Engage the grassroots

Galloway's victory shows how out of touch the three main parties are with young Muslims.

As the dust settles in Bradford West after a stunning victory for George Galloway, questions will surely be raised as to just how such a huge scale of victory was achieved. Not only only did Galloway regain his seat in Parliament, but he also sent a strong message to the 3 major parties that they have to do a lot more to connect with disenfranchised young Muslims - the main driving force behind Galloways stunning victory.

As Chair of the University of Bradford Union I saw how Galloway used all his political know-how to rally up support from young people and students alike, many of whom were Muslims from Bradford, capturing their hearts and minds and helping to cause one of the biggest recent upsets in British politics. Galloway gained a celebrity status as he casually walked around on campus after he stood for the seat, embracing Asian students as they rushed to take pictures.

These students and young people then went on to rally many other young Muslim voters in areas across Bradford such as the heavily Asian populated Manningham. Make no mistake about it, Galloway touched the hearts of the youth in Bradford especially in the last 48 hours before voting closed; hundreds of young people campaigned to make the unthinkable a reality.

The campaigners were oblivious of Galloway's track record beyond the war, or his reputation as an opportunist and one who "never delivers" for his constituent members. His supporters, many of whom have never voted before in their lives and who seem politically unaware, were now taking part in the democratic process for the first time - to see young Muslims participating in itself was inspirational.

There will be questions of how Galloway played on the "Muslim card", and his performance will be scrutinised over the next few years. The jury is out as to whether he actually delivers on his promises made to the people of Bradford. Indeed - will he deliver and sustain support for the seat come 2015, or follow his usual trajectory with the Muslim communities of East London?

The Labour Party is due an analysis of how we lost such a safe seat with a great local campaigner and activist. I met both Ed Miliband and Imran Hussian at the University last week and Ed Miliband commended Imran on his great local work and connection with people on the ground. Something went terribly wrong - the script of mainstream politics was not relevant to young Muslims.

On a turnout of 50.78 per cent we were crushed by a 36.59 per cent swing from Labour to Respect that saw Galloway take the seat with a majority of 10,140. In reality, this is further evidence that young Muslims feel alienated from mainstream politics and want to get involved and make a difference but they are unsure of how to make their voices heard when they feel neglected and let down. While Tories will always struggle to connect with ethnic communities, Labour must evaluate how it lost its supporters.

Ed Miliband and the leadership must work harder to engage with grassroots minority communities up and down the country - including Muslim communities, many of whom have strong Labour roots. Trust needs to be rebuilt, the time for reconciliation is now. Some may argue young Muslims need to do more on their part to engage, though there is repeated evidence that many young Muslims feel demonised, pushed aside and disregarded by the media and politicians. This election marks an entry point for many young Muslims into national politics; Westminster would be foolish to drift away from them any further.

Furqan Naeem is the Chair of University of Bradford Students Union, a member of the Labour Students National Committee and a Trustee for the Muslim Youth Helpline

George Galloway. Photo: Getty Images
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Why Angela Merkel's comments about the UK and US shouldn't be given too much weight

The Chancellor's comments are aimed at a domestic and European audience, and she won't be abandoning Anglo-German relationships just yet.

Angela Merkel’s latest remarks do not seem well-judged but should not be given undue significance. Speaking as part of a rally in Munich for her sister party, the CSU, the German Chancellor claimed “we Europeans must really take our own fate into our hands”.

The comments should be read in the context of September's German elections and Merkel’s determination to restrain the fortune of her main political rival, Martin Schulz – obviously a strong Europhile and a committed Trump critic. Sigmar Gabriel - previously seen as a candidate to lead the left-wing SPD - has for some time been pressing for Germany and Europe to have “enough self-confidence” to stand up to Trump. He called for a “self-confident position, not just on behalf of us Germans but all Europeans”. Merkel is in part responding to this pressure.

Her words were well received by her audience. The beer hall crowd erupted into sustained applause. But taking an implicit pop at Donald Trump is hardly likely to be a divisive tactic at such a gathering. Criticising the UK post-Brexit and the US under Trump is the sort of virtue signalling guaranteed to ensure a good clap.

It’s not clear that the comments represent that much of a new departure, as she herself has since claimed. She said something similar earlier this year. In January, after the publication of Donald Trump’s interview with The Times and Bild, she said that “we Europeans have our fate in our own hands”.

At one level what Merkel said is something of a truism: in two year’s time Britain will no longer be directly deciding the fate of the EU. In future no British Prime Minister will attend the European Council, and British MEPs will leave the Parliament at the next round of European elections in 2019. Yet Merkel’s words “we Europeans”, conflate Europe and the EU, something she has previously rejected. Back in July last year, at a joint press conference with Theresa May, she said: “the UK after all remains part of Europe, if not of the Union”.

At the same press conference, Merkel also confirmed that the EU and the UK would need to continue to work together. At that time she even used the first person plural to include Britain, saying “we have certain missions also to fulfil with the rest of the world” – there the ‘we’ meant Britain and the EU, now the 'we' excludes Britain.

Her comments surely also mark a frustration born of difficulties at the G7 summit over climate change, but Britain and Germany agreed at the meeting in Sicily on the Paris Accord. More broadly, the next few months will be crucial for determining the future relationship between Britain and the EU. There will be many difficult negotiations ahead.

Merkel is widely expected to remain the German Chancellor after this autumn’s election. As the single most powerful individual in the EU27, she is the most crucial person in determining future relations between the UK and the EU. Indeed, to some extent, it was her intransigence during Cameron’s ‘renegotiation’ which precipitated Brexit itself. She also needs to watch with care growing irritation across the EU at the (perceived) extent of German influence and control over the institutions and direction of the European project. Recent reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung which suggested a Merkel plan for Jens Weidmann of the Bundesbank to succeed Mario Draghi at the ECB have not gone down well across southern Europe. For those critics, the hands controlling the fate of Europe are Merkel’s.

Brexit remains a crucial challenge for the EU. How the issue is handled will shape the future of the Union. Many across Europe’s capitals are worried that Brussels risks driving Britain further away than Brexit will require; they are worried lest the Channel becomes metaphorically wider and Britain turns its back on the continent. On the UK side, Theresa May has accepted the EU, and particularly Merkel’s, insistence, that there can be no cherry picking, and therefore she has committed to leaving the single market as well as the EU. May has offered a “deep and special” partnership and a comprehensive free trading arrangement. Merkel should welcome Britain’s clarity. She must work with new French President Emmanuel Macron and others to lead the EU towards a new relationship with Britain – a close partnership which protects free trade, security and the other forms of cooperation which benefit all Europeans.

Henry Newman is the director of Open Europe. He tweets @henrynewman.

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