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No one saw it coming

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

New Statesman
George Galloway. Photo: Getty Images

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