Crossing the Floor

Photo of Christian Wakeford outside his constituency office in Bury South

Christian Wakeford (Politics, 2007, Grizedale) tells of his entry into the world of politics after Lancaster and that momentous moment in 2022 when he very dramatically defected from the Conservatives and joined the Labour Party.

Shortly after crossing the floor from the Conservative Party to join the Labour Party, Christian Wakeford, Member of Parliament (MP) for Bury South, was leaving a trade union building with USDAW Political Officer Michael Wheeler, when his companion pointed out that he too was a Lancaster university alumnus.

Shortly after that he was being welcomed into the Labour Party by the Deputy Chief Whip Holly Lynch MP, Chief Whip Alan Campbell MP, and by Lancaster & Fleetwood MP Cat Smith - all of whom had been Lancaster undergraduates on the Bailrigg campus.

Reflecting on that stressful day in January 2022, when he defected from the Conservatives to Labour – and on subsequently meeting even more Lancaster alumni - Christian says: “It was then I realised that Lancaster had such a strong Labour tradition – you can’t move in the Labour Party without running into alumni!”

Was it comforting? Yes, he admits, it was. Describing the act of crossing the floor after 18 years in the Conservative Party, Christian says: “It was a daunting experience. I even took my glasses off so I didn’t have to see 300 of my former colleagues now screaming and shouting at me, but I don’t regret it at all. It was the right decision, for the people of Bury South. I would I do it again tomorrow.”

Friendships have been key to Christian’s life. Clearly those alumni allegiances have helped in the Labour Whips office as he transitioned into his Labour identity – indeed Christian now serves as a Labour Whip - but he has also lost friends as a result of his decision, though not from his student days.

No single reason brought him to his decision. He describes an accumulation of issues, months of soul searching and conversations with friends on both sides of the House of Commons. Then came the high-profile Marcus Rashford campaign for free school meals, when Christian says he was threatened by the then Education Secretary that if he didn’t vote with the Government, funding for a new school to be built in Bury South would be withdrawn.

Already, Christian’s growing disaffection with the Conservatives over their Trade Bill, the ‘genocide amendment’ and falling standards in schools after Covid, were making him question his position. Then the scandal of Partygate, the behaviour of Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings breaking lockdown rules, made him decide to walk. “I can defend my actions,” he insists. “But if you expect me to defend the actions of people I disagree with - I’m not doing that.”

It is a dramatic point to have reached, for a MP who fell into politics by accident. Born and brought up in Pendle, East Lancashire into a non-political family, he took politics at A-Level because a friend took it and he thought it would be good to have a mate to go to the pub with at lunchtime. He enjoyed the subject and decided to pursue it at degree level at Lancaster.

As a sixth former, he’d already been on a couple of visits to Lancaster, from Nelson and Colne College and had been won over by the University’s campus environment. He was impressed by the course and campus, knew people planning to go there and it was “near enough to take washing home”.

Grizedale College quickly became his life - and particularly all those activities that took place in the social clubs. He was on the darts and dominoes teams and participated in the Carter Shield. Good times at college with friends he still meets to this day, became the heart of his university life.

Although he enjoyed political philosophy and analysing texts by Machiavelli, Rousseau and JS Mill, Christian was being drawn into day-to-day local politics. It started with Conservative Future at University, and soon he was deep into Conservative Party politics. He unsuccessfully stood for Lancaster City Council - during finals - in 2007. To add injury, he also broke his leg a couple of weeks before finals and had to endure them whilst on pain killers and crutches!

After graduation, he went down to London, but returned after only six months when his mother had a stroke. He worked as an account manager for Daisy Plc selling mobile and data systems, and then held several local government posts – including serving on Lancashire County Council - before being elected as Conservative MP for Bury South in 2019.

Christian admits that his friendships have been tested by his decision to change political parties - but says that he has found solace in his long-standing and university-made friendship group. It’s the post-uni and pre-parliament friendships which he says have been “challenging” , but he says he would not go back on his decision.

As he points out, "It's not the end of the journey, it’s the start of a new one for me. There’s going to be a hell of a lot of work to do before the next election so it’s a case of buckling down, work hard and we’ll see what happens. If there’s a change of government, there’s expectation and hope that things will change very quickly, without knowing until we get there, just how bad things really are.”

He wishes he’d been better at asking for help at Lancaster, but he feels it taught him the first vital lessons in survival. “Resilience is something you pick up because you have failed, and it takes a while to pick that up,” he says. “It is the ability to pick yourself up and to dust yourself down, and to know that if you're struggling people will be there to help.”

Christian Wakeford MP is Labour’s candidate for Bury South at the forthcoming General Election and currently serves as a member of the Opposition Whips Office.

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