Friday, 13 April 2012

George Galloway's Spectacular Victory in Bradford West

Bradford West by election:
George Galloway's spectacular victory

Dr. Mozammel Haque

Bradford West by-election was held after the long-serving Labour MP, Marsha Singh, announced he was to stand down because of ill health. In this by-election there were candidates for more than six political parties, among them, Jackie Whiteley from the Conservative Party, Imran Hussain from the Labour Party, Jeanette Sunderland from the Liberal Democrat Party, George Galloway from Respect Party. The main contest was between the Conservative and the Labour Party. The results show that George Galloway from the Respect Party swept the elections bagging 18, 341, 55.89% of the votes. Imran Hussain from the Labour Party got 8,201, i.e. 24.99% and Jackie Whiteley from the Conservative Party received 2,746, i.e. 8.37% of the votes.

Bradford West was a safe Labour seat. Labour had held the seat for many decades and dominated for 100 years. Labour had taken the Bradford West for granted because they had won the last three elections at ease. Even in 2010 elections, Labour had held the seat with a majority of 5,763. Patrick Wintour, political editor of the Guardian, analysed recent dramatic events: “At the 2010 general election Labour won the seat with 18,401 votes, or 45.4%, the Conservatives took 12,638 votes, 31.2%, and the Liberal Democrats trailed in third with 4,732 or 11.7%.” (Patrick Wintour, “George Galloway wins Bradford West by-election,” The Guardian, 30 March, 2012)

Results: most sensational victory in British history
George Galloway from the Respect Party swept the Bradford West by-election. He grabbed a “remarkable victory in the Bradford West by-election,” said Patrick Wintour. About this election victory, Galloway said: “By the grace of God, we have won the most sensational victory in British history.”

By any measure, this was an unusual result. Helene Mulholland, reporting in the Guardian, observed, “Labour’s share of the vote was down 20% on its 2010 figure, while the Conservatives dropped by almost 23% and the Liberal Democrats lost their deposit after netting 4.59% of the votes – down 7% on the 2010 general election result. Galloway’s result represented the first by-election win by an independent since 1973 and the first time an opposition party has lost one of its seats since the Romsey by-election in 2000.” (Helene Mulholland, Bradford West by-election result is very bad for Labour, Harriet Harman admits, The Guardian, 30 March, 2012).

Reasons for this result
Naturally, the questions were raised what is the reason for this spectacular victory in the British history for George Galloway? Is it for foreign policy of the Labour party when it declared war in Iraq in 2003 and joined with the United States invasion of Afghanistan after 9/11? Is it correct that the anti-war sentiment is still the deciding factor in this by-election? Is it correct to say that British Muslims remained away from the domestic politics and economy and still excited by the issues related to foreign affairs? Or the other factors beside the foreign affairs influenced the Bradford West by-election?

The results of this by-election clearly show that the British Muslims, though not ignored the issues related to foreign affairs, but fully conversant and familiar with the issues related to their day-to-day lives while participating in local and national debates, particularly in this by-election. Issues related to foreign affairs may be one of the factors that influence the decision of the population of the Bradford West but the Muslims in Bradford demonstrated through their votes, “we are as British as we are Muslim, and we care about our shared future,” as Mehdi Hassan wishes them to be.

Youth unemployment and per capita incomes
Multiple factors can be cited as the reason for this electoral triumph of George Galloway. War in Iraq in 2003 and invasion of Afghanistan after the 9/11 may be one of the factors, but there are other factors which are responsible for this spectacular result. “This is not really about the failed war against the Taliban; it is about the failed war against poverty,” said Larry Eliot, Guardian’s economics editor in his write-up, “Bradford West result was symptom of UK’s brutal north-south divide” (The Guardian, 1 April, 2012) and argued, in Bradford West “youth unemployment and per capita incomes lowest. Youth unemployment in Bradford is double the UK average. The city is the third most affordable place in Britain to buy a home. Incomes per head in inner London are the highest in the European Union; those in Bradford are lower than the average of the UK and the EU, which includes the still extremely poor nations of the old communist bloc.” (Larry Eliot, “Bradford West result was symptom of UK’s brutal north-south divide,” The Guardian, 1 April, 2012) Domestic politics and economy played an important role in this by-election.

Referendum on austerity programme
Another factor is the austerity programme. Three main parties were not connecting with voters. Salma Yaqoob, the Respect Party leader told Today, “We have austerity from the Conservatives, austerity pushed by the Lib Dems and austerity-lite by Labour right now. And what Respect is saying is there is an alternative, it’s possible, it’s achievable, and the people of Bradford have responded.” (Helene Mulholland, Bradford West by-election result is very bad for Labour, Harriet Harman admits, The Guardian, 30 March, 2012). “It was unhappiness with Ed Miliband’s leadership and Labour’s austerity-lite approach to the economy,” argued Larry Eliott in his write-up. (“Bradford West result was symptom of UK’s brutal north-south divide,” The Guardian, 1 April, 2012)

So the people of Bradford West treated the by-election “as a referendum on the Government’s austerity programme,” said Helen Pidd, The Guardian's reporter and maintained, Galloway’s victory was also “a sign of alienation in Britain’s three-party electoral system.” (Helen Pidd, How women won it for George Galloway, The Guardian, 4 April, 2012)

