Keir Starmer has denied telling Labour frontbenchers not to campaign in the Tiverton and Honiton by-election following claims that members of the shadow cabinet had been told not to in an attempt to help the Lib Dems defeat the Tories.
PoliticsHome reported earlier this week that senior party figures said Labour is “soft pedalling” the contest triggered by the resignation of Conservative MP Neil Parish after he admitted watching pornography in the House of Commons.
Asked to confirm whether the reports were true, the Labour leader told LabourList today: “I’m not in the business of saying to people don’t go campaign for a Labour candidate, wherever they are in the country.”
Liz Pole, who contested the seat for the opposition party at the last general election and is a member locally, told LabourList that reports of an electoral agreement being made with the Lib Dems were a “storm in a teacup”.
But she added: “Obviously, everybody understands that political parties have targets and Wakefield, you know, is clearly a higher target overall than Tiverton and Honiton – although we… have had election successes that have been quite historic and we are kind of turning things around and making the case for Labour.”
PoliticsHome had reported that Labour is understood to be scaling back its campaign in Devon in favour of focusing efforts on winning back the northern seat of Wakefield, for which a by-election is scheduled on the same day.
Discussing with LabourList the Wakefield by-election – triggered following the resignation of disgraced ex-Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan – Starmer said today that he has “required every member of the shadow cabinet to come at least three times” over the course of the campaign in the ‘Red Wall’ seat.
He added: “I’m not saying to people don’t go to other places, Tiverton etc… But, obviously, Wakefield is a very, very important seat for us. It’s one of those seats that we have to show that we are winning in and I don’t shy away from that, and therefore obviously I want a very, very strong campaign here.”
Tiverton and Honiton will be a key target for the Lib Dems at the next general election. The party made significant gains in the region in the local elections earlier this month including taking control of Somerset Council, nearby.
Labour came second in the parliamentary constituency in the 2019 general election, but the Conservatives held the seat by a majority of 24,239 votes and 60.2% of the vote. Labour secured 19.5% of the vote and the Lib Dems 14.8%.
Wakefield has a much smaller Tory majority of 3,358 and had been held by Labour for 87 years until the 2019 general election. Conservative Imran Ahmad Khan was elected but resigned recently, triggering the by-election on June 23rd, after being convicted of sexually assaulting a child.
On Sunday afternoon, the Labour Party selected NHS worker Simon Lightwood, who is also a member of the party’s national policy forum and sits on Yorkshire Labour’s regional board, as its candidate for the by-election.