Thursday, May 5, 2022

Labor confident of retaking Red Wall’s Wakefield seat after MP resigns over sexual assault allegations

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Local elections are seen as a litmus test of how well Labor can do in one of its former core areas ahead of a by-election expected at the end of June

A toxic combination of anger at Boris Johnson, the rising cost of living and the resignation of disgraced MP Imran Ahmad Khan offers Sir Keir Starmer’s party a major opportunity to capitalize on Wakefield.

Labor will ‘turn it around’ and reclaim one of its former heartlands in West Yorkshire after a series of scandals involving Conservatives, voters and local party members have said so I.

The Red Wall constituency fell to the Tories in 2019 when Mr Khan ousted Mary Creagh, who had held him Labor since 2005.

Mr Khan was kicked out of the Conservative Party after being convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old boy.

He said he will step down so he can focus fully on appealing his conviction and is scheduled to be sentenced on May 23.

It is understood that the Treasury received Mr Khan’s letter of resignation last week and he will officially cease being an MP on Tuesday.

It means this week’s local election in Wakefield will be seen as a litmus test of how Labor can fare in one of its former heartlands ahead of a by-election expected to be held at the end of June.

The prospect of a by-election has led to speculation Labor would jump into Ed Balls, who lost his seat in 2015, but the former shadow chancellor has self-excluded, saying he has “no intention of nominating me”.

Wakefield City Council is currently Labor-led, but the Tories did well in the last election, taking six seats and increasing their share of the vote by almost 13 per cent.

When I Visiting this week, voters gave the impression that the Conservatives would do well to repeat that result.

Mum Katie Hamilton, 41, said she had already cast her postal vote for Labour.

She said she thinks Boris Johnson should step down as Prime Minister because of the Partygate affair, adding: “I don’t think anyone will ever trust him again.”

Ms Hamilton also described the sentencing of Wakefield MP Mr Khan as “a disgrace” and said local people were shocked.

“I think [the Tories] just came in because of Jeremy Corbyn, he was as bad as Boris,” she said.

“Maybe people will change their minds and go back to Labour.”

For Labor to be successful they need to win back places like Eastmoor, a working-class community just outside the city centre.

It once provided much of the labor force for the local coal mine, but the population suffered tremendously from the mine closures of the 1980s and now has one of the highest rates of deprivation in the country.

Labor support has been a default for Wakefield East borough residents for generations, but last year it delivered one of the biggest shocks to local politics in decades when a Conservative Akef Akbar was elected by just 48 votes.

Cllr Akbar has since left the party to become independent after calling Mr Johnson an “idiot” and saying he could not abide by the stick system, which obliges members to vote with their party.

This time Labor has a first-line candidate, Mohammed “Yubi” Ayub, on the ballot – a well-known figure in the region – and his party is confident.

Labor councilor Stuart Heptinstall, 74, a former miner who lives on the Eastmoor estate, said: “It will be Labour, people have had enough, Labor will turn it around and they will win the by-election too.”

He predicted Mr Ayub a majority of up to several thousand votes.

“The cost of living is out of control,” Mr Heptinstall said.

“The cost of sending kids to college, the cost of fuel, the cost of energy, it’s up 57 percent.

“It’s a shame.

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