George Galloway has confirmed he will stand in the Manchester Gorton byelection in an attempt to benefit from a divided local Labour party and re-enter parliament.
Galloway, 62, who has represented constituencies in London, Bradford and Glasgow during a political career spanning more than 40 years, said the “all-Asian shortlist” selected by Labour was the latest in a long line of insults delivered by mainstream parties to local communities”.
The constituency’s population is 29% of Asian background, most of Pakistani origin.
Labour said Galloway’s decision to stand as an independent was “entirely self-serving and offers nothing to the local community”.
Lisa Nandy, the MP coordinating Labour’s campaign, said constituents in the seat left vacant after the death of Sir Gerald Kaufman last month, “deserve better than a man who has described the sexual assault of women as ‘bad sexual etiquette’”.
Tim Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, said: “George Galloway is a divisive, hard left campaigner of the old school and an ardent supporter of Brexit. There will be little support for his brand of politics in Manchester Gorton, which is a diverse and tolerant place and voted 62% to remain in the EU.
“His decision to enter the race is yet another consequence of the chronic splits and weak leadership in the Labour party. People in Manchester want change, they deserve better than a failed politician and a failing Labour party.”
Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green Party, said: “George Galloway is a burnt out Brexiteer who offers nothing but an overinflated ego to the people of Manchester Gorton.”
Gorton’s constituency Labour party (CLP) is well known in Manchester for its infighting, which intensified as Kaufman’s health worsened and members jostled for position to take over.
Last year the CLP was suspended from 12 July until 18 October while Labour’s compliance unit investigated allegations of vote rigging, bullying and intimidation directed at local male party members. The local party can still not elect its own officers without scrutiny from the regional party and external observers.
Some members called police to allege they had been threatened. No charges were ever brought but officers “gave security advice to individuals”, a Greater Manchester police spokesman told the Guardian.
Numerous complaints were made by local members shortly after Kaufman made his final appearances in parliament last May before falling ill.
On Monday night, Labour released a shortlist of five candidates hoping to be selected to fight the byelection, which is expected to run on 4 May alongside the first mayoral elections in Greater Manchester.
All five candidates are of south Asian background, and four are local councillors: Amina Lone, who contested Morecambe and Lunesdale for Labour in the 2015 general election; Luthfur Rahman, chair of CLP; social worker Yasmine Dar; and solicitor Nasrin Ali. The fifth is the north-west MEP Afzal Khan.
One local councillor said supporters of various candidates were already trying to exploit ethnic divisions in order to influence the selection meeting on Wednesday night. Rahman is of Bangladeshi origin, the three women are Kashmiri and Khan is Pakistani.
Two candidates known to be close to Jeremy Corbyn and the Momentum group – activist Sam Wheeler and local councillor Julie Reid – failed to make the shortlist drawn up by a selection panel of Labour’s national executive committee, causing complaints from the left wing of the party.
In a statement released on Tuesday to the website Westmonster, co-founded by the Ukip donor Arron Banks, Galloway acknowledged that he did not have ties to Gorton.
“It’s true I’m not local, but then neither was Sir Matt Busby. Neither was Sir Alex Ferguson nor Pep Guardiola nor José Mourinho. Like them I want to work for you, for Gorton, for Manchester,” he wrote.
“I am, like Sir Matt, a Scot of Irish background. There are plenty of us around Manchester. My 40-year relationship with Pakistan and Bangladesh, my 40 years with the Arabs, mean I can speak the language. I can talk the talk but I also walk the walk.
“If I were to win here it would be the mother of all byelection victories for the hardworking people of Gorton, who would never be forgotten again.
“If I don’t, then the alternative will be a career politician, with no change and no development for Gorton. It will remain the same: [one of the] most deprived 10% of constituencies in our country.”