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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When Theresa May speaks, why don’t we listen?

Not many Prime Ministers have to repeat themselves three times. 

Theresa May is the candidate of Brexit and market panic. She ascended to the highest office because, in the fraught weeks after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, she represented a safe haven for nervous Conservative MPs, the dependable family mutual that remained open while all along the Conservative high street, her rivals were shutting up shop.

Her popularity, as revealed in high poll ratings outside Westminster, too, owes itself to the perception that she is a serious politician in serious times, happily installed atop the ship of state to guide it through the rocky waters of Brexit negotiations.

May’s premiership has been defined by market panics of a different kind, however. The first is in the currency markets, where sterling takes a tumble whenever she pronounces on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union, falling both after her conference speech on 2 October and after her start-of-the-year interview with Sophy Ridge on 8 January. The second is in the opinion pages, where May’s stock oscillates wildly from bullish to bearish.

In the first months of May’s government, she was hailed as an Anglo-Saxon counterpart to Angela Merkel: a solid centre-right Christian democrat who would usher in a decade of conservative hegemony. More recently, she has been compared to Gordon Brown because of her perceived indecisiveness and repeatedly accused of failing to spell out what, exactly, her government’s Brexit objectives are.

In a symbol of the splits on the right between the Brexiteers and Remainers, the Economist, that bible of free-market globalisation and usually a reliable tastemaker as far as Westminster groupthink is concerned, began 2017 by dubbing the Prime Minister “Theresa Maybe”. Though May’s Downing Street is less concerned with the minutiae of what goes on in the public press than David Cameron’s, the contention that she is indecisive was a source of frustration.

There is an element of truth in the claim that May still views the world through a “Home Office lens”. One senior minister complains that Downing Street considers the Ministry of Justice as a “rogue outpost” of May’s old stomping ground, rather than a fully fledged department with its own interests and perspectives.

Yet even the most authoritarian of home secretaries would struggle to secure a conviction against May on the charge of opacity as far as her Brexit approach is concerned. She has hit the same grace notes with the reliability of a professional musician: Brexit means freedom from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and control over Britain’s borders, two objectives that can only be achieved as a result of Britain’s exit not only from the EU but also the single market. This was confirmed on 17 January in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech in London.

David Cameron used to say that he would never have “a people”. Certainly, there is no Cameroon tendency in the country at large to match the generation of council house residents that became homeowners and lifelong Conservatives because of Margaret Thatcher and Right to Buy. However, there is, unquestionably, a Cameroon people or faction to be found at almost every rung of London’s financial services sector or at editorial meetings of the Economist, though it as at the Times and the Sun where the treatment of May is at its most noticably rougher than in the Cameron era. 

Michael Gove, her old rival, is not only employed as a columnist by the Times; he enjoys the confidence and admiration of Rupert Murdoch. That the Times secured the first British interview with Donald Trump was a coup for Murdoch, an old associate of the president-elect, and for Gove, who conducted it. It left May in the unlovely position of making history as the first prime minister to be scooped to a first meeting with a new American president by a sitting MP in modern times. It also attested to a source of frustration among May’s allies that she is, for all her undoubted popularity, still ignored or doubted by much of the right-wing establishment.

That condescension partly explains why her words are often listened to briefly, acted on hastily and swiftly forgotten, hence the pound’s cycle of falling when she makes an intervention on Brexit and rising shortly thereafter. The Lancaster House speech was designed to break this pattern. Downing Street briefed the most potent paragraphs at the weekend so that the markets could absorb what she would say before she said it.

As a result, the pound rallied as May delivered her speech, which contained a commitment to a transitional deal that would come into effect after Britain has left the EU. Some financiers believe this arrangement could become permanent, which once again demonstrates how much they underestimate May’s ability to enforce her will.

Being underestimated by Cameron’s people, in Westminster and the City, has the unintended effect of shoring up Theresa May’s position. A prolonged and sustained bout of panic would increase the pressure for a soft landing, but its absence makes it harder for Labour to oppose her effectively, although it has largely acquiesced to the Tory plan for Brexit, at least as far as membership of the single market is concerned. 

Yet for all the plaudits that the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech attracted, for all her undoubted popularity in the country, she is in the anomalous position of being a Conservative Prime Minister who has priorities on the European stage other than the preservation of the City of London and to whom Rupert Murdoch is not a natural ally.

As such, she may find that her deadlier enemies come from the right.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.