Will former Labour MPs help the Tories break the red wall? A key plank of the Tory path to a majority consists of winning seats in the Midlands and the North which have been Labour for generations. Many of these areas voted to leave in the EU referendum. The Tory hope is that a well-executed campaign in which they reinforce their Brexit message with increased public spending promises for domestic policies will lead to them winning Labour Leave voters over. However, as crucial to the strategy is how the vote splits between the various candidates standing in each constituency.
Ian Austin – the independent MP for the key Tory target seat of Dudley North – has announced today that he will not seek re-election. Instead, the former Labour MP and long time Corbyn critic said that he thought patriotic Labour voters should vote for the Tories. Given the current Labour majority is just 22 votes such an intervention could make the difference locally. His former Labour colleague John Woodcock, the independent MP for Barrow who is also stepping down, has echoed Austin’s comments – warning today that Corbyn is a danger to national security. Although Corbyn supporters will dismiss such comments as cynically motivated, in areas which could be decided by a mere handful of votes it could prove pivotal.
However, the intervention that Tories believe could actually prove the most helpful relates to a former Labour MP with no intention of boosting the Conservative cause. After Labour’s national executive committee blocked the Corbyn supporter Chris Williamson from standing as a candidate (after he was suspended for comments on anti-semitism), Williamson has said he will stand as an independent in his current seat of Derby North. Derby North is another Tory target seat – the party won it in 2015 only for Labour to get it back in 2017. The Labour majority is 2,015. It follows that Williamson standing as an independent and splitting the Labour vote could make all the difference.