Voters will head to the polls in Wakefield today to elect a new MP, in what is set to be a closely contested by-election.
The West Yorkshire constituency was one of several ‘red-wall’ seats to have voted Conservative for the first time in decades in 2019.
Why was the by-election called?
The Wakefield by election has been called due to the resignation of current Conservative MP, Imran Ahmad Khan.
First elected in 2019, Mr Khan worked previously at the UN and as an advertising consultant before entering parliament.
In June 2021, Mr Khan was charged on suspicion of a historical sexual offence, after he was accused of groping a 15-year old boy in 2008.
The MP denied the allegations, though the Conservative Party suspended the whip while the investigation was ongoing.
Having entered a not guilty plea in September 2021, the trial began in March 2022, with jurors told how Mr Khan felt the boy’s legs and reached for his groin.
Mr Justice Jeremy Baker said the boy had been, "profoundly psychologically affected [by the assault]. The only regret you feel is towards yourself for having found yourself in the predicament you face as a result of your actions some 14 years ago. [There was a] significant degree of brutality [involved]. I am satisfied the complainant was particularly vulnerable. Not only was he 15 years of age at the date of the offence, but I accept his mother’s description that he was not very worldly and very young for his age."
Jurors at the trial also heard from the complainant’s older brother, who said the MP had asked if he was "a true Scotsman" and lifted his kilt, before "lunging" at him at the same party.
Another witness at the trial said that at a party in Pakistan in 2010, he awoke to find Mr Khan performing a sex act on him, after the pair had drunk whisky and smoked marijuana.
Mr Khan was found guilty following the trial and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
When is the by-election?
The Wakefield by-election will take place today, on 23 June, the anniversary of the Brexit referendum vote.
The Tiverton and Honiton by-election is due to take place on the same day, following the resignation of Conservative MP Neil Parish, after he admitted to watching porn in the House of Commons on two occasions.
Who are the candidates?
Here is a full list of the candidates in the by-election:
- Conservative: Nadeem Ahmed
- Independent: Akef Akbar
- CPA: Paul Bickerdike
- Freedom Alliance: Mick Dodgson
- Monster Raving Loony: Sir Archibald Stanton Earl 'Eaton
- Independent: Jayda Fransen
- UKIP: Jordan Gaskell
- Yorkshire: David Herdson
- English Democrat: Therese Hirst
- Northern Independence: Christopher Jones
- Labour: Simon Lightwood
- Liberal Democrats: Jamie Needle
- Green: Ashley Routh
- Britain First: Ashlea Simon
- Reform UK: Chris Walsh
Despite rumours that former Brexit minister Lord Frost was being lined up to contest the seat for the Conservatives, Wakefield councillor Nadeem Ahmed has been selected as the Tory candidate.
Mr Ahmed represents Wakefield South as a councillor and was the leader of the Wakefield Council Conservative group for several years.
Controversy has surrounded the selection of the Labour candidate for the election, with accusations that the leader’s office interfered in the process in order to let a preferred candidate win.
The deputy leader of Wakefield Council, Jack Hemingway, was widely considered to be the most likely candidate for the contest.
Mr Hemingway was one of a number of local potential candidates who put their name forward but who ultimately did not appear on the selection longlist.
Labour’s National Executive Committee reportedly blocked Mr Hemingway’s candidacy due to his prior support for Jeremy Corbyn.
This was despite one of Mr Starmer’s pledges when campaigning for the Labour leadership was to allow local parties to select their own candidates.
The eventual shortlist of two candidates, of which neither live in Wakefield, prompted almost all of the local party’s executive committee to resign in protest.
In a statement, they said: "We asked for local candidates, but there are none. Three prominent council and local Labour candidates, including the deputy council leader didn’t even make it onto the ‘long list’. A short list of four was requested by our representative on the panel to give members some choice but the NEC members insisted on just two."
Former NHS worker Simon Lightwood eventually won the selection and will be Labour’s candidate in the election.
Lightwood formerly worked for the previous Labour MP, Mary Creagh, who lost her seat in 2019.
A number of smaller parties are set to stand candidates in the by-election, including Britain First and the Christian People’s Alliance (CPA).
The CPA’s candidate, Paul Bickerdike, distributed campaign leaflets which announce that he has “never sexually assaulted anyone,” in an apprent reference to the conviction of the former Wakefield Conservative MP.
He wrote: “I have been a foster carer for over 14 years and have never sexually assaulted anyone. I am happily married to Janet."
When asked about the statement, Mr Bickerdike said: “I do look at children but I look at children in a proper way, not the way that the previous MP was looking at children."
Who is likely to win the by-election?
The contest in Wakefield is likely to be hard-fought, with the Conservatives hoping to hold on to a seat which had previously been Labour for decades.
Labour are currently the bookmaker’s favourite’s to take back the West Yorkshire constituency, and are ahead in most national polls.
Although Wakefield had always voted Labour prior to 2019, the party had been losing support in the area over the previous 20 years, with a reduced vote share in every election since 1997 except 2015 and 2017.
Wakefield voted to leave the EU in 2016 by a significant margin, though unlike a number of leave-voting Labour-held towns and cities in the North of England, the Brexit Party did not register a particularly high vote in Wakefield in 2019.
In some parts of England, such as Hull, Labour managed to hold onto seats where the Brexit Party fielded a candidate, thus splitting the pro-Leave vote - however, this was not the case in Wakefield.
This fact, plus Wakefield’s long-term shift away from Labour in recent decades will encourage the Conservatives that they can hold onto the seat.
Labour, on the other hand, will expect to retake the seat.
Boris Johnson’s government is relatively unpopular at the moment, as a result of the cost of living crisis and a series of scandals which have engulfed Downing Street for the last few months.
Plus, the nature of the former candidate’s resignation, having been convicted of sexually assaulting a teenager, could work against the Conservatives.
This was the result of the general election vote in Wakefield in 2019:
- Conservative: 47.3% / 21,283
- Labour: 39.8% / 17.925
- Brexit Party: 6.1% / 2,725
- Liberal Democrats: 3.9% / 1,772
- Yorkshire: 1.9% / 868
- Independent: 1.0% / 454
- Majority: 3,358 / 7.5%