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20 January 2022

Ex-Tory MP who defected to Labour reveals he was threatened over loss of local school if he didn’t toe the line

20 January 2022

The former Conservative MP who defected to Labour claimed he was threatened about the loss of a school in his constituency if he did not toe the line.

Christian Wakeford crossed the floor in protest at Boris Johnson’s leadership and the row over Downing Street parties.

The Bury South MP said the “threat” over the school led to him questioning his position in the Conservative Party.

Speaking to BBC North West, he said: “I was threatened that I would not get the school for Radcliffe if I did not vote in one particular way.

Bury South MP Christian Wakeford sitting on the opposition benches during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons (House of Commons/PA) (PA Wire)

“This is a town that’s not had a high school for the best part of 10 years, and how would you feel when holding back the regeneration of a town for a vote?

“It didn’t sit comfortably and that was when I was really starting to question my place, where I was, and ultimately where I am now.”

A Labour source said the vote in question related to free school meals.

Bury county councillor Mike Smith, who represents Radcliffe West on the local authority, said it “would be disappointing” if the school’s funding had been used as a threat.

Mr Smith said: “It would certainly be disappointing. I have no idea what the machinations are in Westminster politics – my concerns are local, and for over 30,000 people who haven’t had a high school in 10 years.”

He added: “I have emailed both the councillor at Bury who is in charge of regeneration and the person who is in charge of the school asking for their input as to whether there is any truth to this, and whether there is any threat to the funding.

“Reading his comments, it would be very surprising if there was – I’m taking it that this is quite historical.”

Mr Smith, part of the independent party Radcliffe First, said planning permission was due to be sought for the school early this year and the first intake of pupils should be in September 2024.

The Manchester Evening News reported in February 2021 that the “long awaited high school in Radcliffe” had been approved by the Government as one of four new free schools to have been given the green light across Greater Manchester.

Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves (Ian West/PA) (PA Wire)

As he introduced a speech by shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves in Bury, Mr Wakeford said Labour was “ready to provide an alternative government that this country can be proud of and deserves, and certainly not to be embarrassed by, and this is one of the reasons why I’m here today”.

Speaking to reporters after the speech, Mr Wakeford said he had received an “incredibly warm welcome” from the Labour Party and advised any former Conservative colleagues thinking about following him to “give me a shout”.

The Bury South MP added: “I was elected as a moderate, someone who wants to work hard for the local area.”

Responding to comments that he had been elected due to Boris Johnson, he said, “I’ve been receiving hundreds of emails from people asking me to go against Boris Johnson.”

The Prime Minister is battling claims that Tory critics are facing “intimidation” which could amount to blackmail as part of an effort to keep him in office.

Mr Johnson insisted he had seen no evidence to support the incendiary claim made by William Wragg, the Tory chairman of the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

Mr Wragg said he had received reports of conduct including “members of staff at 10 Downing Street, special advisers, government ministers and others encouraging the publication of stories in the press seeking to embarrass those who they suspect of lacking confidence in the Prime Minister”.

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