Voters turn their back on mainstream parties
Another factor is voters’ alienation from the three main parties. “Perhaps the single most telling figure in our latest survey is the 17% who say they would vote for some party other than the main three,” said Peter Kellner, President of YouGov and Chairman of Royal Commonwealth Society, and maintained, “YouGov’s latest poll for the Sunday Times adds to the body of survey evidence showing that voters dislike politicians as a breed. Fully 68% of us think British politics is ‘very’ or ‘fairly’ corrupt; only 28% of us disagree.” He also observed, “Each time the party has paid the price of tolerating run-down local parties, or cynical back-room deals, or lousy candidates, or some mixture of these. Bradford West seems to have suffered from all three syndromes.” (Peter Kellner, None of the above, YouGov: What the world thinks, 2 April, 2012),

Recent years have seen all kinds of politicians from outside the Con-Lab-Lib Dem mainstream scoring well as if the voters showed their disaffection and dissatisfaction towards them. Helene Mulholland, political reporter at the Guardian, observed, “Voters turned their backs on the mainstream parties with Labour’s share of the vote down 20% on its 2010 figure, while the Conservatives dropped by almost 23% and the Liberal Democrats lost their deposit after netting 4.59% of the votes – down 7% on the 2010 general election result.”

Neither ethnic nor religious based votes
Muslim leaders and Muslim organisations have been demanding more proportional Muslim representation in the British Parliament. It is interesting to note the demography of Bradford. According to the 2001 Census Muslim made up 38% of the constituency. According to Lewis Baston, political analyst and writer, Bradford West has the “largest concentration of Pakistanis (34.6 per cent) of any constituency, one of the youngest populations of any seat (25.7 per cent under the age of 15 at the time of the 2001 Census). It has the 13th highest share of non-whites, being 47.4 per cent non-white in 2001 and certainly ‘majority-minority’ now. It also has the second-highest proportion of Muslims of any seat – 38.0 per cent.”(Lewis Baston, Party Politics and Elections, LSE). In spite of that what the Muslim voters did?

Political maturity of the constituents
Though one of the candidates in this by-election was Muslim; the Bradford-born Labour candidate Imran Hussain is a Pakistani Muslim and deputy leader of the council. Writing about Labour candidate, Helen Pidd reported in The Guardian, “Imran Hussain, a 34-year-old barrister from Bradford with Mirpur heritage, was following in his father's footsteps when he became involved in the local Labour party, rising two years ago to become deputy leader of the city council.”

Can you imagine that a Pakistani Muslim Labour candidate in a Muslim stronghold and Labour constituency like Bradford had been roundly defeated? The people of Bradford showed their political maturity in using their democratic right to votes. They neither voted for the three main political parties nor voted for a candidate of their own ethnic and religious community. They remained unbiased racially, politically and religiously while casting their votes. They were guided by their political, social and economic issues, mainly the domestic issues such as youth unemployment, lower per capita incomes, job crisis, poor health condition and economy.

“Not all Labour’s 10,000 defectors were Muslims, nor was Galloway’s vote drawn entirely from Muslims,” said Lord Norman Tebbit of Chingford, one of Britain’s most outspoken conservative commentators and politicians. He was a senior cabinet minister in Margaret Thatcher’s government and is a former Chairman of the Conservative Party. Lord Tebbit maintained, “The result was appallingly bad for Labour, Conservatives and the LibDems alike. Labour lost over 10,000 of its voters at the last election. The Conservatives lost almost 10,000 of theirs, falling from a respectable (for Bradford) 12,638 to a miserable 2,746. The Lib Dems were down more than 3,000, from 4,732 to only 1,505.” It means, said Lord Tebbit, “it was not just ethnic votes that won Galloway the seat.”

Elitist Political Model of Labour
Do you think that the ethnic and religious background or the neglect and ineptitude of the Labour and Conservatives alike played more an important role in this result? Labour has taken its granted that they do not need to do any work in the area. Sophie Khan, a solicitor-advocate, observed, There was seeds of dissent and dissatisfaction. “They (people of Bradford) wanted change, they wanted a future and they wanted to be heard. Labour had forgotten about the needs of the voters. The people of Bradford had had enough and I don’t blame them. The lack of employment opportunities, the failure to secure investment and the inability to tackle the continual negative stereotypes were damaging the lives of many. Bradford had become a society within a society, closed off from the rest of Britain, dysfunctional and struggling to survive.” (Sophie Khan, Why Labour Lost: A View from Bradford, The Independent Blogs, 31 March, 2012).

“The elitist political model that Labour has now become does not serve communities such as Bradford West well,” said Sophie Khan and added, “Labour is the only party for the people of Bradford West. Their voices have now been heard loud and clear and a message has been sent that they will not be ignored. It is now time for Labour to sit down and listen and change for the future.”

Young people infected with apathy
Another factor is the young people infected with apathy. “Thousands of young people infected with apathy, contempt, despair and a disgust with mainstream politics were dynamised by the Respect campaign,” said Tariq Ali, leading figure of the international left since the 60s and he summarized the Respect Party campaign, “Respect campaigners and their candidate stressed the disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan. Galloway demanded that Blair be tried as a war criminal, and that British troops be withdrawn from Afghanistan without further delay. He lambasted the Government and the Labour Party for the austerity measures targeting the less well-off, the poor and the infirm, and the new privatizations of education, health and the Post Office. It was all this that gave him a majority of 10,000.” (Tariq Ali, George Galloway’s Respect could help Britain to break the political impasse, The Guardian, 30 March, 2012)

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