Respect’s stunning avalanche of a victory in the Bradford West by-election was as spectacular as the commentary that has followed.
Two weeks on and a whole dictionary of superlatives has been used to find the words to try to adequately express the shock at George Galloway’s exceptional parliamentary win.
Everything from ‘it was the Muslims wot won it’ through to it being an apolitical backlash to a residual anti-war expression have been postulated yet none of the political commentariat has credited the electorate with the wit nor wisdom to make the right choice, for the right reasons and at the right time.
For reasons that remain at best oblique, George Galloway is seen as an untrustworthy and divisive character and that appears to have blinded commentators to the fact that he polled 56 per cent of the vote and that included many that were not Muslims, many that were not women and many that were not that young nor angry. Instead of deriding him, we should be applauding him.
And instead of chastising him we should be asking how he did it. At a time when voter apathy is at an all-time high and opinions of politicians at an all-time low, Galloway turned out the vote.
He didn’t hypnotise the voters into electing him as their MP, he won them full square with arguments that resonated with their lives. In a fair contest, in a democratic system that is tried and tested and used to best effect by all those that now criticise him, he was considered the best bet and he won.
It’s not hard to see why Galloway rubs people up the wrong way. His hyperbole about his own ‘Arab spring’ was enough to make the bile rise but this is a man who has been actively involved in politics for more than 40 years, he knows a thing or two, takes no prisoners, has a wonderful command of the English language and is deliciously indiscreet. He has said of Tony Blair that “history will damn him”; on George W Bush, that he doesn’t know “whether to laugh or cry that such a man, inches from imbecility, could end up the most powerful man in the world” and more recently, that all three mainstream UK parties are three cheeks of the same arse”.
His direct approach gets a mixed response – he is predictably either loved or loathed. And in the end, it is nigh impossible to know the exact reasons for his political success without asking each voter what he did for them. Perhaps the easier question to ask would be what Labour didn’t do but with a third of the seats on Bradford Council up for grabs and with Labour predicted to lose control of its council heartlands in Scotland next month and a constitutional question still to be resolved, Labour has every reason to worry about what went wrong and what Galloway has that it doesn’t.
Some in Labour regard him as a thorn in the side, others dismiss him as a laughing stock but what they choose to airbrush from history is the way he has tirelessly championed the Palestinian cause; what he actually said about Saddam other than just the frequently misunderstood ‘indefatigable’ speech, his powerful appearance in front of the US Senate and more importantly, his unwavering belief that there were no weapons of mass destruction and therefore, no justification for the war in Iraq, he has also consistently called for the withdrawal of UK troops from Afghanistan.
He is often labelled a maverick of the left but his politics and opinions have remained steadfastedly the same. And while so many other Labour politicians have marched roughshod across the ideological spectrum without explanation, perhaps he can be truly called a man of conviction.
When Ed Miliband champions the cause of a hot snack in a bid to win over the common man, he looks like a posh politician trying to be ordinary. Galloway doesn’t need to eat a pie to reveal his credentials and he doesn’t see the need to downplay ambition.
Galloway has picked away at the scab of left wing political hypocrisy for decades and Bradford West represented the decay in spades. Since 1966 it has had a Labour MP for all but four years yet in the midst of the worst week so far for the Con-Lib coalition, with cuts raining down on us all, unemployment rising and a budget that had taken food from the mouths of the old and put a tax on pasties, Labour with a ten-point lead in the polls and a local Asian candidate in place, managed to lose what should ordinarily have been a very safe seat indeed.
The irony is that Galloway still essentially loves the party that he joined when he was just 13 years old. It’s just that he now no longer recognises it. And he manages to fill a left-wing deficit left by a Labour Party that chooses to deride, decry and deny those that fail to toe the party line in a race to mediocrity.
He may be seen as a political opportunist and a carpet bagger but he wins resoundingly because he tunes into the fundamental values of the left, finding a resonance with voters and that is perhaps the very easy lesson that Labour needs to relearn.