Why George Galloway won in Bradford
I confess did not think that the constituency would ever be represented by anybody other than a Labour MP as has been the case for all my life. I remember I was with friends late on the night of Sunday 11 March 2012 when news came through that Imran Hussain, the deputy leader of the Council, had been selected as Labour’s candidate. As far as we were concerned the election was over because Imran would win and the discussion turned to what sort out MP he would be and how he might perform on Newsnight and Question Time. We know him well because we grew up with him in the Girlington area of the constituency which is where we have been brought up and our family home. He went to school with a couple of my younger brothers.
Over the course of the next few weeks we observed the support for George Galloway build and grow as the rallies got bigger and bigger. Even then I did not think that he would actually win. On election night I was saying to my friends that had it been a longer campaign (the campaign was barely three weeks) there was a good chance that George might have won. Even then I did not actually think that he had won and was as shocked as anyone else that he had pulled it off. The short campaign period is just one of a number of amazing things about George Galloway’s victory. He was actually out of the country when the election was called and some people accused the Labour party of attempting a “smash and grab” raid.
It is difficult to say why he won and won so convincingly. I guess the reason why there are so many competing theories is that there are a number of factors rather than just one factor.
Yes it is true that the anti-war message struck a chord with the large Muslim population in the constituency. But although that would explain why he did so well in the inner city wards of the constituency it does not explain why he did so well in the more mixed and even mainly white wards like Thornton, Allerton and Clayton. All the other reasons that have been given have validity such as the disaffection with the main parties particularly over their failure to deal with the economic challenges the city faces. It might feel like I am stating the bloody obvious but I believe that George Galloway himself was the key factor. There was a Respect candidate in Bradford West for the 2010 election who barely registered on the Richter scale in the result. Yet George Galloway, as the young people in Bradford are saying “absolutely smashed it” with an incredible 10,000 more votes than Labour. He has incredible charisma, is a great orator and has a kind of star quality akin to celebs or sporting personalities. He really does have an impact on people and they become, I can only describe it as being, starstruck. A few points below illustrate that for me.
I met George in an office car park quite early in the campaign and had a brief chat with him. He was travelling in his own car with one other person accompanying him. Whenever I saw him after that it was impossible to get any where near he was surrounded by a huge entourage as his support built up very quickly. There was a snowball effect.
What is amazing is the number of individuals that were part of his campaign team that had been leading and well known activists for the other parties. A friend of mine campaigned in November 2011 for a Labour party candidate in a local council by-election. The successful candidate credits his victory to this friend of mine. During the campaign his communication with me through telephone and text was relentless – “make sure you vote for x, get your family to vote for x”. When I met him I asked him if he would be active in the campaign for Imran Hussain. His response was “no” he would put in the same effort and vigour into the campaign for George Galloway that only five months ago he had put into a campaign for a Labour candidate. When I asked him why his answer was simply “because its George”.
What is not in dispute is the impact that George Galloway has had on young people. Young people who have not previously engaged in the political process. Some of them turned up to vote and did not know whether to put a cross or a tick on the ballot papers. Young people that are concerned about the country’s continued participation in the war but also concerned about the impact of tuition fees and their failure to get a job. Unemployment among young people in Bradford has increased by nearly 30% since February 2011. On of the things that particularly pleases me is the rejection by the young people of the so called “braderi” system through which you are obliged to give your loyalty and in this case your vote to someone based on the fact that they are from the same “clan” as you in Pakistan which more often than not the individual goes on to betray.
So these young people, who if you like are the Twitter generation, used social media very adeptly to deliver George Galloway his victory. In that respect as George says there are some parallels with the Arab spring. During campaigning one of George Galloway’s young supporters, 28 year old Abu-Bakr Rauf, collapsed and died of a suspected heart attack. This was literally a couple of days after the incident involving the footballer Fabrice Muamba and there was a similar outpouring of emotion. Social media sites were flooded with messages of sympathy and condolences and the young people stated their determination to support George Galloway and to win the election in the memory of Abu-Bakr.
Incidentally one other point that should not be missed is that a large number of women turned out to vote for George Galloway. I say George Galloway deliberately and not Respect. George Galloway in his campaign pro-actively focussed on women in the local community and women’s centres. Whilst it has been said, although I do not know if it is true or not, that the Labour campaign totally ignored this important constituency. If that is true then that was a grave tactical mistake.
The key thing to watch now is the impact of this election and George Galloway’s victory on the political scene generally. There are a whole generation of people who have got the taste for victory. There were 300 applications from candidates that want to stand as Respect candidates in the local council election on 3 May 2012. If the numbers voting for George were to vote for Respect on that day there would be a seismic change never seen before in my life time.
Ansar Ali is chief executive of Manningham Housing Association in BradfordTagged in: Bradford, George Galloway
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