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March 30, 2012 / ultrafox1963

Bradford delivers a bombshell for Labour

Galloway purrs with pleasure after shock victory

There is no conventional explanation why Labour lost yesterday’s by-election in Bradford West.

After one of the most ineptly delivered budgets in decades, and a series of recent government scandals, the party should have been able to see off any threats from the coalition parties.

In the event, it duly did so, polling nearly twice as many votes as the Tories and the Liberal Democrats combined. But what it failed to foresee, or counteract, was the remarkable resurgence of George Galloway and his Respect Party.

Galloway was widely viewed as having destroyed his own political career in 2006 by taking a sabbatical from Parliament to appear on TV show Celebrity Big Brother 

His campaigns in the 2010 general election and 2011 Scottish Parliament elections both ended in dismal failure.

So when he announced his intention to stand in Bradford, few observers gave him any hope of success.

But the media presenter’s judgement of the local public mood proved, on this occasion at least, to be impeccable.

The Tory/LibDem coalition, who controlled the local council for much of the past decade, were never going to make much headway in such a solidly working-class seat.

Labour, though, must ask itself some searching questions about why thousands of former supporters turned their backs on it.

Galloway fought a cynical – and sometimes blatantly sectarian – campaign in an attempt to attract Muslim voters.

Nevertheless, the scale of his majority – over 10000 – indicates that his support extends throughout the entire constituency, way beyond any individual group or area.

His opposition to the war in Afghanistan, as well as to public spending cuts,, clearly struck a chord with many sections of the community.

In contrast, the campaign of Imran Hussain, his Labour opponent and the deputy leader of Bradford council, was all too often depicted (and not always unfairly) as disorganised, disoriented and disengaged.

The by-election arose through the retirement, through ill-health, of Labour MP Marsha Singh. Although he was well-respected by the local community, Singh’s inactivity contributed to the decline of the local party’s organisation and communication network. This left it vulnerable to a challenge from outside, which Galloway skilfully exploited.

It remains to be seen whether the result will have national repercussions for the party leadership. Ed Miliband had been widely derided for his performances in Parliament during the early months of his tenure.

However a series of solid despatch-box displays in verbal duels with David Cameron had helped to enhance his credibility among swing voters. Several polls this week gave Labour a 10% national lead over the Tories.

Some online commentators are already rushing to pin the blame on Miliband. They should resist the temptation. There is little evidence, if any, to suggest that this setback would not have taken place under a different leader.

In fact long-term policy failures of previous leaders, both locally and nationally, appear to have played a far more significant part.

Bradford voters felt neglected, even betrayed, by Labour.  

They have delivered a message which the party ignores at its peril.

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