THE RE-EMERGENCE OF George Galloway as a member of Parliament for Bradford West after a by-election, has propelled him once again to the centre stage he so craves, with countless press articles, statements in the Commons, and an appearance on BBC’s Question Time all within a matter of days of taking his seat.
This was no run-of-the-mill mid-term reproach for the government. It was a massive swing, overturning a safe Labour majority of 18,000 achieved as recently as 2010 in the general election. Then Galloway’s party Respect gained 3 per cent of the vote. This time round it was 55 per cent.
The question has to be asked: Why such a seismic shift?
Certainly, if dissatisfaction with the present government were a factor, the Labour party might well expect to profit. Indeed there is some evidence that the Labour candidate expected to win comfortably, declining to take part in hustings before the election. In fact the Labour share of the vote crumbled from 18,000 to 8,000.
Much has been made of Galloway’s celebrity (or notoriety, depending on your point of view), but this is to dismiss voters as mindless. The Monster Raving Loony Party would be in government if that explained people’s preferences. And some point to Galloway’s high profile opposition to war in Iraq and Afghanistan as the reason behind his success. Would that it were. There is scant evidence that the people of Bradford are any more or less opposed to wars than in any other part of Britain. Was it the Muslim card which Galloway plays? That wouldn’t explain why the swing was not confined to predominantly Muslim wards. These are superficial attempts to analyse a phenomenon by looking in the wrong place.
More pertinent is the air of decline and decay which has blighted industrial towns such as Bradford for decades. The city centre itself, with its hole in the ground where a new shopping complex has been promised for years, and over which the iconic but near derelict Odeon building now has to be wrapped in white sheeting, has become a place to rush through en route to elsewhere, and stands as a symbol of the failure of administrations of every hue over many years.
Against such a backdrop, the main parties in the by-election promised voters more of what they have already had. Galloway countered this with “...see what the other parties have done to Bradford, do you want more of the same?” And his call resonated. Not quite to the extent he asserts, since the overall vote fell from 40,000 to 32,000, but enough to make a difference.
It will be interesting to see whether the “Galloway effect” will extend to the local elections in May, when Respect are fielding a number of candidates. And of particular concern will be the referendum on an elected mayor, which takes place at the same time. Again, the question being asked is whether you want things to be as they always have been or something different. It’s hollow, but has its own appeal.
Time will tell. Galloway himself is a man of promises. He will bring investment to the beleaguered football and rugby league teams. He will save the Odeon. And of course he will be judged by his achievements, as he has been in the past. But when Galloway is long gone, the people of Bradford will still need to look at each other and their city and say, “No one is going to come along and get us out of this mess, we’ll have to do it for ourselves.” ■