Names in frames for key by-election in Stoke Central

Image caption Twenty years ago Labour had a 20,000 majority in Stoke Central. In 2015, it was down to just more than 5,000

Factor of 10

So now we know. Ten candidates will contest the most eagerly-awaited Midlands by-election for many years.

It will test whether or not Labour's official support for the Remain campaign has driven a wedge between the party and its core support.

Stoke Central, long considered the safest of safe Labour seats, will prove or disprove the theory that there is no longer any such thing, with all that entails for Jeremy Corbyn, overwhelmingly re-elected less than six months ago as party leader.

Twenty years ago, Labour had a 20,000 majority here. In 2015, it was down to just over 5,000. And that was pre-Corbyn and pre-Brexit.

Image copyright BBC Getty
Image caption Pictured left to right: Zulfiqar Ali (Lib Dem), Jack Brereton (Conservative), Paul Nuttall (UKIP) and Gareth Snell (Labour)

But UKIP and the Conservatives have plenty to fight for as well, to reinforce their credentials as the Brexit parties.

UKIP pipped the Tories to second place in the 2015 general election, but only by the narrowest of margins.

They both won just under under 23% of the vote compared with Labour's 39%.

UK's highest Leave vote

The Liberal Democrats will be hoping, even in a city which recorded one of the UK's highest Leave votes, they can conjure-up some significant traction for their unambiguously anti-Brexit campaign.

Image copyright Green Party
Image caption Adam Colclough is the Green Party candidate
Image copyright British National Party
Image caption Standing for the British National Party is David Furness
Image caption Left to right: Godfrey Davies (Christian People's Alliance), Nick 'The Flying Brick' Delves (Monster Raving Loony Park). Awaiting photos of the remaining candidates

All of which begs the question is Stoke Central really 'Brexit Central' as UKIP and the Conservatives would have it? Or is it, as Labour hope, more like 'NHS Central' in a city whose acute hospital recorded some of Britain's longest trolley waits during the early weeks of this year.

One word of caution: for all the general excitement surrounding this poll, at 49.9% the turnout for Stoke Central in the 2015 general election was among the lowest in the country.

So who exactly are the candidates who have taken it upon themselves to fight not just Stoke Central but also public apathy?

Runners and riders

In alphabetical order the main parties' candidates are:

  • British National Party - David Furness was the BNP's candidate for Mayor of London.
  • Conservative Party - Cllr Jack Brereton. Despite his tender years , he's just 25, he is clearly seen by his party as a rising star. He is the deputy leader of the Conservative Group in the city council's ruling coalition, where he is also the Cabinet member for Regeneration, Transport and Heritage. The Conservatives have a history of selecting bright young things to fight tough seats which they may not win but which will prepare them for more winnable contests later on.
  • Green Party - Adam Colclough. He is a criminology and sociology student at Staffordshire University. He has grown up in the city where he says he will be fighting to bring real change.
  • Liberal Democrats - Dr Zulfiqar Ali. Fighting Stoke Central for the second time, having come fifth in 2015. As a consultant cardiologist he could be well-placed to bridge those Brexit/NHS issues which will be presented in more binary terms by the other main parties. Before 2015, the Liberal Democrats had a long history of finishing third here in Parliamentary elections but they will have to do very well to match that this time in a city run by a coalition of City Independents, Conservatives and UKIP.
  • Labour - Cllr Gareth Snell. A member and former leader of Newcastle-under-Lyme Council. In view of that overwhelming Brexit vote here last June, it is at least interesting that Labour have selected a candidate who, in a tweet, compared "hard Brexit, soft Brexit" with a pile of unmentionable (not the word he used). He is clearly no great fan of Jeremy Corbyn's leadership of the party either, having supported last year's challenge by the 'moderate' Owen Smith. When he regained his council seat after a local by-election he said his success had had "nothing to do with Jeremy Corbyn".
  • UKIP - Paul Nuttall. As party leader he acknowledges he is taking a gamble by running here, so soon after he succeeded Nigel Farage. Ten other would-be candidates stood aside to give him a clear run at it. He was clearly attracted by that tide of Brexit support which he will hope to draw upon. But by triggering the election so soon after the former MP Tristram Hunt announced his resignation, his Labour opponents will hope what they call "the NHS winter crisis" will still be a potent factor on the doorsteps.

Two other parties are fielding candidates:

For the Christian People's Alliance, Godfrey Davies; and for the Monster Raving Loony Party, Nick "The Flying Brick"" Delves.

There are two Independent candidates: Yaqub Akram and Barbara Fielding.

One-hit wonder

A final thought may concern them all equally.

This could well be the first and last time they contest this seat.

For all its rich history and industrial heritage, it's set to be scrapped under proposed Parliamentary boundary changes which would reduce Stoke's present three seats to two.

And with Ruth Smeeth and Rob Flello apparently in no mood to relinquish their neighbouring seats, it's no wonder that this is being unofficially dubbed as a job for three years.

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