What dangers await Labour in Manchester Gorton?

The seat should be super-safe, but some have doubts


Amid the horrific events of the past few days in Westminster, it’s hard to remember the parliamentary by-election underway in Manchester Gorton, following the death of Gerald Kaufman.

Following the selection of North West MEP, Afzal Khan as Labour’s candidate and George Galloway’s decision to stand, the race looks set to hot up.

On paper, this should be an uber-safe seat for Labour, considering that Kaufman secured a 24,000 vote majority in 2015.

But as we know, majorities don’t really count for much these days. Scottish Labour’s performance in the General Election is proof that what can seem like the most solid majority can melt away.

Likewise, just last year, the Liberal Democrats victory in Richmond Park saw them overturn an over 23,000 majority secured by the Conservatives in 2015.

But it’s not just history that warns Labour against complacency.

Since 29 per cent of the constituency’s population is of Asian, mostly Pakistani, background, Labour should think hard about how to handle George Galloway, who famously in 2012 took Bradford West in a by-election by targeting the Muslim community alienated with action in Afghanistan and Iraq. Galloway has already said that he will to run to further his efforts to see Tony Blair tried for ‘crimes against humanity and lying to the British Parliament and people’.

Then there are the Lib Dems, who have found their mojo by establishing themselves firmly as the pro-EU party. It worked in Richmond Park, where some 70 per cent of those who voted opted to remain in the EU in last year’s referendum.

In the City of Manchester, just over 60 per cent of voters opted to remain in the EU. While Labour’s selection of an MEP as its candidate should help in this regard, the question is whether it would be enough to overcome Jeremy Corbyn’s clear reluctance to espouse a pro-European message.

It should be remembered also that the until 2015, the Lib Dems held the nearby seat of Manchester Withington, and the party is clearly in buoyant mood. Tim Farron has declared  that George Galloway’s decision to run boosts his party’s prospects in the election as a result of a potential split in the Labour vote.

Labour’s candidate also has the daunting prospect of having to bring the party machine wholeheartedly behind him, having been a spanner in the works of the Corbynite plans to see Momentum activists selected for such seats. As Paul Waugh recently wrote in a report on Labour’s candidate selection battle:

“HuffPost UK has…been told that the Leader’s office and its allies have made a series of missteps over the affair, ranging from under-estimating the black and minority ethnic nature of the Manchester constituency to inexperience in knowing party mechanics.”

So is a surprise on the cards? Perhaps Stephen Bush at the New Statesman has summed it up best by concluding that while ‘highlight unlikely’, a Labour party selection battle that ‘irritates the local party or provokes serious local in-fighting’ raises the prospect of a Lib Dem surprise. ‘But it’s about as likely as the United States men landing on Mars any time soon – plausible, but far-fetched.’

Ed Jacobs is a contributing editor at Left Foot Forward

See: George Galloway’s colonial politics deserve a crushing defeat in Manchester Gorton

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