She is expected to set out how a wasted decade of low growth and rising inflation is holding back the country, a Labour government would unleash the talents of workers and businesses, and the party’s economic plan is based on the principle that wealth is found in the efforts of ordinary people rather than the bank accounts of friends of the Tories. As she did at the Fabians conference, the Shadow Chancellor is also going to talk about the importance of developing industrial strategies for the ‘everyday economy’. This links to her work with Lisa Nandy on developing Labour’s alternative to the ‘levelling up’ agenda. More will be revealed later by the shadow ‘levelling up’ team, but the starting point from Reeves today is that, instead of cutting council funding and awarding extra money to left-behind places in a top-down way, Labour would trust people to set their own priorities.

We also have an important story on how Labour is changing its guidance on selections in a way that will hand more power to the leadership. Labour also put out a new party political broadcast and responded to ‘Plan B’ being lifted. For all the essential Labour news, stay tuned to LabourList during this incredibly busy time.

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