By Dan Moorhouse
With the General Election now less than 45 days away it is no surprise that the turbulent nature of the selection of Bradford West’s Labour party prospective candidate has aroused much national attention. Having selected Amina Ali, the Party was rocked by her decision to step down as the prospective candidate and the announcement that local woman, Naz Shah, would be her replacement.
Naz Shah is well known. She has worked as an activist and in some well publicised roles in the NHS. She has been outspoken on issues that are incredibly close to her own heart: abuse, inequality, poverty and injustices. In the week following her selection, the national media have pounced on the story. Here is a woman who has had, by any standards, a horrendous set of circumstances to live through as a child. She’s battled back, she’s made something of herself, she is a credit to herself and to her family.
And it is quite right that the national media should applaud the work that Naz has done in relation to women’s rights. She, along with others, has campaigned vigorously for years to right wrongs and to exact change. All highly laudable but not really what an election campaign is about. A seat at Westminster is about more than the life experiences that have shaped a candidates ideals. It is, or ought to be, about political vision, the ability to make change for the good of the constituency and the ability to persuade the electorate as a whole that they are best suited to represent the views of not themselves but of the electors.
Which begs the question, how good a candidate is Naz Shah?
Let’s leave the life story to one side which has little real relevance to being a good MP. It has been so widely publicised in the press that a simple internet search of Shah’s name will provide a multitude of write ups about her background. What though, of the substance? Is she actually any good as a politician?
Naz Shah certainly fits the bill in many respects. Firstly, she is local and has firsthand knowledge of what it is like to live in the constituency. She has been brought up and lived in the area and, as she says herself,
“I know the struggles being faced by families across Bradford West because they are struggles I have had to experience myself too.”
Naz is highly determined. In a local context, she fought a case relating to the ‘Get Connected’ programme in the NHS. This programme was designed to get more Muslim women into leadership positions. As a commissioning manager she became concerned over funding arrangements and became a whistle-blower. Single-handedly and without the support even of her own union representatives she fought a case and won a case against the local government association. Nationally she has worked closely with Southall Black Sisters on issues relating to domestic violence.
Shah also excels at mobilising younger people and women. This is evident in her involvement in arranging a convoy of people to a protest against perceived bias by the BBC in relation to Palestine. A cursory glance at her Facebook public profile demonstrates that she has clearly got the potential to excite and engage a large number of people who may not otherwise have voted. There are numerous followers for her new Public Figure page and the comments from younger and female voters are almost universally supportive and enthusiastic.
However there are issues that Shah will clearly have to overcome. First and foremost she has been imposed from above. The Labour Party chose to determine the new candidate at National Executive level: she is not, and was not at the first vote, the choice of the local Labour party membership. Indeed when the local party first polled their membership on the issue of Prospective candidate, Shah won just 13 votes of 238 cast.
She may also fall victim to biarderi politics. The very people who voted Amina Ali in originally may well now decide that they would rather not support her. And support is an issue. Shah has had to launch a fundraising campaign just seven weeks prior to the campaign. As Bradford West is hardly a ‘marginal’ seat (Galloway has a majority of over ten thousand) it is not a beneficiary of significant funds from Labour HQ.
Of course the usual literature that is distributed by candidates would cover some nationally determined statements along with the candidates views on local issues. This is very much where the jury is out and Naz Shah’s inexperience as a politician may be exploited. Three weeks from being selected to date there have been no statements from Shah about how she would address the issues that she has noted. There are also some early indications that there may be political naivety on her part. As an activist it matters little who you praise, or criticise. As a prospective member of parliament, it does.
It was therefore rather surprising to hear Shah responding to a question at a BME women’s hustings about Education by citing the work of Alyas Karmani over that, for example of Ralph Berry. Karmani is not only a local Councillor but is not a Labour party councillor, he is an Independent who has previously sat on behalf of Shah’s main electoral opponents, The Respect Party. Berry, on the other hand is an example of good work being done by a colleague within the Party. Hardly a politically astute reference.
