A BEHIND-the-scenes political power battle is underway in Batley & Spen, with ex-Dewsbury MP Shahid Malik bidding to replace Mike Wood as the next Labour MP.
Mr Wood will be nearly 70 by the time of the next General Election in 2015 and is expected to announce his retirement to the Batley & Spen Constituency Labour Party at their next AGM.
Rumours have abounded for some time about whether or not Mr Wood would continue and fight the seat for a 5th time. He was elected in the Labour landslide of 1997, ousting Tory MP Elizabeth Peacock with a majority of over 6,000.
He has told local Labour activists that he will make his decision known next spring. Even with the swing against Labour in 2010 Mr Wood still enjoyed a 4,400 vote majority, largely due to his support from Muslim voters, whose causes he has been a consistent champion of.
Batley West councillor Shabir Pandor has been lobbying hard with party supporters and activists, making no secret of his own ambitions to contest the seat as and when Mr Wood steps down.
With Labour ahead in the polls and the growing Muslim vote, Batley & Spen is widely considered a safe seat.
However Shahid Malik has emerged as a serious threat to Kirklees councillor Pandor’s ambition, since his ambitions to stand again in Dewsbury and Mirfield were thwarted by the national Labour party insisting on an all-woman shortlist.
It is thought that would not be the case in Batley & Spen.
Malik, who was briefly a junior minister before being one of the first MPs disgraced in the expenses scandal, has been busy meeting key members of the Muslim community in Batley and Heckmondwike.
He has also been reported as pursuing possible nominations in other northern constituencies, including former Home Secretary Jack Straw’s Blackburn seat if he stands down.
In addition, Kirklees Council leader Mehboob Khan who is himself keen to find a Westminster seat, has noticeably been scheduling more ‘PR’ visits to the district.
A source close to the Labour party said Mr Wood is keeping his cards very close to his chest.
“Mike was asked outright what his intentions were by local party members, because people fancying the job were blatantly saying he’d decided to step down.
“He told us that he would give us his decision at the next AGM which is in the spring, but I don’t believe anyone knows quite what he’s thinking.
“Pandor and Malik have been busy beavering away, lobbying the people they think will be critical to the decision-making.”
The Labour member added: “The thing is, Mike is really proud of the hard work he’s done on the ground in Batley and Spen. He really is driven. And if he thought that Malik, Pandor or Mehboob Khan were likely to succeed him, I reckon he’d carry on as MP until he dropped.”
A potential outsider who could enter the political arena would be Aziz Daji, the chairman of the Indian Muslim Welfare Society, based at the Al Hikmah Centre in Track Road.
Mr Daji has experience of militarising the Muslim community, organising a 5,000 name petition in March to protest at the way Coroners were causing “unnecessary obstacles and delays” to Muslim burials.
Mr Daji represented the views of both local Muslims and their GPs who he said were concerned about the “excessive number” of post-mortem examinations ordered by Coroner Peter Straker.
Mr Wood’s office declined to comment to The Press.