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The ‘Bradford Spring’ – a lesson on austerity and war

You have to congratulate George Galloway. He may be an opportunist but he has had to bear the losses that inevitably accompany opportunism as well as the joys of victory. Bradford West is an even more spectacular victory than Bethnal Green in 2005 by 823 votes over Oona King, when British troops (not to mention Iraqi civilians) were still dying in Iraq. “One of the most most extraordinary by election results ever,” according to Paul Waugh. George is a formidable campaigner and champion of the causes he believes in, an impressive orator – a skill learned in factory car parks in Dundee – and a charismatic and often engaging personality.

George’s detractors in the Labour Party accuse him of homophobia and sexism, and of a tendency towards authoritarianism as if those failings were not present in quite a number of Labour politicians. They talk too of sychophancy towards Sadam Hussein, forgetting Blair’s towards Messrs Bush and Cheney, Mubarak and Gaddafi too – and current client, Nazarbayev, despotic president of Kazakhstan. They cannot ignore that this was a spectacular victory and Labour cannot afford to fail to learn the lessons.

So what are the lessons for Labour?

Not that Labour lost because it was too left-wing. Not that Ed must go – I do not even agree with Kevin Maguire that this is a “heavy blow for Ed Mili-Labour”, when the Coalition vote dropped 30% in Bradford West and Labour is 10 points ahead in the national polls. It is, however, a warning to Ed that he must not ignore.

Bradford West is not only a strongly Muslim constituency, it is a severely impoverished one. Twenty-six percent of homes, according to the 2001 Census, were without central heating and/or a private bathroom, for example. And Bradford also has the widest equality gap in England.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation warned that “the focus on Bradford’s Muslim communities and ethnic make-up since the 2001 riots was unhelpful, distracting from issues of poverty, inequality and lack of access to jobs, housing and services.” They found that people feel let down by their leadership and fearful of ‘Austerity Britain’”

People felt that one reason Bradford appeared not to have been too badly hit by the most recent recession was that it had yet to recover from previous downturns. There were fears that public spending reductions will have a much more damaging impact on the city because of the cuts facing frontline services, at a time when they are most needed.”

The lesson therefore must be that Labour has to be bolder in its opposition to ‘Austerity Britain’, clearer in its arguments for ending the deficit through growth and public investment not through the tried and failed policies of redundancies, pay cuts and reductions in public services.

It is also true, as Diane Abbott tweeted in the early hours, that George Galloway “understands that, outside Westminster bubble, there are those for whom Iraq war remains unforgotten and unforgiven.” Of course, he ‘exploited’ that with Muslims in Bradford, and oopposed continuing war in Afghanistan and threatened war in Iran. But that too should be a lesson to Labour – it is not only Muslims who are weary of war and want none of it in Iran.

And what of how Labour relates to Muslim communities? Not necessarily any direct lesson. Labour’s respected Muslim candidate started with strong support in the Muslim community, much of which defected against the advice of many of its leaders. They switched to a secular Scottish Catholic and had previously voted for a Sikh. Their defection from Labour can only be because they favoured George Galloway’s message and they trusted Labour (and its candidate) less. Let’s hear nothing of Islamists.

However, this result does give Respect a new lease of life in other Muslim communities. That is a shame because, if Labour does learn its lesson from Bradford, Respect offers its voters no sustainable long-term winning strategy. Its victories only delay the day when its activists and, yes, even its leaders, join the Labour Party. Its victories only undermine Labour’s attempt to defeat both Coalition parties.

But one thing that Labour cannot  afford to do in these circumstances is to exclude and alienate large numbers of its Muslim members and activists as it has done in Birmingham, Tower Hamlets and elsewhere.


  1. Gary Elsby says:

    The Muslim vote did not remove Labour from power in 2010.

    It will be a huge mistake to beliebve that a single factor put George Galloway into office once again. It is fair to say that he had a large CV going into any election.

    When I see Labour operating in the National theatre on National TV, I see nothing.
    Nothing at all and nothing worth displacing a remarkably good Liberal Party for.

    Only in the mindset of the Labour die-hard is Labour on the road to victory post 2015.

    Clegg is making Labour look rather silly and showng how it really should be done.

    The question should be asked post 2010 (parchutes, Knighthoods, Lordships, wars and bankruptcy):
    Do the elevated middle-classes relegated to working classs status via austerity, believe that their saviour is in an alleged working class party such as Labour?
    If the answe is yes, then it is all but a shoo-in come 2015.
    If the correct answer is no, then congartulations should be sent to George (meeeow) Galloway MP, Bradford.


  2. Matty says:

    Good article Jon. I first saw George speak at a small LP fringe meeting on Cuba and the guy blew my socks off – a great speaker. He is also pretty much mainstream Labour despite the occasional tendency to go overboard.

  3. Mary Lloyd says:

    Thanks for the excellent article. Your final paragraph drives home the importance of supporting Ken Livingstone – as the outstanding national Labour figure who HAS worked with and supported the Muslim community in Tower Hamlets.

  4. Mick Hall says:

    “Clegg is making Labour look rather silly and showng how it really should be done.”


    What planet are you on, you must be a spammer, If not I feel it is only correct to warn you, if you came around my way with such crap you might end up hanging from a lamp-post with your trousers down.

    The leafy suburbs will have to speak for themselves, but here there is nothing but ‘absolute’ contempt for Nick Clegg and his MP’s, and mounting anger and hatred for the Tories.

    This is what the Bradford electorate were expressing, Labour would be wise to take this on board, as the leadership still seems to be caught in a neo liberal time warp which has passed most of this country by.

    I see no electoral milage in crying austerity as Miliband has at times, nor wearing the union jack. True a sizeable section of the Bradford electorate are more conscious than most that it is nothing but a blood soaked rag, but that does not explain away the large majority George achieved.

  5. Gary Elsby says:

    So George Galloway’s victory is a warning to the Tories and Liberals that Labour is to win the seat in 2015.

    I’m on the wrong planet?

    £9205 personal tax allowance going up to £10,000 before a timely 2015 and the Liberals have got Socialism wrong?

    50p down to 45p and they have it wrong?
    Gordon circa 1997-2010 had it at 40p and the shouting criticises the L:iberals?

    Labour were done in 2010 and were done the other night.

    Mud sticks.

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