Now the dust has settled and Labour has named their candidate, Afzal Khan MEP, who is going to win Manchester Gorton?
Labour is going to win, probably with a reduced majority, but still by quite some distance. Here is why.
The Manchester Evening News’s Chief Political Reporter, Jennifer Williams, was busy tweeting on Sunday that there have been negative stories from the campaign trail. She said, “Unhappy anecdotes floating back from the Lab campaign trail in Gorton. There are far too many undecideds, according to 3 different sources”. In another tweet she said, “Brexit a 'massive issue' according to one. In white working class areas people 'not voting or not answering the door' says another”.
I’ve worked on over a dozen by-elections for the Labour Party including being Labour Leader Ed Miliband’s representative at 2 of them. I also founded a company that spoke to millions of voters on the telephone and signed up 1 in 4 of all people who voted in the 2015 Labour Leadership election. I was also the Labour Party Organiser in Withington in 2010 where we achieved the smallest swing away from Labour against the Lib Dems in the UK.
So I have the credentials to be very sceptical to Williams’s tweets. This is not meant as a criticism of her and her conclusions are correct, but she doesn’t have the campaign knowledge to filter the steaming pile of nonsense she is being briefed.
First of all at this stage in a by-election many Labour voters say they are undecided. If you ask them whom they voted for last time they say Labour. If you probe them some more you find out they are going to vote Labour. It’s normal for there to be a high number of undecided voters at this stage in a by election. A lot of people instinctively say undecided because they either have only just heard about the by-election or have little awareness of it. They also don’t want their vote to be assumed or won’t vote without mobilisation. In a by-election there is much more activity than in a normal election because of the amount activists that concentrate on a seat. It’s not unusual for a voter to receive over 5 visits just from the Labour Party alone. I’ve been involved in some by-elections where there were so many activists we were literally following canvassing teams, knocking their round just minutes after they had.
I asked a number of local activists what they thought of Williams’s tweets with one saying, “We are getting a really good response”. I understand based on positive canvassing returns the Labour Party is running the by-election with a skeleton staff. Others were privately very dismissive pointing the figure at disgruntled local activists.
Second of all I have no doubt that people are telling Williams this. She is a very good journalist. But there is a nasty element in Manchester Gorton that surrounds supporters of Rabnawaz Akbar intent on causing trouble. As someone said to me today, “the abuse from people like Karen Broady has been going on for years”. Several Manchester Councillor’s have privately told me they have been targeted by Broady. Broady has a national reputation for causing trouble with a senior Momentum figure telling me, “she’s been throwing grenades for years”. They are keen to get going the narrative that Rabnawaz would have been a better candidate. See below tweet as example from one of his supporters.
@JenWilliamsMEN Yes. Some real anger at the exclusion of one really viable candidate from local residents who aren't party members.— Jill Hayward (@frdragonspouse) March 26, 2017
Third, the seat has a history of being solidly Labour. In 2010, the height of Lib Dem popularity, Sir Gerald Kaufman had a majority of over 6,000. Sure some of this could be put down to Sir Gerald but the seat is different to Withington where the Lib Dems were particularly successful. Labour will likely follow the national trend here and lose some votes to the Lib Dems over Brexit. But that’s still not enough to overcome the fact that the seat has an ingrained Labour bias.
Fourth, will Galloway be able to get anywhere within the Asian community? He is certainly trying with everything he has. He is using his links to Yasser Arafat and Gerald Kaufman shamelessly. But this is very different to other seats he has fought. Afzal Khan is highly respected in the community and has unusually high name recognition. He is also a passionate supporter of rights for Palestinians. It’s unlikely Galloway will overcome this. If he does it will certainly prove that Galloway is the great political survivor.
Labour could lose this seat. Arsenal could also win the Premier League. Donald Trump might turn out to secretly love immigration. Nigel Farage might actually one day stop shouting about how it’s all the fault of muslims.
All these things are possible, but highly unlikely. So if Labour does lose this it will be some shock.
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