A by-election is to be held in the safe Labour seat of Manchester Gorton, following the death of Gerald Kaufman. The seat was in 2015 held with a 67% share of the vote, making it one of Labour’s safest in the land. In normal times this by-election would be a formality serving only to anoint a new Labour MP, but these are not normal times.
Former Labour and Respect MP, George Galloway, has thrown his iconic hat into the ring to run for the seat. Depending on your particular wing of Labour, this could delight or horrify you in equal measure. Twice before Galloway has unseated Labour MP’s in safe seats, and on at least one of those occasions was congratulated by now Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn.
Although Galloway was expelled from Labour in 2003, he and Corbyn were long time Labour comrades, united in opposition to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and their support for the Palestinians. This puts the Labour leadership in something of a dilemma for who, at least behind closed doors, they would prefer to win this by-election. This is clear particularly in light of the fact Corbyn’s man, Sam Wheeler, either failed to, or some suggest was blocked from securing the candidacy. Instead Labour will be putting up Afzal Khan to contest the seat, who as an MEP is looking for a more secure line of work post-Brexit and the Labour party machine is duly obliging.
When one looks at the demographics in play, it’s apparent the smart money could well be on Galloway at this stage. For one, the seat is 29% Asian, a demographic with which Galloway is fiercely popular, not least due to his long time campaigning on Kashmir, Palestine and Iraq.
Having broken ranks from left wing thought, Galloway campaigned for a Brexit in the 2016 referendum. Commentators are suggesting this puts him at odds with the electorate of Gorton who voted 62% to remain. But that may actually work to his advantage. The Lib Dems will attempt to repeat the success they enjoyed against Zac Goldsmith by operating an overtly anti-Brexit campaign, if they do so in Gorton then reliably they will win the largest share of the remain vote. The Labour candidates voting bloc will transcend that divide and draw on both camps, but mostly remain. This would leave Galloway with the lions share of Brexit voters, and the opportunity to take the seat on a small vote share if he can create a three way split. His only challenge will be turnout. If he can inspire people locally in great enough number to turn up, then he could well take everybody by surprise and become the first MP since Churchill to represent 4 constituencies.
On an entirely speculative level, given that Galloway’s announcement to run was launched from the website of UKIP donor Aaron Banks, and that Galloway is also the only pro Brexit candidate with a chance to win the seat, it’s not too unlikely UKIP will roll over in this by-election. Indeed at the time of writing they’ve set to select a candidate.
It’s hard to quantify which is the worse result for Labour. It could win the seat and elect an adversary, or lose it an elect an ally. In terms of national interest, the Blue Labour Brexiteer is preferable to the metropolitan MEP.
Oh, and if you’re reading this Afzal, you need to get a new tailor: