On the 30th of April, the Pinsker Centre welcomed the MP for Bury South, Christian Wakeford, to discuss the 2019 General election, his time spent amongst the North’s largest Jewish community, and the UK’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. Christian joined us from lockdown in his family home by livestream, providing an intimate setting to discuss the UK’s quarantine measures.
Christian had come to understand the Coronavirus all too well. He joined us after a period of self-quarantine, having himself developed symptoms. He lamented his absence from his family during his time cooped-up in his London apartment, but joined us in good spirits. Christian recounted his rise to prominence: He started by working his way up through the ranks at his local Conservative association. First becoming the youngest Conservative area chairman, he was assigned to contest Bury South, once a safe labour seat. He joked that he was:
“Already hated as an insurance broker, so why not become a Tory MP?”
Christian’s seat of Bury South was certainly a challenge. During the election, despite the constituency’s large Jewish community, Momentum set the seat as their primary national goal. This seat was occupied by former Labour MP, Ivan Lewis, who had become an independent following his disgust towards the systemic anti-Semitism within the Labour party. This led to a three-way race between Ivan, Christian, and a relatively unknown Momentum-sponsored unionist.
Running for election is no easy feat. Christian recalled the sacrifices that he made while campaigning. He spent less time with his family, he was engaged at all hours of the day, and was forced to take large amounts of time off work. “Nothing can truly prepare you.” Christian’s first trial by fire was a hustings with the Jewish community. He described it as being “Thrown in at the deep end.” Christian, as his name may suggest, was not a member of the Jewish community. On the other hand, Ivan Lewis was very much part of the local Jewish community, being a Jew himself. The political climate of 2019 made what may have seemed on paper to be a simple contest, much more complicated. The Jewish community’s deep distrust towards Corbyn’s radical Labour had shifted deep-rooted political traditions. When once a Conservative candidate may have been received with suspicion, he now was received with applause. Christian spoke of his conversations with members of the local community, who after voting Labour for six elections, felt now compelled to vote Conservative.
Ivan Lewis, no fan of Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour, delivered critical support to Christian’s campaign by stepping aside and sponsoring the Conservative candidate. Christian expressed sadness at Ivan Lewis’ departure, who had faithfully served the community since 1997, but was now emboldened by the support of the Jewish community. What once seemed impossible, was now increasingly likely. With the support of the Sedgefield Orthodox Jewish community, Christian had levelled the playing field. On the night of the election, Christian’s initial feedback was pessimistic. He had been informed that it was likely that Momentum had clinched victory and proceeded to deliver a sombre report to the media. Later in the evening, the race tightened again. At 3:30 in the morning, an envelope arrived. He had won. By the skin of his teeth. The next morning, he was warmly received by Jewish voters. He was even told by one Jewish woman that she could finally unpack her bags, no longer fearing a Labour government.
“If the Jewish hustings had been a baptism of fire, I was not prepared for the Hanukah celebrations!”
Christian now found himself immersed in the community. By the holidays, he was 20ft in the air on a cherry picker lighting the oil lamp in his constituency. In his maiden speech, he gave his thanks to his predecessor for his contribution to the community and promised that his first foreign visit would be to Israel.
On his return, he began to work non-stop. After working hard on passing the new budget, Christian sadly fell ill. As the Coronavirus disrupted the Jewish community, Christian expressed sadness that his constituents were unable to celebrate Passover with their families. While having recovered from his own stint of illness, Christian announced to us that he would be working with the Manchester-based Jewish charity, the FED, to raise money for the local community. To raise this money, he would be shaving his head. Christian was understandably not looking forward to losing his locks but was excited at the prospect of helping the community.
Christian Wakeford has, undeniably, been shaped by his Conservative activism during his university days. As such, he was more than happy to take questions from a young conservative audience. Christian was asked whether he believed that the U.K could learn from Israel’s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic and responded affirmatively. Having spoken with Israeli diplomats, he praised the integration of medical technology into Israel’s already robust military. While being a smaller nation than the U.K, he admired Israel’s unified national mobilisation. He was hopeful that Israel’s new unity government would provide stability for Israel and help in its fight against the virus. On Keir Starmer, Christian cautiously noted that he had made the “right noises” about routing out anti-Semitism, though he complained of Starmer’s relative inaction in tackling it head on. Christian also alleged that he was still sharing a platform with many of the same inflammatory figures as during the Corbyn opposition.
Finally, I directly questioned Christian on how he thought Young Tories could make an impact on Conservative politics. “Just do it.” He affirmed. There has never been a better time to get involved, he continued, be it by progressing through your local student society or through an association. If Young Conservatives keep chasing their goals, and knocking on doors, they have the chance to make an impact.
The Pinsker Centre would like to thank Christian Wakeford for speaking with us, and we shall be watching his promising career with great interest. The Pinsker Centre is a think-tank based upon the values of debate, discussion, and dialogue; opening the conversation on Geopolitical issues facing the Middle East and the State of Israel.