Wellingborough PPC hopes by-election win would have ‘domino effect’ in region

Katie Neame

Labour’s candidate in the Wellingborough by-election has said she hopes a Labour win in the contest would have a “domino effect” in the wider East Midlands region and build “momentum” in an area that has long been held by the Tories.

In an interview with LabourList, Gen Kitchen acknowledged that there was pressure on her campaign following Labour’s recent historic by-election wins, arguing that everyone “expects us to walk it”.

She stressed how “incredibly hard” Labour’s candidates had worked to win seats such as Tamworth and Mid Beds and said she is “not complacent”, warning that poor weather could make it difficult to get people out to vote.

But Kitchen – formerly a councillor in Newham, London – said campaigning in the by-election had been like “night and day” compared to the 2019 general election, when she was Labour’s candidate in South Northamptonshire.

“I used to worry about going up to a door that might have two very expensive cars… and nice new windows. I’m not worried at all now. In fact, we get a warm welcome most of the time, and if we don’t get a warm welcome, then it’s an undecided person that maybe has never voted Labour,” she said.

Kitchen, who grew up in Northamptonshire, said she hopes a Labour win “will be the domino effect” for the county but also the East Midlands more generally, telling LabourList: “I’d love to see the county that I grew up in turn Labour all the way through.”

“I want this to build the momentum,” she added. “Particularly in Northamptonshire, where we’ve been Conservative for so long at so many different levels.”

Wellingborough was won by the Tories in 2019 with an increased majority of 18,540, but polling has suggested that Labour could take the seat, which it previously held between 1997 and 2005.

Savanta’s political research director Chris Hopkins told LabourList in December that Labour “should take this fairly comfortably” due to a number of factors including a “desire to give [Peter] Bone a kicking” – the seat’s former MP.

The by-election was triggered after 13.2% of local voters signed a recall petition, surpassing the 10% needed to call a by-election. The petition followed Bone’s suspension from the Commons after he was found to have “committed many varied acts of bullying and one act of sexual misconduct” against a member of his staff.

Bone said after the result of the recall petition was announced that the petition “came about as a result of an inquiry into alleged bullying and misconduct towards an ex-employee which was alleged to have occurred more than ten years ago. These allegations are totally untrue and without foundation”.

In a somewhat strange turn of events, Bone’s partner Helen Harrison – a Conservative councillor on North Northamptonshire council – was selected as the Tories’ candidate for the by-election.

Asked whether voters were bringing up Bone or Harrison’s candidacy on the doorstep, Kitchen argued that “it’s definitely not for me to hammer that home”, saying: “I want to bring women up. I don’t want to tear them down by what man they’re connected to.” But she added: “I don’t think it’s doing her any good.”

On the Tory by-election campaign, Kitchen argued that the party is “going on things that they could have and should have tackled in the last 14 years”, adding that voters are “responding really well” to Labour’s focus on local issues neglected by the Tories.

The Labour candidate warned that there is a “big Reform presence” in the seat and that the party has been “really really visible”, but claimed that she was only meeting one or two voters per doorknocking session who were outwardly saying they were backing the right-wing party.

She said other candidates had focused on national issues during media appearances, telling LabourList: “People are fed up of that. Wellingborough is a by-election, they realise that this isn’t changing the government in Westminster… We’ve been trying, and I’ve been trying, to focus on positive answers for Wellingborough.”

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