‘Back in business’: Labour’s red wallers who lost seats looking for comebacks

<span>Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

A growing number of former Labour MPs who lost their “red wall” seats in 2019 are hoping to make a political comeback at the next general election as confidence grows that Keir Starmer is on course for Downing Street.

Party sources say that the number of defeated “red wallers” hoping to stand again, or considering putting their names forward, is now well into double figures as Labour sets its sights on a much quicker than expected recovery from the 2019 election disaster.

Already three defeated Labour MPs who held red wall seats until 2019 – James Frith (Bury North), Jo Platt (Leigh) and Gareth Snell (Stoke-on-Trent Central) – have been selected again as candidates in their former seats. Heidi Alexander, former shadow health secretary and MP for Lewisham East, who quit under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership in 2018, has been selected as the candidate for South Swindon.

Several more former MPs whose seats fell as Boris Johnson and the Tories broke through the red wall in 2019 with promises to level up the country are now ready to put their names forward either for their former seats or for other ones.

Former frontbencher Emma Reynolds, who lost in Wolverhampton North East in 2019, is planning to throw her hat into the ring for the selection in Wycombe, a seat held by the Tory MP and Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker.

Graham Jones, who lost in Hyndburn and Haslingden, is hoping to be selected again as the candidate there, while Anna Turley (Redcar) Melanie Onn (Grimsby) and John Grogan (Keighley) are all considering standing again.

Many of the potential returnees were present at the Labour conference in Liverpool last week. Turley, who was there, told the Observer: “The party is in a different place now. I feel reassured and confident that it is really back in business under Keir Starmer. We are ready for government, and people want to put their shoulder to the wheel and help.”

Many of the potential returnees say that local constituency parties have also been transformed as the influence of the left has waned and the chances of moderates being selected has increased.

Jones added: “Some very good colleagues lost in 2019, and those I have spoken to feel it was an unfortunate one-off election where the local contribution was washed over by the national.” He said it was “frustrating” both to see what damage the Tories had done to local areas and not to be part of the Labour recovery from inside Westminster. “My colleagues probably think very similarly. They want to put the record straight. It feels like unfinished business.”

Meanwhile, as Labour aims to accelerate candidate selections so it is ready for an election, Starmer is making moves to prepare the party to go to the country as it forges ahead in the polls. The Labour leader has appointed Peter Hyman – former strategist and speech writer for Tony Blair who left Westminster to work as a teacher – as an adviser on strategy to work alongside director of strategy Deborah Mattinson. Claire Ainsley is being moved from her role as executive director of policy to a post in charge of writing the election manifesto. The party has also appointed the multi-award-winning advertising agency Lucky Generals to manage its image and branding in the run-up the election.

Insiders say that while Labour is far from flush with money, it is receiving pledges of donations as the political mood turns in favour of Labour – and the prospect of ending more than a decade of Tory government grows.