Labour’s candidate for Manchester Gorton, Afzal Khan, has accused his opponent, ex-MP George Galloway, of political opportunism, and has questioned his qualification to represent the people of the city after this week’s general election.
Speaking exclusively to MM about his campaign and the issues at stake within Manchester and beyond, Mr. Khan passionately laid out why he felt that voters should, and would, choose him over the former Labour and Respect politician.
“It’s very simple. I haven’t just come here for a campaign. I have been here 40 years, serving this city, as a councillor, as a Lord Mayor, as an MEP. I love this city, I care for this city. I haven’t just come here for the opportunity – I have the fortune of being a part of this community,” he said.
“Why is it that George keeps choosing different parts of the country to run in – Scotland, London, Bradford, and now Manchester? Why can’t he settle? What is he missing if he’s that good?
“I think the people of Manchester will see through this – they will have confidence in the Labour Party and in me with my excellent track record. I am confident that we will have a Labour MP in Manchester Gorton by Friday.”
Mr. Khan is campaigning in Gorton to fight against what he sees as destructive Tory cuts to the public sector, and was keen to emphasise the personal nature of his opposition.
“I saw a Labour government in action – I was a Councillor. I saw Labour investing and making a difference in people’s lives,” he said.
“I saw ‘Sure Start’ being set up, and it was amazing to see that we could give every child an equal start in life. I was part of the ‘Building Schools for the Future’ programme, where every secondary school in Manchester was brought up to the 21st century.
“I saw police numbers improve, crime come down year after year. I saw hospitals being built, and waiting times fall. These are things that make a real difference to people’s lives.
“It’s almost like… you build something with your hands, and then somebody comes along and wants to dismantle that house. That’s how I feel about these cuts, and that’s why I’m so passionate about tackling them head on.”
Describing himself as a ‘democrat’, Mr. Khan claimed that, if the polls are to be believed and the Prime Minister increases her majority on Thursday, whilst Labour wins in Gorton, he would work passionately to secure a fair deal for his constituents, both against further cuts and with regard to the upcoming political headache of Brexit negotiations.
Mr. Khan is currently a member of the European Parliament for North West England, and until recently was vice-chair of the Security and Defence sub-committees. He argues that his experience walking the halls of Brussels provides him with a vital understanding of the complexity of the Brexit process, something which, he argues, is largely lacking in UK politics.
“This decision is big. It’s going to have huge implication for many generations, so it’s absolutely vital that we get this right,” he explained.
“I feel the time that I have spent working with the different institutions of the European Parliament, as well as continuing to develop the many networks along the way, has been hugely useful to help me understand what this process will really involve.
“I think it will be a great asset for the people of Manchester to have someone in Parliament, at such a critical time, who actually has a good grip on the subject.
“I feel that’s the role I can play, especially when there’s even a gap of understanding between MPs concerning the perception and reality of the European Union.”
He brushed off accusations made by the Greens and the Liberal Democrats during this campaign that Jeremy Corbyn offered Theresa May a blank cheque by providing no opposition to the government’s Brexit bill, passed in the Commons earlier this year.
“I don’t accept that accusation after all,” he asserted.
“I think it’s very close to lying in fact. The Labour Party hasn’t given any blank cheques to anyone, we are committed to fighting for a fair deal in this.”
“The triggering of Article 50 is a process. I think it would have been wholly wrong for the Labour Party to stop that, when there has been a democratic decision, whatever we may think about it – and I certainly don’t like it – I’m a staunch Remainer.”
“If I was a MP back in February, I would have voted to trigger Article 50 because I think it’s the right thing to do.”
Despite not being Momentum’s first choice for candidate to succeed the late Sir Gerald Kauffman, Mr. Khan spoke highly of Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and his electoral campaign – one that has been perceived as somewhat unexpectedly successful by the pundits. He did, however, continue to urge caution over any predictions of the final result.
“We all need to keep doing more. We need to find every bit of energy in our body to go out and campaign. I think Jeremy’s campaign has been good. Plus, it’s pretty impressive that he has made the Labour party the biggest political movement in Europe,” he noted.
“We want to make a difference for Britain, and we want to make Britain fairer. I don’t feel comfortable living in a country that sees one of its largest cities, Manchester, experience a ten-fold increase in homelessness. Every week more food banks are being opened.
“We are the sixth richest country in the world. Something’s not right. There’s no shortage of wealth here, but what there is a shortage of is fair distribution.”
When asked if he found the prospect of following in the considerable footsteps of legendary Gorton MP Sir Gerald Kauffman to be daunting, Mr. Khan offered a warm smile.
“I had the honour and the privilege of working with Sir Gerald for 20 years. I’m a great admirer of his style, and the way in which he worked. I applaud the efforts he went to in order to reach out to the richly diverse community that we have here in Manchester Gorton,” he said.
“I am proud of the fact that he and I stood up for a number of big causes close to both of our hearts, such as Kashmir and Palestine, and I’ll be proud to carry on his legacy. They are big shoes to fill, but all I can say is, I’m going to give it 110%!”