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Paul Nuttall set to be Ukip candidate for Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election

Ukip leader Paul Nuttall looks set to be the party's candidate to fight the crucial Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election.

A Ukip source confirmed Mr Nuttall has "thrown his hat into the ring" and will participate in a local hustings event alongside other nominees on Friday before the candidate is confirmed on Saturday.

The leader's presence on the nominations list puts him in pole position to be the party's candidate for what will be a highly significant battle to take the seat from Labour.

Mr Nuttall's decision to enter the race indicates that Ukip believes it has a strong chance of winning the by-election triggered by the resignation of leading Labour moderate Tristram Hunt.

Labour is due to choose a candidate on January 25 to fight the seat, which becomes vacant with historian Mr Hunt's appointment as director of the V&A Museum.

Labour has held Stoke-on-Trent Central since the constituency's creation in 1950, with a vote-share of 66% and majority of 49.5%, making it one of the party's safest strongholds in 1997.

But its majority has since fallen to 17%, with Ukip surging by 18 points to take second place in 2015.

Stoke voted 65.7% for Leave in last year's EU referendum, which is likely to have tempted Mr Nuttall into an attempt to make good on his promise to replace Labour as the party of choice for working-class communities in the Midlands and North of England.

The election will be held on February 23 alongside a separate poll in Copeland, triggered by the resignation of another leading Labour moderate, Jamie Reed.

Mr Nuttall will hope he can become Ukip's second MP and go one better than former party leader Nigel Farage, who has failed in seven attempts to get elected to the House of Commons.

On Thursday night Labour selected a former hospital doctor to be its standard bearer in Copeland.

Gillian Troughton faces a tough battle in the West Cumbrian seat where Labour's majority over the Tories was cut to 2,564 at the last general election.

Ms Troughton said: "It is an honour to have been selected as the Labour candidate for this crucial by-election in my home seat.

"This election is a choice between allowing the Tories to strip NHS services away from Copeland, and sending them a message that it's unacceptable."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "Gillian is a local councillor with a strong track record of getting things done for her community. She has campaigned tirelessly to maintain local hospital services.

"As a St John's blue light ambulance driver, Gillian has seen first-hand the extent of the crisis caused by this Conservative Government, which has chosen to fund tax cuts for the wealthiest instead of our health service."

The Conservatives claimed that the selection was a "victory for the hard left", describing Ms Troughton as "nothing more than a Corbyn puppet".

However, her choice was being seen elsewhere as a boost for moderates, as Ms Troughton was one of 1,000 Labour councillors who signed a letter of support for Owen Smith in his unsuccessful attempt to unseat Mr Corbyn as leader last year.

Mr Reed announced that he was standing down as Labour MP for the seat to take up a position at the Sellafield nuclear power plant.

He held Copeland with 16,750 votes (42%) in 2015, ahead of the Conservatives on 14,186 (36%), Ukip on 6,148 (15%) and the Liberal Democrats on 1,368 (3%).

Ukip has chosen a pro-nuclear power candidate who works in the NHS to fight the Copeland election.

Fiona Mills, who sits on the party's ruling NEC, said she would be "completely free to be the people's voice" because the party does not have a whipping system.

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