Lessons for Labour from Bradford West

Respect won because its campaign was rooted in the heart and soul of Bradford.

There was a national lesson from Bradford West, but it wasn't what we thought. The usual suspects argued that Labour needed to shift Ed Miliband and/or the party's position on the deficit. But George Galloway barely mentioned those subjects. He didn't have to. His politics didn't win because it fit the Westminster paradigm; it won because it was rooted in the heart and soul of Bradford.

First, Galloway's priorities spoke to the constituency. He talked about the decline in manufacturing, the "hole in the ground" that was supposed to have become the town's shopping centre - and presented an alternative vision of his own. Labour's campaign in contrast was - as admitted by field worker Sean Dolat in this excellent post - negative and hollow. As in Scotland, Labour focused on smashing the Tories even though they weren't the main challenger.

Second, the Respect campaign had a following. It engaged with local leaders, faith communities, working class groups and young people. Meanwhile Labour's volunteers were only told to knock on doors where there was already strong support, and they chose a candidate who was a Muslim but not a leader. According to inside reports, Imran Hussein barely got any votes in the ward where he was already a councillor. Michael Douger's claim that Galloway won by using Twitter rather than meeting people on the doorstep was embarrassing.

As I started to explain on the Sunday Politics (57 mins in), this offers a serious lesson for Labour. If you can lose in a so-called safe seat, your core vote is no longer as loyal as you thought and your base is brittle. Sure, it takes a good, well-organised opposition to come along and hoover up the votes, but once that's in place everything is up for grabs. With the flurry of elections coming up for mayors, police commissioners and local councils, the potential for more emotional, anti-Westminster, independent candidates to sneak up and steal the crown is growing.

This of course is a message for all parties. But it's one that hits Miliband and Labour particularly hard, because we were the party that was supposed to get this. Ed was the change candidate who wanted to engage with Blue Labour and community organising. He supports London Citizens, invited Arnie Graf over from the States and presided over Refounding Labour. He championed organisers like Stella Creasy in Walthamstow and Caroline Badley in Edgbaston for doing things differently. Whoever wants to win the next election will have to do more than preach this politics; they'll have to live it.

Rowenna Davis is a journalist and author of Tangled up in Blue: Blue Labour and the Struggle for Labour's Soul, published by Ruskin Publishing at £8.99. She is also a Labour councillor.

George Galloway (2nd R on bus) celebrates with an open bus tour after winning the Bradford West by-election. Photograph: Getty Images.

Rowenna Davis is Labour PPC for Southampton Itchen and a councillor for Peckham

Getty Images.
Show Hide image

Voters are turning against Brexit but the Lib Dems aren't benefiting

Labour's pro-Brexit stance is not preventing it from winning the support of Remainers. Will that change?

More than a year after the UK voted for Brexit, there has been little sign of buyer's remorse. The public, including around a third of Remainers, are largely of the view that the government should "get on with it".

But as real wages are squeezed (owing to the Brexit-linked inflationary spike) there are tentative signs that the mood is changing. In the event of a second referendum, an Opinium/Observer poll found, 47 per cent would vote Remain, compared to 44 per cent for Leave. Support for a repeat vote is also increasing. Forty one per cent of the public now favour a second referendum (with 48 per cent opposed), compared to 33 per cent last December. 

The Liberal Democrats have made halting Brexit their raison d'être. But as public opinion turns, there is no sign they are benefiting. Since the election, Vince Cable's party has yet to exceed single figures in the polls, scoring a lowly 6 per cent in the Opinium survey (down from 7.4 per cent at the election). 

What accounts for this disparity? After their near-extinction in 2015, the Lib Dems remain either toxic or irrelevant to many voters. Labour, by contrast, despite its pro-Brexit stance, has hoovered up Remainers (55 per cent back Jeremy Corbyn's party). 

In some cases, this reflects voters' other priorities. Remainers are prepared to support Labour on account of the party's stances on austerity, housing and education. Corbyn, meanwhile, is a eurosceptic whose internationalism and pro-migration reputation endear him to EU supporters. Other Remainers rewarded Labour MPs who voted against Article 50, rebelling against the leadership's stance. 

But the trend also partly reflects ignorance. By saying little on the subject of Brexit, Corbyn and Labour allowed Remainers to assume the best. Though there is little evidence that voters will abandon Corbyn over his EU stance, the potential exists.

For this reason, the proposal of a new party will continue to recur. By challenging Labour over Brexit, without the toxicity of Lib Dems, it would sharpen the choice before voters. Though it would not win an election, a new party could force Corbyn to soften his stance on Brexit or to offer a second referendum (mirroring Ukip's effect on the Conservatives).

The greatest problem for the project is that it lacks support where it counts: among MPs. For reasons of tribalism and strategy, there is no emergent "Gang of Four" ready to helm a new party. In the absence of a new convulsion, the UK may turn against Brexit without the anti-Brexiteers benefiting. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.