Burnley MP dubs fellow northern MP's defection to Labour as 'shameful act'

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Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham has described his former northern Tory colleague Christian Wakeford's shock defection to Labour yesterday as "shameful".

Burnley-born Mr Wakeford, a former leader of the Conservative group on Pendle Council and a former Lancashire county councillor, shocked his party colleagues yesterday when he crossed the house to join Sir Keir Starmer's Labour Party in protest at the continued leadership of Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The move was met with an angry response from former Tory colleague, Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham, who was elected at the same time in December, 2019, as part of the Troies' dismantling of the so-called Labour 'Red Wall' in the north.

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Mr Wakeford was elected as the Conservative MP for Bury South, winning the seat from long-term Labour MP, Ivan Lewis, who had held the seat since Labour's landslide victory in 1997, while Mr Higginbotham ousted Burnley's Labour MP Julie Cooper to become the first Burnley Tory MP in generations.

Burnley MP Antony HigginbothamBurnley MP Antony Higginbotham
Burnley MP Antony Higginbotham

However, he confirmed yesterday that he had submitted a letter of no confidence in Johnson following the "partygate" scandal, and cited the Dominic Cummings scandal, removal of the £20 Universal Credit uplift, the cost of living crisis and the Owen Paterson affair as factors in his decision.

Speaking to the Burnley Express today, Mr Higginbotham said: “Conservative MPs were elected across the country in 2019 to deliver an independent UK, outside the shackles of the EU, and transform the economy in the process.

"I was, and remain, incredibly proud to be one of those MPs. We are already seeing the benefits with wages increasing, Government investment coming in, and funding for our public services on the up.

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"Of course there are issues that we need to address – having just been through a global pandemic on a proportion never seen before in our lifetime that was always going to be the case. But to defect to the Labour Party, ignoring the clear decision of those who elected you, is a shameful act.

Christian Wakeford speaking at County HallChristian Wakeford speaking at County Hall
Christian Wakeford speaking at County Hall

"Christian should now be reflecting on his position and give the decision on who should represent them, and on which side of the House of Commons they sit, back to the people of Bury South. And if he does that I hope that the House of Commons never sees him return, with a determined Conservative MP returned who can join us in finding solutions to the issues we face.”

In June 2020, Mr Wakeford stated that he had not resigned his Lancashire County Council seat as a block on elections during the COVID-19 pandemic would leave residents without representation for a year. Wakeford attributed his change of mind over his resignation to a desire to ensure the two areas where he was a councillor were not without representation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In July 2020, Private Eye reported that after the general election, mr Wakeford had applied to Pendle Borough Council for leave of absence "while he sorted himself out in Westminster". His request was declined and in April 2020 Wakeford automatically lost his seat, as he had not attended a borough council meeting for six months.

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