The National Jewish Assembly (NJA) were delighted and honoured to host Christian Wakeford MP online on Tuesday evening, 19th September. MP for Manchester’s Bury South since 2019 and a longstanding friend of the Jewish people and the State of Israel, it was to much surprise, concern, and for some of his his Jewish constituents, a sense of betrayal, when he crossed the floor in 2022, leaving the Conservative party to join to the Labour party.
One may well have wondered how his stalwart support of the Jewish people and their homeland, Israel, would fare in the Labour Party which had been mired in accusations and official findings of antisemitism since Jeremy Corbyn became its leader in September 2015, and which was still dealing with the effects in early 2022 at the time of Wakeford’s defection. Wakeford soon put any such concerns to bed.
Describing himself as the “accidental MP”, Wakeford explained that he only got into politics when he wasn’t enjoying his A-Level in Physics and swapped it with A-Level Politics. Realising he actually enjoyed the subject, he went on to serve on Lancashire Council and eventually found himself wanting to help make laws rather than simply enacting them, so 2019 he was elected as the MP for Manchester’s Bury South, a post he still holds today, but now as a Labour MP.
On his crossing the floor to Labour, Wakeford explained that around the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, the debate about free meals for school children was raging and he fundamentally disagreed with his Party’s opposition to it. At what turned out to be his last Conservative Party Conference, he was given what he described as a “bollocking” for accusing the party of failing a generation of people. After being approached by by some Labour shadow ministers who were liking what he had to say, he eventually met Keir Starmer where half the meeting was spent talking about antisemitism, an issue close to the heart of so many of his Jewish constituents. As Wakeford put it to the NJA’s audience, “If I didn’t believe Keir, I wouldn’t be here now.”
When asked about his very vocal condemnation of the antisemitic former Pink Floyd band member Roger Waters in the House of Commons in May 2023, Wakeford explained that as far as he is concerned, “anti-Zionism and antisemitism are two sides of the same coin” and that antisemitism is racism and must always be called out. Despite an avalanche of antisemitic abuse on social media, including from Waters himself, Wakeford confirmed he had no regrets in calling out Waters’ anti-Jewish racism.
At the end of the interview, Wakeford responded to a variety of questions from the NJA’s audience and what came across with each question posed was overwhelming evidence of Wakeford’s deep understanding of the Jewish community’s aspirations and concerns, especially relating to Israel and antisemitism in the UK, and his commitment to ensure that the Labour Party, historically the political home of many British Jews until the Corbyn era, will take all necessary action to ensure that there will be zero tolerance of antisemitism.
Gary Mond, Chairman of the NJA, said ” It was great that Labour MP Christian Wakeford gave up his evening to speak to us about the Labour Party’s interaction with the Jewish community. Whatever political party we support, it is important to all of us that Labour rids itself of antisemitism. Tonight proved to be a good opportunity for NJA’s members to assess the extent to which Labour has succeeded in this vitally important objective.”
By Steve Winston, Managing Director of the National Jewish Assembly