Wakefield's Conservative candidate Nadeem Ahmed still confident in Boris Johnson

UK leader faces crunch confidence vote ahead of by-election battle in northern England

Boris Johnson is pinning his hopes on Conservative candidate Nadeem Ahmed in the Wakefield by-election but polling suggests Labour have the lead. Photo: Conservatives North
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When British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party took the former Labour seat of Wakefield for the first time in almost 90 years it was a historic victory.

But fast forward three years, and with a crunch by-election looming in 17 days, Mr Johnson's fate could now rest on the shoulders of the former Yorkshire mining region.

With a vote of no confidence in Mr Johnson due on Monday, the candidate with the job of keeping his leadership hopes alive is Nadeem Ahmed — a working-class Wakefield resident.

Mr Ahmed has placed his full confidence in Mr Johnson’s leadership, describing him as “a great asset”, despite mounting calls for the prime minister to step down in the aftermath of the so-called Partygate scandal.

A win for Mr Johnson in the Wakefield by-election on June 23 would secure his position and silence his critics but with the latest polls predicting a 20-point defeat, it is going to be an uphill struggle.

Can 'humble' Yorkshireman save Boris Johnson?

Mr Ahmed, a councillor in the Wakefield area since 2006, is confident he can turn things around.

“I come from a humble, working-class background with a strong work ethic and a belief that hard work and perseverance can lead to success,” he said.

“The two previous MPs failed Wakefield and on top of that we have a Labour council which has also failed the residents of Wakefield.

“It’s time for change in Wakefield — it’s time for a local MP who has a vested interest in Wakefield, which goes beyond politics and straight into the hearts and souls of our vibrant and diverse communities.”

Wakefield, in northern England, will be a crunch by-election battle. Photo: Getty

Mr Ahmed was born and grew up in a deprived area of Wakefield and is the eldest son of immigrant parents — his father arrived in the city from Pakistan to work in the textile industry.

Since school he has worked in supermarkets and even as a security attendant at the local Wakefield Wildcats rugby league club – a team close to the hearts of many in the area.

Still an avid supporter, attending Sunday’s game with his son, he has made a popular pledge to help support its development.

In contrast, his predecessor, Imran Ahmed Khan, had a public school background and had worked for the UN. He was forced to resign recently after being convicted of sexual assault, triggering the by-election.

Will Brexit still be an issue for voters?

Khan won the seat in 2019 with a majority of 3,358, but the political landscape was different to the post-pandemic one facing today’s candidates.

Back then, Brexit was a vital issue for the people of Wakefield. Many wanted to vote Leave, and traditional Labour voters were attracted to the Conservative Party owing to the city’s former Labour MP, Mary Creagh, voting against Brexit.

The image of UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson at a gathering in 10 Downing Street during a Covid lockdown sparked outrage. Photo: PA

Labour’s candidate in the election, Simon Lightwood, formerly worked for Ms Creagh and now leads communications for a health trust.

Fighting within the Labour Party's ranks has led to the local team resigning en masse over the candidate selection process.

Mr Lightwood will be hoping that Ms Creagh’s Brexit legacy will not play a role when voters go to the polls.

However, Mr Ahmed believes local residents are still embittered at being accused of not understanding Brexit.

“Let’s not reopen the debate on the EU by voting in another Labour, Remain MP who does not even live in Wakefield,” Mr Ahmed told his Facebook followers.

Mr Ahmed has been vocally campaigning on local issues, including the revival of the city’s once-thriving market, and the £45 million ($56.4m) levelling money given by the government to help the city centre.

He was recently joined by UK Chancellor Rishi Sunak.

“We know there has been chronic underinvestment in Wakefield,” he said.

“I want to make sure that I am fighting for every ounce that I can get into the city.

“We [Rishi Sunak] spoke about lots of issues, including the cost of living and how to bring in investment into Wakefield city centre.

“I will work with the government with a commitment to getting things done for Wakefield.

“Our city centre has great potential but decades of failure from Wakefield’s Labour council and MPs have held us back.”

When nominations closed last week there were 15 candidates, including far-right politician Jayda Fransen, ready to contest the northern battleground.

With the sword of Damocles hanging over Mr Johnson’s head on Monday, the by-election may not be at the forefront of his thoughts.

As former Labour prime minister, Harold Wilson — who was born near Wakefield — famously said: “A week is a long time in politics.”

Updated: June 07, 2022, 12:51 PM