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14th February 2023

“We can have a better Britain, a better world”: Under the Spotlight with Afzal Khan

Representing so many students in his constituency, Afzal Khan MP gave The Mancunion his insights into some of Manchester’s biggest issues
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“We can have a better Britain, a better world”: Under the Spotlight with Afzal Khan
Photo: @ Fuse TV

If you’re a student at the University of Manchester, the chances are that Afzal Khan is your local MP. With a constituency covering Fallowfield, Levenshulme, and parts of Rusholme, Afzal Khan has been serving the people of Manchester in one of the safest seats in the country. Recently, The Mancunion sat down with him to discuss the cost of living crisis, trans rights in the UK, strikes and protests, and much more.

As the cost of living crisis worsens, seemingly with no end in sight, I started by asking him what should be done to help students specifically, as neither Labour nor the Conservatives have put forward a plan for them. He didn’t have a direct answer to this and rather posited that the financial struggles students are facing derive from “a lot more” than this current crisis.

“We had Brexit, now that itself was a big one for young people. [Before] you could go anywhere in the 28 countries, not just enjoy yourself, explore it, but you could also work and study there.”

He was also quick to blame tuition fees as a reason for student struggles, arguing it’s ridiculous to charge for university education because “it increases your prospects of a better living [and a] better wage. Ultimately, the society benefits, so it’s a win-win”.

I asked for Khan’s thoughts on Suella Braverman’s recent suggestion that the government should look into reducing international students at UK universities, claiming they’re bringing too many dependants with them. Visibly disgusted by the notion, he said “[It’s] a stupid idea what she’s talking about […] these students coming from overseas are usually the cream of that society … so, getting them to come here, to mix with all our students, to benefit one another, you are enriching the student life.”

He highlighted the importance of the international connections foreign students create and how that helps the UK economy, adding we “need those connections for us to have a strong economy [and a] prosperous Britain”. In a scathing closing remark on the subject, Khan expressed his anger and disappointment with “this narrow-minded backward thinking Tory Party” who are “trying to satisfy their own supporters who don’t have a much wider vision of the world.”

Photo: @ Fuse TV

With strikes causing significant disruption this semester, I asked Khan to advise students who may feel frustrated with their studies being interrupted.

“It’s a difficult one,” he started. “Student life is a limited life in the sense that the time you spend, and you are here for a number of purposes, should be fulfilled. One of those is, of course, the educational aspect of it.” He explained, however, that he believes workers should “have a right to protect their job, protect the conditions of that job, and to protect their wages.”

In support of a resolution for the benefit of both the workers and the students, he argued: “The responsibility then comes on the universities, and they need to make sure that there is a meaningful discussion taking place, trying to resolve this so that we don’t end up with years and years of this disturbance … and the government also needs to make sure that there’s sufficient funding available for universities so that we can have smooth running.”

“Wherever I see any form of bigotry, discrimination, hate, I will challenge that, and I’ve done that all my life.”

Moving from individual strikes to general protests, I asked Khan for his thoughts on how protests should be policed, given the dramatic rise in police powers regarding protests and his previous job as a police officer. Breaking his response into three parts, he first reaffirmed his support for the police. “I believe that the idea of British policing is pretty good, and that idea is [coming] from within your own community [and] serving your own community … I think that is brilliant.”

“The second element is that you could have individual bad police officers abuse the power, I’ve seen this.” He supported the strengthening of disciplinary processes and checks on power “to make sure those bad apples are weeded out as quickly as possible and dealt with, so they don’t give a bad name to the whole force.”

Closing his third point with another jab at the government, he argued for checks on power and expressed that “the government needs to be clear that you don’t use police as a tool for your ideas.”

Discussing wider social issues, Khan supports recategorising misogyny as a hate crime. “I’m not necessarily an expert in this area”, he admitted, “but for me, there’s a very simple broad issue, and that broad issue is this: every individual in society, every human being is special and is unique, and we need a society where the thread of fairness goes through it all.”

The MP went on to state, “Wherever I see any form of bigotry, discrimination, hate, I will challenge that, and I’ve done that all my life.”

In a refreshingly honest response compared to what we’ve come to expect of politicians, Khan explained that “there are many people who are experts in this area who can define this much better than I can and refine it in a way that it actually balances things out fairly.”

“We are seeing food banks running out of food. How is that acceptable?”

Khan built upon this commitment to fairness when I asked him what could be done to improve student safety at night. “As a society [we] need to be educated on this idea of fairness, equality, and I think that we can all do [this] at home with our friends, anywhere you can see it, challenge it.”

He also accepted that societal institutions need to act. “Community organizations [need to] play their part, the city council play their part, police their part, and collectively work together.”

I could see for myself that Khan’s commitment to fairness is real and a value he holds deeply. He believes that “[by] working together collectively, like this, I think we can have a better Britain, a better world.”

Mr Khan confirmed to me that he will be standing in the next election, focusing on alleviating poverty and improving the city after continuous Tory cuts. “Poverty is the biggest evil”, Khan emphasised. “We are seeing food banks running out of food. How is that acceptable? … [Britain] is one of the richest countries in the world, there’s something fundamentally wrong [with] this idea of fairness in society.”

Photo: @ Fuse TV

The interview felt tense when we discussed Labour’s abstention on section 35 (of the Scotland Act) order, which blocked legislation passed by the Scottish Parliament allowing 16 and 17-year-olds the right to gender self-identification. Khan defended Labour’s actions, saying: “It wasn’t necessarily the subject matter why we abstained. The real issue, the way it was framed, that debate, was to do with the use of this section 35 order.”

A section 35 order can be issued by the UK government to override bills passed by the Scottish Parliament by being granted royal assent. This was the first time it has ever happened. However, he quickly criticised the government for once again failing to tackle transgender inequality in an attempt to stoke the self-fabricated culture wars.

Whilst giving a compelling reason for Labour’s abstention, I pressed him further on whether he supports self-identification for this age group. “I’m looking forward for this debate to be brought to Parliament,” he said. “My positioning on matters like this is always I wait until the debate is there, I then follow the whole debate, I read around the whole debate, I listen to the experts, and then I make my mind up at that time.”

Whilst he still did not give a direct answer he did show soft support for the idea. “If you can have a 16-year-old in Scotland get married, if you can have a 16-year-old join the army, and if a 16-year-old can work and pay taxes […] then we need to look at this.”

From this interview, it’s clear that Afzal Khan puts fairness and equality at the centre of his politics. It was strangely refreshing to see a politician admit to not knowing everything and also being willing to become informed on issues rather than just tow the party line. Whether Labour has the ambition to bring the better Britain Khan is hoping for is yet to be seen, but it’s safe to say he thinks they do.


Click here to watch the full interview with Afzal Khan on Fuse TV‘s YouTube channel and here for more episodes of Under the Spotlight.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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