Galloway’s shot across the bows
There’s no love lost between many Labour activists and George Galloway: but hatred has a tendency to blind, and it is the overriding reason that a man widely ridiculed for posturing as a cat on Celebrity Big Brother is underestimated again and again.
I’m no paid-up member of the Galloway fan club, not least because of his previous expressions of support for dictatorships in Syria and Iran. But those Blairites attacking Galloway on these grounds might consider a bit more humility, given their idol’s far more proactive support for dictatorships like Saudi Arabia, and his current role advising the dictator of Kazakhstan.
Self-confessed ‘neo-Blairite’ Telegraph blogger Dan Hodges has tweeted suggesting ‘I think Labour would have won with any of the other leadership candidates at the helm; Abbott excepted.’ I’m bemused – to say the least – that he thinks having an unapologetic supporter of the Iraq war David Miliband in place would have served any other purpose than providing prime leaflet fodder for Galloway’s campaign.
Other New Labour types on the Twittersphere have been suggesting that constituents – particularly Muslims – have been manipulated by the devious Galloway. Gordon Brown’s disgraced ex-fixer Damian McBride tweeted: ‘Normal voters aren’t looking at Bradford West today thinking: “Well done, Good on you” (a la Wyre Forest 2001); they’re thinking: “Nutjobs”.’ It is a contempt for the electorate that reminds me of German playwright Bertolt Brecht’s line: ‘Would it not be easier in that case for the government to dissolve the people and elect another?’
It’s certainly true that Bradford West has eccentricities as a constituency: the BBC’s Nick Robinson points out that there was a swing to the Conservatives during the 1997 Labour landslide, and a swing to Labour during its national defeat in 2010.
But the sheer margin of Galloway’s victory – more than all the other parties put together – and the fact that Labour figures simply did not see it coming underlines the significance of one of the biggest political upsets in modern British political history.
Firstly, it shows that growing anti-Coalition sentiment in this country does not translate into automatic enthusiasm for Labour. YouGov currently has the Government’s approval rating on -34; it has been consistently in the -20s for months. While Labour does currently have a solid lead after a dire week for Cameron, it has struggled to establish a consistently big margin over the Tories. Those surrounding Ed Miliband remain keenly aware that the polls reflect disillusionment with the Government over all else.
Secondly, it is another nail in the coffin for triangulation. In the New Labour era, the sense in Blair and Brown’s inner circle was that the so-called ‘core vote’ had nowhere else to go: the trick was to keep ‘Middle Britain’ on board. In truth, they weren’t talking about the real Middle Britain – which is those on median incomes of around £21,000, but rather the most affluent voters.
But while Labour lost 5 percentage points among the professional ‘ABs’ in its thirteen years in power, it haemorraged a stunning 21 points among the skilled and semi-skilled ‘C2’s, and 19 points among the ‘DE’s at the bottom. Indeed, while Labour lost 5 million votes during its period office, the Tories only gained a million. What happened – above all else – is that Labour’s voters increasingly sat on their hands rather than make it to the polling booth. As Ed Miliband put it during his leadership election (though not since), the ‘core vote’ became the ’swing vote’. Unless they feel they have something worth voting for, anti-Tory working-class voters will either abstain or – as in this case – find another political home.
Thirdly, it does signify a real rejection of the entire political establishment. The Tories entertained real hopes of winning Bradford West at the last election: their vote collapsed from 31.2% last time round to a laughable fringe party share of 8.4%. It is a story that will be lost, but it was a disastrous result for the Conservative Party.
Fourthly, Galloway’s anti-war message was – to state what is both obvious but controversial – popular. Take one leaflet here. The Iraq war – as Diane Abbott tweeted – remains “unforgotten and unforgiven”, particularly among large Muslim communities in cities like Bradford. The Afghan war is deeply unpopular nationally, and the threat of war with Iran looms.
A stance against the cuts clearly resonated as well. Labour make the case that they are being forced to make local cuts because Tory slash and burn of local government budgets. But those on the receiving end often do not see it that way: indeed, there have been £67m worth of local cuts, and up to 1,000 jobs lost. And indeed Galloway took a far stronger line against the cuts than Labour is willing to make nationally.
Finally, we cannot underestimate the deep grievances that exist among British Muslims. Over half of Bangladeshi and Pakistani Britons live in poverty; unemployment is significantly higher; and they are routinely demonised by the press. Throw in anger at Western foreign policy and far higher levels of police stop-and-search, and you can see why so many Muslims are deeply disillusioned.
Of course, the bottom line is that large sections of British society no longer feel that they have a voice, and this will manifest itself in a whole variety of ways. But Galloway’s surprise victory should not simply be dismissed as an eccentricity, a simple one-off. In an age of cuts and plummeting living standards, here is a wake-up call to an extraordinarily complacent political establishment.Tagged in: Bradford West, cuts, George Galloway, labour, tories
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