Two men and two women were announced yesterday as the contenders for Manchester Central shortlist. The particulars of Lucy Powell, Rosa Battle, Mike Amesbury and Patrick Vernon have been detailed elsewhere, but Uncut has heard whispers from unhappy local members interested in a missing name: Mohammed Afzal Khan.
The first Asian Lord Mayor of Manchester and a local councillor since 2000, Khan has built up a formidable base of local support. His desire for a parliamentary seat is longstanding but Khan is rapidly becoming Labour’s nearly man of the north.
Initially he was a front runner for Oldham East and Saddleworth following Phil Woolas’s departure, but in a surprise move did not even make the short list, despite being a partner in a law firm in Oldham and having strong local backing.
Then there was the Labour selection for Manchester’s police and crime commissioner (PCC). As a leading local Labour politician, a senior lawyer and a former police constable, Khan was interested and this should have been his break-through.
Until that is Tony Lloyd indicated that he would be prepared to relinquish his ultra-safe seat to become Labour’s PCC candidate in November’s election. At this point the political calculus changed and the central machine whirred into action.
A prize such as Manchester Central is rare and with Ed Miliband’s Manchester-based deputy chief of staff, Lucy Powell, looking for a seat, the choreography was clear: Lloyd to PCC and Powell to Central.
But under Labour’s new rules, Lloyd would only vacate his cherished Manchester Central stronghold if he became Labour’s PCC candidate, an outcome that was far from assured if Khan was going to stand against him.
The machine intervened and Khan is said to have agreed not to stand on the understanding that he would be supported by the leadership for the nomination in the soon-to-be vacated seat of Bradford West. Lloyd went on to win the PCC candidacy unopposed.
But Bradford party members weren’t so keen on the deal, and the ensuing revolt threatened to fracture the local party and hand the seat to George Galloway, who at the time was taking local soundings about a run. “Unbelievably, inexcusably almost irretrievably misjudged” was how one Labour insider described the botched operation.
In the face of visceral opposition, party democracy in Bradford was allowed to run its course and a strong local candidate, Imran Hussain, won the selection, leaving Afzal Khan the bridesmaid yet again.
So to the selection for Manchester Central. On paper it should have been the ideal seat for Khan. But with the shortlist released yesterday, his name was nowhere to be seen.
As the schedule of selections in this parliament progresses, Khan’s supporters are becoming restive. They feel their man has paid his dues and deserves his chance in front of the voters.
The university constituency of Manchester Withington, fought by Lucy Powell at the last election, is a future possibility and is a likely Labour gain from the Lib Dems at the next election. Then there is the prospect of Gerald Kaufman standing down in Manchester Gorton, regarded as a near certainty, though Khan may find the popular Mike Amesbury his opponent in either of these seats, if, as expected, Amesbury is unsuccessful in Manchester Central.
Whatever Khan’s next step, one thing is certain, this saga is far from over.