No one saw it coming

What does Galloway's victory tell us about British politics?

Anybody wanting to follow the Bradford West result unfold was forced to rely on Twitter as journalists and politicians alike were caught unawares by the political earthquake about to take place. But Respect supporters on the ground had been predicting for the last fortnight that a shock was in the air. And for one simple reason; people are disillusioned with austerity and war, they are disillusioned with being taken for granted, and when presented with positive coherent political alternatives, they respond with enthusiasm.

Bradford is mired in unemployment and stagnation. Its voters don't think they are "in it together" with the Tories and their millionaire donors. Quite the opposite. Respect's solution on the doorstep was to argue that we need investment not cuts in order to re-energise our economy and create the growth to deliver jobs. This is not some loony-left pipe dream; it is the experience of the American economy where old fashioned Keynesian intervention is driving down unemployment while discredited Thatcherite neo-liberalism drives it up here. When the voters of Bradford West heard that argument put confidently and coherently, albeit with an eloquence that only George Galloway can summon, they responded warmly to it. Surely that is the real lesson for Ed Milliband to draw from this result.

The other lesson is that huge numbers of people are disillusioned with British politicans sending our troops to occupy other people's countries. When George said that the two soldiers killed by their Afghan comrade had "died in vain", he spoke for many people in Bradford and beyond whose views on the war are rarely if ever reflected by mainstream politicians.

Finally, the Respect vote is a call for change to the ossified political structure in Bradford. People are tired of being taken for granted. The Guardianwas the only paper to pick up on the specific way that frustration expresses itself within the Muslim community where the Labour party have for generations relied on and reinforced the corrupting influence of "Braderi" - clan networks - that so disfigures South Asian politics. The fact that Respect won in every ward in the constituency, and won by a massive 10,000 majority, testifies that that disillusionment goes way beyond the Muslim community. In the predominately white, middle-class ward of Clayton approximately 900 votes were cast for Respect compared to 40 for Labour. The resounding mandate also testifies to the unifying message of Respect which addressed the roots of disillusionment and challenges the scourges of neglect and scapegoating.

For me, the most exciting and inspiring aspect of the election was the sight of hundreds of young people and women throwing themselves into the political process. They were galvanised by a man who stands by his principles and tells it straight. A wave became a tsunami, very quickly overwhelming anything that has gone before. People poured out into the streets to exclaim support: an unusual sight in politics where canvassers usually try to cajole some interest. Very large numbers of voters in Bradford West clearly like George Galloway's distinctive message and style. They are not alone.

Salma Yaqoob is the leader of the Respect Party

George Galloway. Photo: Getty Images

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

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

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