Iceland boss Richard Walker sparks furious row after he backs Labour after 'begging Sunak' for a safe Tory MP seat

29 January 2024, 11:33 | Updated: 29 January 2024, 13:13

Watch Again: Iceland's executive chairman Richard Walker joins Nick Ferrari | 29/01/24

Natasha Clark

By Natasha Clark

The Tories have hit back at Iceland boss Richard Walker after he 'defected' to back Sir Keir Starmer's Labour Party - just months after begging them for a safe seat.

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Richard Walker, who was named on a list of Conservative MP candidates less than two years ago, said that the Tories had "failed the nation" since coming to power in 2010, adding that Rishi Sunak's party were "out of touch".

The Iceland chairman, who also said he wanted to be a Tory MP in February 2023 before quitting the party later last year, told LBC's Nick Ferrari on Monday that the Conservatives had left the country "in a much worse state".

Mr Walker said that Labour were more centrist and business-friendly, adding that leader Sir Keir "gets it".

He told Nick: "It's clear the Conservative party have failed the nation, they are out of touch with the needs of everyday people, drifting further to the right, the country is in a much worse state than it was 14 years ago".

But LBC has seen messages from as recently as May when he was trying to advance his candidacy, saying "the choice is yours as to whether this is for the Conservatives or not".

One Senior Tory told LBC: "He was arrogant, he was threatening towards us - saying effectively if we didn't give him a seat, he could even stand for other parties."

LBC understands he was put on a deferred list as they feared he wasn't loyal enough to the party.

Another source said last summer he was "perpetually begging for a seat, including writing to the PM to say as much".

One Tory source told LBC: "Walker is supporting Labour because the Conservatives refused to circumvent selection rules to hand him a safe seat despite an intense campaign which went as far as getting his dad to write to the Party on his behalf. This just proves the Party was right.

"Given his clear lack of principles he should fit in well with Sir Keir Starmer.

"It remains to be seen how Labour MPs and activists will react to his recruitment given his recent false claims stigmatising people with HIV."

Read more: 'Westminster needs people who know what it's like to pay wages': Iceland boss to run for Tory MP

Read more: 'We're losing customers to food banks', Iceland boss says

Richard Walker
Richard Walker. Picture: Alamy

Mr Walker, a prominent campaigner against sewage being dumped in waterways, also told Nick that senior people in the Conservative party had told to "pipe down" after he had raised the issue.

By contrast, he said that Labour have moved towards "centrist pragmatic values and principles" that businesses would support.

Labour are "talking about fiscal credibility, they have a green prosperity plan, an industrial strategy, the Tories don't," he said. "The more I look at it, the more I think they are the right party".

He added: "We face many issues, from the safety of my retail colleagues, to the decline of the high streets, to - of course - the challenge with climate change. All of these are issues that they want to face up to".

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer. Picture: Alamy

Part of Labour's pitch to voters is that Sir Keir's version of the party since taking over in 2020 is very different to the one led by his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.

Labour were heavily defeated in the 2019 election, amid accusations of anti-Semitism, among other criticisms.

Mr Walker said that Sir Keir had purged the "poison of extremism" since becoming leader four years ago.

He added that the fact that "he's done that systematically, across the board in one parliamentary term is quite incredible."

Mr Walker said: "He is a leader who gets it, he's got genuine compassion and kindness, but he's absolutely ruthless, make no mistake".

Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak
Britain's Prime Minister Rishi Sunak. Picture: Alamy

Sir Keir has sometimes been criticised for not totally committing to certain issues, such as an earlier pledge to spend £28 billion per year until 2030 on green projects, which appears to have been diluted.

Mr Walker said that he wanted to hold Labour to account, adding that he wasn't joining the party or running to be an MP.

"I just think that they are moving steadily in the right direction," he added.

He also said that he had not donated to Labour, and he did not intend to.

"I want to retain my ability to be a free thinker, and to be a critical friend and I think that's easier," Mr Walker said. "Not joining the party, not donating - just sticking to what I believe in."

Mr Walker's father Malcolm, the founder of Iceland, was a major donor to the Conservatives, and even he is "absolutely sick to death of the squabbling" and "the infighting" that has blighted the governing party in recent years.

In fact, he even suggested that his son come out in favour of Labour - although Mr Walker told Nick that this may have been a joke.

Mr Walker, who backed Brexit, dismissed suggestions that Labour may want to have significantly closer relations to the EU if they come to power.

He said: "That debate has been and gone, and we've just got to make it work now.

"I think the implementation [of Brexit] hasn't been good. So no, we can't drift back to a closer union, because the other half of the country will be unhappy. We just have to get on and implement it properly and make it work."

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