Wirral West Labour candidates gear up for final selection vote

The remaining candidates still in with a chance to stand for Labour in Wirral West in the next general election have made their case ahead of a final vote.

The Wirral West Labour Party will decide next week who will be its candidate at the next general election. This is after current MP Margaret Greenwood announced she would be standing down at that election.

The party will be looking to hold onto the seat it has had since 2015 when they beat Conservative Esther McVey. Though things may be tighter this time around as boundary changes are set to add more Conservative areas to the seat.

That said, Labour are currently between 16% and 21% ahead in recent national polls, meaning they will be confident of a win in the constituency.

In Labour, a shortlist of candidates has been announced including former local councillors Matthew Patrick and Sue Percy, Claughton councillor Gill Wood, and Jen Thornton, a trade union representative. The list has caused plenty of controversy and saw ten people resign in the local party in protest over the snubbing of other candidates.

The four listed candidates are now campaigning amongst Labour members ahead of a hustings on 16 September, where any final votes will take place.

Former Wirral cabinet member Matthew Patrick is considered the frontrunner in the race.  He stood down as a councillor in 2018 after taking a job in London and now works for a non-profit organisation.

Giving his reasons for standing, he said, “I have no interest in just sitting there. I think there is a change that you can make.” Growing up in Birkenhead, he remembers when his after-school exercise club was cut because his school didn’t have the money to fund it.

He said, “It’s not okay for it to be a lottery. When it’s not funded centrally, then what happens if you’re from a working class background and the school you go to, like the one I went to, doesn’t have lots of money or lots of parents with money, then you get classes and extracurricular stuff cut.

“When we’re not funding stuff nationally properly, this is the mess we’re left in.”

A big issue in the campaign will likely be the green belt, which dominates Wirral’s local politics. Mr Patrick was in Wirral Council’s cabinet when it was pushing forward with plans for a controversial golf resort in Hoylake in the green belt.

It was hoped the resort would bring income into the council but the plans were dropped after Labour lost its majority in the council in 2019. Labour locally has since moved to a position of no green belt development.

Mr Patrick said, “I think Labour at the time protecting the green belt was a really important thing and I think it remains so but to the other point about the different types of elections, people vote on a whole range of things.”

He added, “I think it was certainly important for some people. I think lots of people understandably care passionately about the green belt and when it’s gone, it’s gone.”

Mr Patrick said the government had put the council in “a really difficult position on a whole range of issues” but as councillor, he had challenged developers that owned brownfield land but were holding off on developing it to increase profits.

He added, “There’s a challenge not just on the Wirral but across the country which we’ve got to build the homes people need and we have to protect the green belt and think we can do that where we identify that brownfield site.”

Another candidate in the race is former Bromborough Labour councillor Sue Percy. Though she now lives in Birkenhead, she lived on the Woodchurch estate for parts of her life and visited West Kirby regularly as a child.

No longer a councillor, she is still involved with the Friends of Bidston Hill, a zero waste scheme in New Ferry, and helping out cooking for refugees at the St Luke’s Methodist Church in Hoylake.

She said, “It’s my passion to look after people. It’s my passion to make sure whether they’re rich or poor, disabled or enabled. Even if it’s not part of me being a councillor or part of the party I would always help them out because someone helped me out once and that’s worth everything.

“It takes one little bit of kindness or one little bit of help and you can lift up somebody else, give them an opportunity or break down the barrier for them.”

She added, “Your socialist values don’t stop when the election stops or when you are no longer a candidate. If I am not successful in Wirral West, it wouldn’t stop me. I wouldn’t stop campaigning.”

Mrs Percy has been part of the Labour Party for over 15 years but back in 2006 she was a Conservative. In 2007, she moved to Labour and stood for the party as a candidate in 2008.

Asked why she left, she said during a meeting, “They talked about how they could find a reason to take control of the North and they had no interest in the wellbeing or the health or the security of the residents and I decided it was not for me, I felt very uncomfortable.”

Mrs Percy thinks this could help her appeal to swing voters, adding: “At the moment because of what’s happening in the Conservative Party everyone’s feeling lost, they’re feeling hurt, they’re feeling affected by the cost of living.”

Cllr Gillian Wood put herself forward after others suggested she apply. Representing Claughton in Birkenhead since 2017, she said, “I am a proven campaigner. I was a key member of the campaign team in the all-out elections back in May,” and pointed to having run for re-election four times in the six years.

She said, “I think it’s about that sense of trust. The country has been let down by politics. It’s about putting that level of trust back there. The mood is shifting in the country because people want things to be different. People are struggling with the cost of living, the energy crisis, and accessing the NHS.”

The environment is likely to be an important issue for voters as the new Wirral West will cover most of Wirral’s countryside and coastline. Cllr Wood, who also is the Liverpool City Region’s deputy portfolio holder for net zero and air quality, believes a Labour government could lead to investment in the renewable energy industry locally.

She said, “It is the way forward, whether that is offshore wind or tidal power. We could be Britain’s renewable energy coast and that is something to tap into because there will be jobs created.

“This is a real focus for the Labour Party and the Green New Deal in making sure that we have energy security around our shores. It’s vital that we actually think about our energy security.”

Jen Thornton did not respond to a request for an interview.

Image: (L-R) Sue Percy, Matthew Patrick, Gill Wood

Why not follow birkenhead.news on Facebook, Twitter, and Threads? You can also send story ideas or letters to the editor to news@birkenhead.news