Creating a voice for the community

Luthfur Rahman, Maryam Khan and Gerald KaufmanManchester councillor talks to Sylhet Times about his impressive election results and how plans to take the community forward

MANCHESTER’S newest Labour recruit Councillor Luthfur Rahman couldn’t have asked for a better start.

Whilst Labour received an onslaught throughout the UK, in Manchester they were able to keep overall control of the council and with Luthfur’s results, his political colleagues will surely be impressed after winning his seat in Longsight with the highest swing in Manchester.

Said Luthfur, aged 31: “A lot of people didn’t think I could do it but hard work paid off… It was a nerve-racking evening but as the votes came in everybody was getting more and more excited.

“It was a great feeling to have been elected.I won with the highest majority and I couldn’t have asked for a better start. We managed to keep the Conservative and Lib Dem votes down where as they were going up everywhere else. All I could do that night was try my best and I was very pleased with the results. I couldn’t thank the team around me enough for helping me to get where I am.”

Luthfur the only Bangladeshi Labour councillor in the city, is now tasked with representing an area with more than 40 different nationalities including Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Iraqis, Kurd, Eastern Europeans and Afro Caribbean’s.

It also an area which has most recently been in the media for its own share of problems including gun crime, gang related violence and drug problems.

Bur despite its problems, Luthfur is looking forward to the challenges that lay ahead.

He said: “My aim is to make a difference and that’s the main reason I am here.

“I grew up in this area, my home is in the heart of Longsight so I can see the problems which are affecting the area from first hand experience.

“I want to give people in the area a voice and this is why I came into politics.

“Whilst growing up in Longsight as a teenager, there use to be so many different problems especially as a teenager. But I never knew whom I could turn to for help. We had no voice and if there was a so-called community leader, he couldn’t speak English and that instantly created a barrier for me and my friends.

“I don’t want that barrier to exist with the youth in Longsight today. I want them to be able to come to me if they have concerns and not sit silently like I did when I was growing up.

“This is also one of the most diverse wards in the city and I look forward to working with all the communities here.”

The son of a local businessman, Surabur Rahman, Luthfur says he was influenced into politics by two men, his father and former PM Tony Blair.

“In 1997 when Blair was elected everybody was impressed with the new young Prime Minister and so was I,” he said.

“I use to listen to his speeches in the early days and thought about how well he captured his listeners. A lot of people respected him and put their trust into him to take the country forward. “I was really impressed with his leadership and this is what motivated me to join Labour.

“But my biggest influence in my life has been my father.

“He has always been quite prominent with the Bangladeshi community in Manchester. He is heavily involved with the local Shahjalal mosque and was a former vice chair of the mosque. He also sits on the committee of the Greater Manchester Bangladeshi Association and I’ve seen him involved with local community work and that always impressed me.

“He always managed to fit time with family, his work and the community and it inspired me to become involved as well.”

His father was also a huge support for him during months of campaigning and Luthfur laughs, his father probably worked harder.

“There were days when I was tired and I just wanted to go home, my dad was still out knocking on people’s doors. He worked tirelessly,” said Luthfur.

“He said to me he’ll get people out to vote and that’s exactly what he did. He has tremendous amount of energy and on the night of election he was so happy he cried.

“He had a huge party of people with him and they all went back to my parent’s home to celebrate.”

But it wasn’t an easy campaign to win.

Prior to being selected to represent the ward, there were in total 13 applicants who applied to the regional Labour panel to be considered as candidates.

But Luthfur having already been involved with the Labour Party for over five years, campaigning in by-elections and also supporting Councillor Maryam Khan in 2006 he had already shown a determination and willingness to works towards the betterment of the local community.

“I had been doing a lot of work behind the scenes and I enjoyed being politically active. I felt I was able to give something back to the community and I was chosen as a candidate for my work that I was doing. It was a popular ward with a lot of interest from many people and I was eventually selected.

“I didn’t tell my family I had gone for it but when they found out they were extremely pleased.

“I am also happy that both the Bangladeshi and Pakistani community came out to support me and campaigned for me as well. My colleague Councillor Maryam Khan was also a huge help and support.”

Luthfur is now working on concentrating on current problems in Longsight, gun crime and drugs.

He believes a lack of youth facilities and not enough positive role models is contributing towards the rise of young people turning to a life of crime and feels families play a much more active role to help.

He said: “The fact is, there is not enough facilities in this area. It’s a huge ward with a big community made up of young people who need things to do when they are not in school to stop them from being lured into a life of crime.

“They don’t see no alternatives when they are hanging out in the streets and young people are easy targets for criminals. As a community I feel we can do much more to help them. I would like to see the local mosques take a more active role in helping youngsters and families need to do more to see where there children are when they are not at school or at home.

“My dad was very strict when I was growing up, I had to tell him where I was and what time I was coming home. We were disciplined well at home that I didn’t even think about taking drugs for example when I know other people who did.

“He also took a strong interest in my education and pushed us forward and that really helped me and I think it will help other youngsters if their families took a lot more interest in what they did at school and out of school.”

As for now Luthfur says there’s no time to relax attending meeting after meeting and still getting acquainted with people in his ward.

“I didn’t work this hard to sit in my office all day. I came here to help make this community a better place for everybody and this is what I plan to do,” he laughs.