Similarly there were contradictions in other responses at the hustings. Understandably, she praises the work of the previous Labour Government and cites her own experiences, however if her statements are to be believed, one has to wonder why she supported Mr Galloway, rather than the Labour candidate in the run in to the last parliamentary vote.
The same is true of her stance on Islamaphobia. On the one hand she rightly condemns it, on the other she is disappointed that more funding isn’t in place for the ‘Prevent Strategy’ which local Muslim groups have branded, ‘toxic’.
Shah is clearly determined to do her best for the people of Bradford West and is a rather different kind of candidate to ones that have been put forward in the past. Time and a sizeable Respect party majority are against her, as, perhaps is her own inexperience. Can she overcome the stigma of being second choice, the possible displeasure of those who sought not to have her as candidate and a huge funding issue? Only time will tell.
Here is what the Bradford West constituents think of Naz Shah:
“I know that she is doing that ‘Woman To Woman’ tour and to be honest I do find that a bit sexist that she has jumped on the bandwagon for such a sexist campaign. Do they not want any men to vote for her? I will be voting for her however, because I’d like to see anyone but George Galloway in power. I can’t stand the guy“ Richard Stevens, Pensioner.
“I think Naz is an inspiration to the people of Bradford. She represents a strong independent woman and that is someone that Bradford needs. A lot of people can relate to her struggle and it gives the people of Bradford a role model to look up and show them that things are possible.
With George Galloway doing absolutely nothing for this city, I think she has a good chance of winning. I wish her all the best.” Abdul Latif, 45, Solicitor.
“I think she is an absolute joke. She is using this sob story of hers that has conveniently surfaced to reign in all the votes. Anyone who brings out a sob story isn’t worthy of a vote. Everyone has a sob story in life but we don’t all go advertising it to get what we want. “Adam Powell, 40, Van Driver.
“I think Naz Shah is one of the most inspirational figures in politics right now. I can’t think of anyone more qualified to be a Member of Parliament as this woman. If she wins, Naz will be the first woman Labour MP to represent Bradford West. We need more politicians with passion and drive like hers. George Galloway needs to take note. I really hope she wins because she actually deserves it and she knows more about what Bradford needs.” Claudia Pickles, 38, Admin Officer.
“She isn’t your average politician. It looks like she has been through it all- poverty, abuse, broken family and an arranged marriage. Having heard her story more people will be leaning towards voting for her. She is the definition of an independent woman and Bradford needs someone like her to represent the community. It will be interesting to see what a woman politician from Bradford can do for us. We need more girl power.” Samira Amin, 27, Recruitment Consultant.
“Naz Shah seems like a lady that knows what she’s on about. I think George Galloway should feel threatened by her because she is a woman and if she wins she will be first woman Labour MP in Bradford West. Can she really defeat Galloway who has such a strong following here in Bradford? That is the question. I would like to think she has what it takes. She has a number of strong policies and I really hope that she can deliver them. Bradford have put all their trust in George Galloway and not got much out of it. Hopefully, they will put their trust in someone who is from Bradford, who knows about Bradford and who can change Bradford.” Harpreet Kaur, 23, Unemployed HR Graduate
“I think she is ok and may be able to give Bradford what they want, being from the community. She seems like a strong woman who is able to fight for what she wants and she can do this for Bradford West. And anyone who goes against Galloway has a chance of winning to be fair as I think he has made a lot of false promises which he hasn’t fulfilled and I think he’s all out for himself.” Adam Khan, 30, Youth worker
“I think she’s got passion and she’s an incredibly strong person, and that’s who we need to fight George Galloway. I’m not sure if she has much chance of winning against him as it all depends on the voters. The people who normally vote Labour, they need to get out and vote Labour. Others may vote for Galloway as they have links with him, I hope she gets in.” Mrs. Arnold, 50, ESOL teacher
“I don’t really know much about her but she seems like a strong woman and being a Labour member she has more chances of winning because many people in this area are Labour supporters.” Gul Arif, 60, retired.
