Galloway’s win should be a wake up call to the left

Posted on March 30, 2012 by | 15 Comments

George Galloway

This morning Ladbrokes will begin the biggest payout in British by-election history. George Galloway, who entered the race as a 33-1 outsider, has won the Bradford West election by a country mile. This sort of shock to the parliamentary political system is rare and and easily dismissed but it should come as a challenge to all of us.

In many ways it is obvious why George Galloway won. The Government are failing on the economy- even by their own measures. Yesterday evening the voters in Bradford strolled to polling stations as the news broke of Britain being in a double dip recession. The cuts, of which 88% are still to come, are hitting places like Bradford hardest. Even The Sun rallied against the Lib-Con coalition this week for their attack on the poor in the shape of a Cornish Pasty. The governing parties never stood a chance in Bradford West.

The Labour Party, on the other hand, went into the by-election with a ten point lead in the national polls and history of wins their dating back 30 years. Their leader, pictured with Ed Balls earlier this week eating a pasty, seemed to be capturing people’s imagination. But the people of Bradford were, unsurprisingly, not convinced. Not only has the Labour Party entirely failed to argue for an alternative economic plan but Labour Councils, like Bradford’s, have been voting through painful cuts to local services. Places like Bradford, which has 32% of children living in families who rely on out-of work benefits, have been systematically let down by the Labour Party when they’re in power and find them uninspiring in opposition.

Of course it isn’t just the failure of the big three parties that led to Galloway’s win. The man himself is a formidable politician with experience of winning seats with large Muslim populations. He is undeniably charismatic and has  a level of audacity hardly seen in British Politics. The ever-present sense of outrage in his voice  no doubt echoed the anger of the voters. He is popular with the Muslim vote and his call to withdraw troops from Afghanistan will have gone down well. In many ways George Galloway captured, in one short campaign, the imagination of the people who anti-cuts campaigners have been trying to organise for months. It is a testament to Galloway’s Chutzpah that, despite his dreadful record as local politician (he hardly ever turned up to Parliament), the people of Bradford West were won over to him in a big way.

Many commentators are calling Galloway’s election a gift to the Tories. In a week when they’ve managed to encourage the panic-buying of fuel and were forced to release grainy pictures of the Chancellor eating a pasty, they’ll certainly be pleased to see Labour lose a stronghold. But Galloway’s win, more than anything else, should be a wake up call to progressives across the country- and that doesn’t mean the Labour Party. Galloway has done what we have failed to do. He’s galvanised the support of thousands, many of them young, and bitten back at the political establishment. He ran a campaign on a radical leftist agenda and he won. The appetite for change is in the air and he, above anti-cuts activists, the Green Party, the anarchists or anyone else, has caught the mood.

Two weeks ago a couple of hundred people turned up at Whitehall to wave goodbye to the NHS as we know it. Yesterday a firebrand anti-choice, dictator-friendly Scotsman won 18,000 votes in a Yorkshire constituency to which he had no previous link. Clearly we’re doing something wrong and he’s doing something right. Let’s use this as a wake up call.

Full result for Bradford West (with vote share and change since 2010 in brackets)

– George Galloway (Respect) 18,341 (55.89%, +52.83%)

– Imran Hussain (Labour) 8,201 (24.99%, -20.36%)

– Jackie Whiteley (Conservative) 2,746 (8.37%, -22.78%)

– Jeanette Sunderland (Liberal Democrat) 1,505 (4.59%, -7.08%)

– Sonja McNally (UKIP) 1,085 (3.31%, +1.31%)

– Dawud Islam (Green) 481 (1.47%, -0.85%)

– Neil Craig (Democratic Nationalists) 344 (1.05%)

– Howling Laud Hope (Monster Raving Loony Party) 111 (0.34%)


This post first appeared at Segment Politics - Matthew’s blog

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15 Responses to “Galloway’s win should be a wake up call to the left”

  1. Ellie Mae O'HaganNo Gravatar
    March 30th, 2012 @ 11:14 am

    Good piece. Reminded me of this Alinsky quote:

    ‘A reformation means that masses of our people have reached the point of disillusionment with past ways and values. They don’t know what will work but they do know that the prevailing system is self-defeating, frustrating, and hopeless. They won’t act for change, but won’t strongly oppose those who do. The time is then ripe for revolution.’

  2. Alasdair ThompsonNo Gravatar
    March 30th, 2012 @ 11:16 am

    While Galloway’s win is undoubtedly impressive, does it really say that much for the left? I have to admit I didn’t follow the campaign very closely but he’s not really that left-wing an MP (and indeed I would actually question what real difference electing even a genuinely left-wing MP would make for the working class in Bradford or elsewhere).

    That said, if he ran a campaign predicated on campaigning against cuts and austerity and won votes on that basis then we should look at how he did that and what we can learn from a PR/communication/agitation perspective. It’s not clear to me that that is the basis on which he won, however. For example, here is a photo of a letter he sent to resident in Bradford –

    There is no mention of cuts, of public services, of austerity, of anything progressive other than being anti-war there. Now, as I say I didn’t follow the election very closely, so maybe that was only part of the message (probably that is the case) and maybe the votes weren’t won on the basis of that letter. I don’t know. But I think we need to look beyond Respect being a nominally left-wing party before we can say this is good for/relevant to the left more generally.

  3. Matthew ButcherNo Gravatar
    March 30th, 2012 @ 11:22 am

    Ellie- Thanks
    Ali- If you listen to Salma Yaqoob this morning you’ll hear that they based the campaign on anti-austerity messaging. Really interesting. Should have made that clearer in the original piece.


  4. EdinburghEyeNo Gravatar
    March 30th, 2012 @ 11:26 am

    Completely agree.

