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Labour and Ukip bring out 'big guns' to campaign in Stoke-on-Trent by-election

Labour and Ukip have brought out their heavyweights as they bid to take the Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election.

Party leaders Jeremy Corbyn and Paul Nuttall hit the campaign trail ahead of the February 23 by-election caused by the resignation of Labour MP Tristram Hunt.

Mr Nuttall opened a campaign office in Hanley surrounded by supporters and said he would be a champion of "real Brexit".

While Mr Corbyn knocked on doors with party supporters and candidate Gareth Snell in the Bentilee suburb - but both refused to be interviewed about the campaign.

Labour held a majority of more than 5,000 over Ukip the last time the voters in Stoke-on-Trent went to the polls in 2015, but Ukip said they were confident they can "pull off a shock".

Mr Nuttall told the Press Association: "I think it's going to be tight. I think we're definitely in the game, the bookies have got us down as the slight favourites in this.

"I think the people of Stoke have gradually clocked on that the Labour party doesn't necessarily have their best interests at heart.

"Tristram Hunt, (his) majority was only 5,000 last time round, and that was pre-Corbyn and pre-Brexit, so we are going into this quite confident that we can pull off a shock.

"We're running a professional campaign, there's a real buzz around the place and we're taking this election very seriously indeed."

He added that the election of another Labour MP would be "lobby-fodder" and a "voice in the wilderness" for the seat where around 65% of people voted for Brexit.

The 40-year-old, who has previously run in four Westminster elections, said: "I can be a national champion for Stoke and stand up in the House of Commons and really push things forward on behalf of the local people."

Mr Nuttall claimed Labour were "all at sea" and "a mess" over the Brexit issue, predicting more front-bench resignations in the coming days.

He said: "If you want someone in the House of Commons to champion Brexit - real Brexit, controlling our borders, controlling our money, controlling our finances - you go out and you vote Ukip in this election."

Among the supporters outside the party's base in Piccadilly was Richard Gibbins, 72, of Stone, who was dressed as Winston Churchill for the occasion.

He said: "We can't be complacent, we've got a lot of work to do but we've got an excellent chance."

Three miles away, Labour campaigners were joined by Mr Corbyn to leaflet for Mr Snell, former leader of Newcastle Borough Council.

In a series of tweets dating from July, Mr Snell had referred to Mr Corbyn as an "IRA supporting friend of Hamas", which he then claimed was a demonstration of the "absurdity of the hyperbole" surrounding last summer's leadership contest.

The Press Association requested interviews with both Mr Corbyn and Mr Snell to discuss their campaign and Ukip's claims their party was in disarray over Brexit, but were rebuffed by a party aide.

When approached directly about the by-election campaign, Mr Corbyn said: "The campaign is going fine, thank you very much, absolutely fine."

Replying to a question about Mr Snell's tweets, he said: "The candidate and I are great friends and we've been knocking doors together, we're very happy."

Mr Snell refused to comment when approached about his tweets.

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