Ukip’s Paul Nuttall is set to stand in the Stoke by-election, in what will be the biggest test of his leadership so far.
According to ITV, the MEP will be announced as the party’s candidate for the Stoke-on-Trent Central vote at an event on Saturday as Ukip seek to win the seat from Labour.
The by-election has been triggered by the resignation of Tristram Hunt, and Labour MPs are urging the party to focus its campaign on Nuttall’s previous support for NHS privatisation.
While other Ukip members have until 5pm Wednesday evening to throw their hats into the ring, a source at the top of party told Huff Post UK it is “increasingly likely that Paul Nuttall will go for it.”
The Huff Post UK revealed on Sunday that Nuttall was coming under increasing pressure from senior figures to stand in the constituency – where Ukip finished second in 2015.
Many in the anti-EU party see the seat as one of the best chances to get their leader into the Commons before the next General Election.
It has been estimated that 70% of voters in Stoke-on-Central backed Leave in last year’s EU referendum, despite Hunt campaigning for Remain.
Ukip finished just 5,179 votes behind Labour in 2015 while only running a skeleton campaign operation, and party figures believe a focused operation in the area could deliver a victory.
At a meeting of Labour’s Parliamentary Party on Monday, Jeremy Corbyn told MPs he was confident the party could retain the seat.
One former Shadow Cabinet member told Huff Post UK the party needed to take the fight to Ukip over its support for grammar schools and Nuttall’s previous NHS comments.
The senior Labour MP said: “We have to take them very seriously. We have to say ‘Right, we’ll go on grammar schools, we’ll go on health.’
“Don’t let them him pass himself off as the authentic voice of the working class.
“There’s not much working-class about dividing kids at 11, or privatising the NHS.”
In a now deleted post on his website, Nuttall claimed the “very existence of the NHS stifles competition, and as competition drives quality and choice, innovation and improvements are restricted.”
Another Labour MP, John Woodcock, also believed his party could defeat Nuttall by focusing on the Ukip leader’s NHS views.
He said: “I think the public won’t have failed to notice the way in which Ukip imploded after it got what it wanted in the referendum result.
It can’t escape it’s views on wider issues, which include Paul Nuttall being on record wanting to privatise the NHS, which is absolutely contrary to the interests of people in Stoke.”
If Nuttall were to stand, it would be his fifth attempt at getting elected into the House of Commons.