Son of Irish immigrants looks set to take seat for Labour
Mike Kane expected to see off Ukip challenge
Labour leader Ed Miliband with candidate Michael Kane on the Wythenshawe and Sale East byelection campaign trail. Photograph: Gareth Fuller/PA
Mike Kane, Labour’s candidate in the Wythenshawe and Sale East byelection in Manchester, once piped footballer Roy Keane on to the pitch during the latter’s Cobh Rambler days.
By late Friday, if not earlier, Kane, the son of Leitrim and Roscommon immigrants, should be elected to replace former Northern Ireland Office minister Paul Goggins, who died in late December, in the House of Commons.
On Saturday, 100 party canvassers fanned out across the constituency from Labour’s Sale Road headquarters, next door to a cafe that had hosted Coronation Street star David Nielson the day before.
“Major politicians coming are one thing, but Coronation Street stars are the best of all,” chuckled Kane, who spent much of his childhood living just metres from where he is organising his bid to win a place in the Commons.
His father Joseph came from Lismacool, Elphin, outside Roscommon, and his mother, Kathleen McGirl, was born just outside Ballinamore, Co Leitrim. They came separately to Manchester in 1955.
“They met at a dance,” says Kane, as he drinks a mug of black tea. His parents settled in Moss Side/Hulme, before they were moved to Wythenshawe in the 1960s during Manchester’s slum clearances.
Biggest estate in Europe
Back then, Wythenshawe, which lies to the south of Manchester, was the biggest council housing estate in Europe.
“We had a two-bedroomed council flat. I shared a room with my parents until I was 10,” he remembers.
In 1980, the family moved to a house within sight of the cafe – a home they left for six-week summer holidays, fondly recalled, in Leitrim and Roscommon. “The overnight boat from Holyhead, arrival at the North Wall, across to Connolly Station and the train to Boyle, and then three weeks in each place, making hay,” he says.
His teenage years were spent in the now 65-year-old Fianna Pádraig pipe band, set up in 1948 by the first of the Irish emigrants who came to Manchester in the years after the second World War.
Kane is almost certain to be elected on Thursday. However, Labour’s decision to call the byelection so quickly – just six weeks after Mr Goggins’ death – is seen as a reflection of the party’s concern about the UK Independence Party.
The charge is denied, naturally. “We buried our dead and we called the election,” says Kane, who dismisses chatter about Ukip’s rise as idle talk of “the Westminster bubble” that is not reflected on the ground.
Ukip leader Nigel Farage spent three Saturdays in a row in Wythenshawe canvassing for votes, hoping his party could improve on second placings secured in a series of byelections in the last year.
Tellingly, perhaps, Farage was not in the constituency last Saturday, while Ukip’s candidate, John Bickley, bemoaned the influence of postal voting in British byelections