If Imran Hussain wins, nobody will notice. If I win, everybody will notice. The whole nation will be talking about it.
George Galloway has already fulfilled the first of his election pledges. At the hustings last week, and in the plethora of videos on YouTube of him campaigning around the city, he promised to put Bradford on the map.
Well people have certainly been talking. A lot’s been written, and a lot of claims have been made. Most of them are false. This election was not about Iraq or Afghanistan (although they were undoubtedly a factor). It was not about Palestine (although that was a factor too). It was not about Muslims, although people of all backgrounds who feel underrepresented and unheard certainly turned out in droves to give
Gorgeous George their backing. It wasn’t even about Ed Miliband. The budget could well be a factor in Tory voters staying at home, but Harriet Harman’s claim that this shouldn’t be interpreted as a national precedent is not unreasonable.
Bradford West is a fairly safe Labour seat. It was on the Tory target list in 2010, but pretty low down. The swing to the Tories nationally should have seen it fall, but Marsha Singh actually increased his majority by a couple of percentage points. To anyone who was around the constituency in the last week though, the Galloway victory was really not that shocking.
With the exception of one particularly nasty specimen viewable at Lib Dem Voice, the Respect literature said more and was more locally focused than anyone else’s. It was positive about Bradford, whilst also promising change. Galloway quickly picked up on issues that matter to local people, like the Westfield and Odeon sites, while simultaneously making a virtue of being from outside of town. Compare that against Labour’s Imran Hussain, who’s speeches said literally nothing, and who’s leaflets appeared to say, “vote for me because I’m from round here, and you know my parents.”
Galloway’s assertion that a history in local politics should be a disqualification, not a qualification, for the role was one that rung true in the minds of many Bradfordians. At today’s victory rally he attributed his success to a desire to vote against the “rotten, incompetent and corrupt” council, vowing to do to Ian Greenwood what he “did to the US senate.” As local Labour activist Sean Dolat observed, that’s a perception held by many, and not just of the council as a whole, but of the local Labour Party specifically. The Guardian made some note of the so-called Bradree clan politics system, but (unproven) rumours abound of everything up to full on ballot fraud.
Ultimately, the presence of Respect changed the Bradford West campaign from a coronation into an election. The extra drama his presence bought to things made it all much more fun. For many, the theatricality alone will have made it all worthwhile, (he was cruising round town shouting from the top of a green, old style, open top bus!) but most excitingly, for a couple of short weeks, Bradford West became a democracy again. For the first time in my life, I got the opportunity to cast a vote that actually made a difference. Most people in this country never get that chance.
The reason Galloway was able to win was that he was able to convince people that he could. Suddenly my home constituency became a marginal. It was a victory of celebrity over allegiance to bankrupt party institutions. That’s what bought him home with victories just as large in white wards as in asian ones, and what gave him universal appeal. Sometimes the promise of change is enough.
So is it the start of the revolution? No. Is there a wider trend of people rejecting mainstream politics? Yes. But the next election’s only three years away, and the constituency Respect will have to fight then will be very different to the one that exists now. In the meantime, I can’t think of many people with the star power to pull off the rapid shift in public opinion described by Sean and by Nasser Butt in the Lib Dem Voice piece. Perhaps Nigel Farage. Now there’s something to look forward to.