“Good for her, I’ve met her a few times and she’s a pleasant lady so I think she’s a good candidate, however I don’t think she has much chances of winning against Galloway as I think he’s got more support from the males in Bradford and politics is very much male dominated in Bradford, it’s about who you know, especially in the Pakistani community.” Sairah Bhatti, 35, full time mother.
“I think it is very good because she’s a female which is good, I think any female who stands as an MP is wonderful and because she’s Asian and knows what the people want. Well I would like to think that she would want because I don’t like Galloway and I think there are a lot of people who would think the same so I think she stands a good chance and I would like to think that she could beat him.” Anne Marie Whitaker, 43, secretary.
“It’s ok because we can’t do any worse with the current politicians; she hasn’t got much chance against Galloway though as he is well spoken and he is well known, he’s a bit like a celebrity.” Imran Hussain, 29, Sky worker.
“I don’t really like Naz Shah as the story that has been presented in the papers is different to the story I’ve heard from before. So if we can’t believe the story that she’s putting out now how can we believe anything she will claim to do for the community, so I won’t be voting for her, even though I don’t particularly like Galloway I would probably vote for him against her. Her chances are very slim to none as he is so popular and her reputation is not great with the community so I doubt she’ll be getting the votes.” Natasha Khan, 19, student
“I think Naz Shah is an inspiration the women of Bradford, she’s gone through so much and she is a good role model to the people of Bradford. However with her chances against Galloway I think they aren’t very much, he is very popular and has a strong following so she has a lot to live up to. Because she’s a second choice not many people know about her and what she may stand for. I will be voting Labour but let’s see if she wins.” Charlotte Pembroke, 32, Sales executive.
“I don’t think she is a great candidate as she has never worked in politics before and I don’t think she will be getting the votes because Bradford West is very much male orientated and I personally don’t think people will vote for her.” James Brenan, 75, retired.
“Having read about her background I think it is absolutely wonderful that she is standing because I thought wow when I read what she went through and what her mother went through. I’m not too sure that she’ll win as Galloway has a huge following and it depends on the voters, but I do wish her good luck and hope she wins.” Haleema Sait, 26, housewife
“She’s got stiff competition going against Galloway but I think good luck to her and let’s see if she is able to beat him.” Mr Andrew Wright, 70, retired
“I think she is trying and she knows the area, the people and the problems. I don’t think she will beat Galloway because of the majority but I wish her the best.” Mrs Wright, 68, Retired.
“I think it is a good idea and we are moving in the right direction, it is overall good for the women who are suffering from issues such as domestic violence as she can act as a voice for Bradford especially the women. Her chances are slim as he is a bit of a powerhouse, very strong a good speaker. He is well known and well renowned and he always seems to be winning the vote in Bradford when it comes to election time.” Mohammed Khan, 27, housing support officer
“I think it is good and it shows that women are getting the chance to speak about things, there has to be a first and I guess she is the first one so she is making a record. Her chances are not very high in our community but she is helping other women so that’s good.” Iqra Majid, 21, student
“I think it is fine but she was appointed too late which has made a big difference as she hasn’t made the same sort of impact se could have made if she had a longer run up. I’m not sure I think her chances are 50/50, but with her interaction with the press I don’t think she has many chances; he is a winner in that respect.” Amy Cartwright, 65, retired.
“I think it is good for her but she has got a lot of competition however I don’t see why she can’t win if she can win over the public.” Shazia Zafar, 29, Sales assistant.
“Politics is not about emotional stories it is about doing things for the people so although she is winning hearts with her life story what is she actually going to do for the people? That’s what I’d like to know. Against Galloway she may have a chance just because she has a strong disliking from people, but equally he has a strong crowd who like him aswel so let’s see.” Andrew Hawthorne, 40, teacher