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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 confirmed as the party's candidate to fight the crunch Stoke-on-Trent Central by-election next month.

Mr Nuttall took part in a hustings alongside other shortlisted candidates on Friday night and is in pole position to be officially announced as the candidate in Stoke at 11am.

His decision to stand indicates Ukip's belief that it has a strong chance of taking the former Labour stronghold.

The by-election will be highly significant battle that is likely to shed light on Ukip's level of support after Nigel Farage's leadership, the shape of post-Brexit politics in England, and Jeremy Corbyn's performance as Opposition leader.

Mr Nuttall will hope he can become Ukip's second MP with the help of Stoke's large number of Brexit supporters.

He will also be seeking to go one better than Mr Farage, who has failed in seven attempts to get elected to the House of Commons.

The by-election was triggered by the resignation of leading Labour moderate Tristram Hunt, who stood down as an MP to become director of London's V&A museum.

Losing the seat, which Labour has held since 1950 when it had a vote share of 66%, would be a bitter blow to Mr Corbyn.

The seat was one of Labour's safest 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.

Labour will choose a candidate for the constituency on January 25.

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

Mr Corbyn will travel to Cumbria on Saturday to visit a hospital and speak at a rally for the NHS.

Labour has selected former hospital doctor Gillian Troughton to be its standard bearer in Copeland.

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

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 Fiona Mills, a pro-nuclear power candidate who works in the NHS, to fight the Copeland by-election.

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