This interview contains references to the recently convicted sex trafficking gangs in Rochdale.
At the last general election the Conservatives in Rochdale secured just over half the number of votes cast for the Liberal Democrats (8,305 to 15,810) and were even further behind the victor – Labour’s Simon Danczuk – who won 16,699 votes. So why is Azi Ahmed standing as the Conservative candidate for Rochdale this time round? What is she hoping to achieve, and does she think she has a realistic chance of winning in May?
When I suggest over the phone that the Conservatives don’t stand a chance in the seat in 2015, Azi responds that “there are going to be changes in Rochdale” after the recent revelations of scandals in the city, most notably the recent conviction of sex trafficking gangs.
“Problems have been caused by people not saying what is wrong,” Azi comments, referring to suggestions that relevant social services and town council officials did not respond to initial complaints because of the perpetrators’ Muslim faith. “People were worried about being labelled a racist,” Azi remarks, which she believes lead to concerns being “swept under the carpet.”
In the aftermath of these scandals, Azi is keen for the town’s MP to be “a person who will represent the voice of women,” as well as young people, and “not be afraid of saying what is wrong.” She is of Pakistani origin and commented that she wanted to speak to members of the Pakistani community in the town and “explain to people what it means to be British.”
Azi is a former British army reservist, and so it was natural enough that the conversation progressed from Rochdale to international affairs. Our interview took place the week after the announcement that the publication of the findings of the Chilcot Inquiry would be postponed until after the general election. “Disappointing” summed up Azi’s feelings towards that decision, describing the war in Iraq as one which “a lot of the public were against… We want answers and don’t want this to drag on until after the election.”
“The British army does a lot of good around the world – it does not just fight wars,” Azi says. But if the war in Iraq was not one Azi could support, when does she think intervention is justifiable? Her approach is one of vigilance: “We suffer the repercussions of military conflict, so we have to be cautious.” She argues the main strategic objective the Government should have when deciding whether intervention is justifiable is whether military force can be used to “stabilise conflict areas.”
In concluding my questions, I asked Azi if she’s ready for the election campaign ahead. Appropriately enough for a former reservist, she replies, “I’m up for giving it my best shot!”