When Anthony Calvert, perennial Conservative candidate in Wakefield and its environs, had to step down in November 2019 following the emergence of racist, misogynist and just plain nasty tweets from the time he’d been candidate in Morley and Outwood, many wondered which loyal Brexiter would step in.
The seat was marginal, mainly as a result of boundary changes, but also following Mary Creagh’s pro-EU stance in a leave-voting constituency and dislike of Jeremy Corbyn. In an election campaign centred on Get Brexit Done, labour activists feared the worst. Many loyal Mary Creagh supporters were surprised she held on in 2017, so the old “pig-in-a-blue-rosette” joke especially applied.
Calvert’s demise meant there had to be a quick scramble for a candidate. Ahmad Khan’s local connections (his father was a consultant at Pinderfields Hospital where his mother was a nurse, and he attended the fee-paying Silcoates school in the city), as well as impeccably right-wing views of the Adam Smith variety, meant he soon got the nod. When it was announced, it’s fair to say most people in Wakefield had ever heard of him.
Having no connections to the local Conservative party or Wakefield itself since he left to study at the Pushkin Institute in Moscow followed by a War Studies degree at Kings College London, he comes across as a slightly strange figure, unlike the usual Tory MP stereotype. Invariably, local Tories appear to be white, male, well-nourished members of the legal or PR professions. Ahmad Khan has a gaunt, slightly haunted visage, and was described initially as a “counter terrorism expert.” His Wikipedia entry, which he seems to have written himself, talks of work with the UN and with Saatchi and Saatchi although his Linkedin profile has changed several times since he was elected.
It’s little surprise then that his style is somewhat different to his predecessor. Creagh, the former chair of the environmental audit committee, was accessible and well liked, even by constituents who disagreed with her pro-EU stance. Ahmad Khan, by contrast, has been accused of adopting a high-handed approach, failing to respond to emails and being very slow to set up a local office. In person he adopts the bombastic style favoured by Boris Johnson in the Commons, preferring soundbites to policy, trite point-scoring to genuine discourse.
He has also upset some by claiming credit for Wakefield Together (or “my Wakefield Together initiative” according to his website). Proclaiming it, almost two months into lockdown, as his response to the Covid-19 crisis. This came as a shock to those already involved in Wakefield Together, which had been set up in 2015 by, er … Wakefield Council.
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So what of his voting record? One would hardly expect a maverick approach to government support and he has unsurprisingly voted with the government on every division. Most recently, he voted against giving parliament any say or scrutiny on future trade deals in the first reading of the trade bill on 20 July. How this squares with his “the citizen is king” statement on his website is unclear. In addition, he voted against the amendment to the domestic abuse bill on 6 July that would have allowed victims of domestic abuse in the UK on a spousal visa the right to financial and legal support.
He also nodded through the agriculture bill on 13 May, voting down amendments that would have ensured the UK would not agree to any lessening in food hygiene and animal welfare standards – in this instance there were some notable local Tory abstentions and rebellions, but not from Ahmad Khan. On 30 June, he voted against amendments to the immigration bill proposed by Yvette Cooper, which sought to preserve existing arrangements for unaccompanied child refugees to be reunited with close relatives in the UK.
However, his votes supporting the trade bill on 20 July demonstrate the clearest area where his public statements about the importance of the NHS conflict with his actions. One of the main consequences of the trade bill will be to allow foreign companies to bid for the more lucrative (as in, easy and non-urgent) bits of the NHS internal market brought in with Andrew Lansley’s Health and Social Care Act 2012. Ahmad Khan has been keen to stress how important it is to protect the NHS. To quote an article he wrote on 21 May on the Conservative Home website, he said:
“I know in Wakefield, citizens called on Boris Johnson and their Conservative representatives to protect the NHS.”
Yet the version of the bill he voted for actually makes it easier for US Medicare companies to hive off some of the NHS’ tastiest morsels. None of these companies appear to be interested in areas like dementia care and chronic illness. Ahmad Khan’s constituents might bear his actions in mind once the far-reaching consequences become clear in the years to come.