    Like him or dislike him (and mostly I dislike him!) George Galloway is a thundering good campaigner.

    I am unsurprised that I didn’t know till now that Galloway campaigned on an anti-austerity message in a constituency hit by Tory/LibDem cuts implemented by the Labour council.

    Not one of those three parties want to hear that lesson.

  5. GoHodNo Gravatar
    March 30th, 2012 @ 12:18 pm

    It’s ironic he’s described as having chutzpah…

  6. Alasdair ThompsonNo Gravatar
    March 30th, 2012 @ 12:21 pm

    Matthew – I’ll give you that they almost certainly did talk about being anti-austerity at some points. I’m not sure that quite proves that that is what won them votes though. What Salma was saying there isn’t really any different to what left of labour parties are saying all the time. But they don’t normally win 55% of the vote. So from a leftist point of view, what do we practically learn from this by-election?

  7. Matt SellwoodNo Gravatar
    March 30th, 2012 @ 12:32 pm

    That if you run a candidate who is well known, has a long political pedigree, and whom the voters KNOW will really really piss off the mainstream parties, you can win.

    Problem is there aren’t many candidates like that, and the ones that there are are mostly either very old, in the Labour Party, or both.

  8. Peter McCollNo Gravatar
    March 30th, 2012 @ 12:35 pm

    Ali, Matthew,

    I think the big lesson here is that we have to want to win. I’ve been in far too many meetings where we’ve decided that the priority should be holidng on to a list seat, or a couple of AMs, not going out and winning serious numbers of votes.

    Of course that allows people to talk about their minority interests, and get elected on 5% or 6%. But it isn’t going to change anything. And that’s in the relatively electorally focussed Green Party. Often it seems the rest of the left are so focused on making ‘a statement’ that they care little about the actual power they’re putatively seeking.

    It’s only when we seek to win, and win for the right reasons and for our popular politcs that we’ll start to challenge the neo-liberal domination of our politics.

  9. Duncan ThorpNo Gravatar
    March 30th, 2012 @ 1:22 pm

    I think we need to be careful about reading too much into this win. It’s an anomaly. A unique politician (I don’t intend to be complimentary there) in one Yorkshire constituency with a high Muslim population. Factors just came together as a one-off extraordinary win. Absolutely learn the lessons of a good, strong campaigning style and great public speaking but above that there’s not much to read into. The key to actually winning for Greens is bold, popular, simple to understand, progressive politics.

  10. alexNo Gravatar
    March 30th, 2012 @ 2:56 pm

    The fact that the Green Party only managed 481 votes certainly says something about its ability to communicate with what should be a sympathetic constituency, especially as the Green Party has not been anywhere near as successful in other bye elections even when not having to compete with a Galloway esq personality.

    The LA elections seem like a real test of the GP’s ability to communicate and represent the interests of working people. I really think given the Brighton situation there is a need for a new left party constituted as such rather than in woolly liberal environmental terms as the GP is.

  11. Judge NutmegNo Gravatar
    March 30th, 2012 @ 3:16 pm

    Greens ran on anti-austerity. 431 votes.

    Come on, you all know why George got elected. Clearly sectarian, or communalist if you like, even to the extent of portraying himself as muslim.

    Would you vote for a man who works for Press TV? Among other things dictator-related.

    There has to be a better way for those of us on the left than this?

  12. Byron SmithNo Gravatar
    March 31st, 2012 @ 12:59 am

    “history of wins their dating back” –> “there”

  13. RoB BrookesNo Gravatar
    April 2nd, 2012 @ 10:48 pm

    >Would you vote for a man who works for Press TV? Among other things dictator-related<
    I think Galloway is flawed but he is a passionate orator`and fighter against neoliberal colonialism both of our and other countries. He is very willing to go out on a limb and maybe that has worked to his advantage in this case. As far as TV stations such as Press TV, RT, Aljazeera the BBC and other state broadcasters, they are all biased in favour of their leaders and it is good to have the opinions of other countries broadcasters about our own foreign and domestic policies something the BBC is very weak on imo. So yes I would vote for a person who works for Press TV.

  14. Judge NutmegNo Gravatar
    April 3rd, 2012 @ 12:17 pm

    For all the faults of our country, our leaders would never deny homosexuals even exist, would never express a desire to wipe Israel off the map, would never question the validity of the holocaust etc. Our news outlets are far from ideal but to compare them to mouthpieces of state fascism is low. This is my problem with Galloway – he excites people who are quick to excuse the inexcusable because he says a few things that get up the nose of our leaders and make us smirk. Christopher Hitchens summed up debating with him as “like looking into the piggy eyes of fascism”

  15. RobNo Gravatar
    April 8th, 2012 @ 1:27 pm

    >>For all the faults of our country, our leaders would never deny homosexuals even exist, would never express a desire to wipe Israel off the map, would never question the validity of the holocaust etc.<>Our news outlets are far from ideal but to compare them to mouthpieces of state fascism is low. <<
    I think we should be wary of them all. I believe the BBC news and current affairs is pretty atrocious, in its fawning to the right and their atrocities. Never the less I would not refuse to vote for people who appear on it. I have never heard George Galloway's show on Press TV,can't remember the last time I watched anything on it, but I suspect he is able to have a platform there that he would not be allowed on the BBC and much of what he says I would agree with. I don't have to say I would not agree with any incitement to attack homosexuals or any other groups of people for their race or sexual orientation,I hope, if Gallaway has that position it disqualifies him from my vote.
    Israeli's have frequently desired the destruction of what is left of Palestine with little denunciation not that that excuses Ahmadinejad from his comment to wipe Israel off the map if indeed he did say that, not wipe its regime off the map which some claim was the correct translation.
    I despise much of Hitchen's later views so take no notice of his opinions.