The Liberal Democrats have claimed that “a vote for Labour in Vauxhall is now a vote for Ukip,” after Ukip leader Paul Nuttall suggested his party might not field a candidate in the south London constituency in order to help prominent pro-Brexit Labour MP Kate Hoey retain it against any Remain-backing challenger.
The Lib Dem chief whip Tom Brake, who is MP for Carshalton and Wallington in suburban south-west London, called Nuttall’s remarks on the Andrew Marr show “a huge blow” to Hoey, whom he described as “endorsed” by Nuttall having previously “posed alongside” Nigel Farage, his predecessor as Ukip leader, in photographs of the pair on a boat during a referendum campaign event about EU fishing policy on the Thames.
Lib Dem leader Tim Farron has spoke of his party having hopes of defeating Hoey, despite finishing fourth in Vauxhall in 2015 with just 7% of the vote. Hoey, who has held the seat since winning a by-election in 1989, took 54%, with the Conservative second on 27% and the Green Party third on 8%. Ukip finished fifth with 4%. In previous general elections the Lib Dems have finished second, however.
Asked about Ukip standing aside in seats being contested by strongly pro-Brexit Conservative candidates, Nuttall made a point of saying that the tactic wouldn’t necessarily apply only to Tories and that “there could be people like Kate Hoey as well,” who would face no Ukip candidate.
“This will not be an order which is coming down from the top of the party,” Nuttall said. “I will speak to branches over the coming weeks and we will make decisions.” But he stressed that he did not want to see “good Brexiteers, who’ve campaigned for years for Brexit,” lose their seats “and a Remainer be there in their place”.
Despite the huge Hoey majority the Lib Dems would have to overturn, Brexit could be a big issue in the borough of Lambeth, which contains Vauxhall. Lambeth voters returned the highest Remain majority of any local authority area in the UK last year at 78.6%.
Hoey also has critics among her own constituency members, who have twice censured her over her attitudes to Europe in the past six months. Hoey previously accepted a role as unpaid sports adviser to future leading Brexit campaigner a Tory foreign secretary Boris Johnson when he was London mayor.