Ukip leader Paul Nuttall knows nothing about Stoke-on-Trent and doesn't care about the city, according to Labour's Ruth Smeeth. The Stoke-on-Trent North MP launched the scathing attack against the Bootle-born politician ahead of the by-election for Tristram Hunt's former seat on 23 February.
The journalist, historian and now former MP quit the House of Commons this month (January 2017) to become the director of the Victorian and Albert Museum in London.
Hunt secured a majority of more than 5,000 votes in Stoke-on-Trent Central at the 2015 General Election. However, in June 2016, 69% of Stoke residents defied his pro-Remain position and backed Brexit in the EU referendum.
Nuttall, who succeeded Nigel Farage in November 2016, is hoping to ride the Eurosceptic tide to Westminster.
"He's turning up – he doesn't know, he doesn't care – and now he's saying he loves Stoke-on-Trent. He knows nothing about our city," Smeeth told IBTimes UK.
"Gareth [Snell, Labour's Stoke candidate] does – he lives here with his wife and daughter, and we're here fighting for every vote to make sure that we have a Labour MP." However, Snell's selection as Labour's candidate has not been without controversy: former leader of Newcastle-under-Lyme Council Hunt described the Brexit vote as a "massive pile of s**t".
Media were barred from speaking to Snell and Jeremy Corbyn as they hit the campaign trail. But Smeeth defended the Labour hopeful.
"One of the issues with social media is that it's easy to take everything out of context," she said. "What you saw from that tweet was definitely a level of frustration, but what's not been reported are the tweets before and the tweets afterwards – they've just gone for the tweets where his frustration overflowed.
"What he was being really clear about, in context, is that Theresa May didn't have a plan. We still don't know the detail of her plan until we see what's actually going to come through for Article 50... We are determined that Stoke won't be left behind."
Smeeth said Snell would vote to invoke Article 50, the mechanism to split from the EU, alongside fellow Labour Stoke MP Robert Flello. "It would be a betrayal of the voters if we did not," she added. The commitment comes after Corbyn faced a backlash from his own MPs for imposing a three-line-whip on the vote.
Former shadow early years education secretary Tulip Siddiq and former shadow Welsh secretary Jo Stevens have both quit Labour's front bench in order to vote against the Article 50 bill. Nuttall, meanwhile, disputed Labour's claim that he had been "parachuted" into the Staffordshire seat.
"[The people of Stoke] want someone who speaks their language, tells them how it is, is straight talking, is from a similar sort of post-industrial town to this, understands the issues, understands their trials and tribulations and can really connect with them," he told IBTimes UK.
The Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election is to be held on the same day as the Copeland by-election in West Cumbria. Labour is defending both seats.