For anyone trying to gather why George Galloway won the Bradford West by-election so convincingly, they need to look no further than much of the Labour reaction. For a worryingly high section of the party, including some who would consider themselves on the left, there was an attitude of either blaming voters for daring to look elsewhere or Galloway for standing and acting as some kind Pied Piper figure, leading the poor simpletons of Bradford West astray. If the party is to make progress, it can take the following from the result:
- Don’t take support for granted. The Bradford West result must be melted down, made into a nail and hammered into the coffin of triangulation. Working class communities need a reason to come out and vote Labour – the alternative is our core vote sitting on their hands and letting the Tories sneak in (alas, if Labour repeats the mistakes of Bradford West in other seats come the next election, they are highly likely to shift right). As Diane Abbott acknowledged, Galloway understood the importance of taking his campaign to the community, and was rewarded handsomely.
- We have to realise that the wars still matter- and join the movement against more. The lack of importance some in the party place on the neo-con foreign policy agenda of the last decade is quite astonishing. ‘Iraq was ten years ago, and we won the seat in 2005, so clearly Iraq was irrelevant’ snapped the denial brigade. As well as the fact that, yes, even after 10 years, the butchering of a country does linger in the memory of quite a lot of people, the idea that the continuing presence of British troops in Afghanistan affects perceptions of the party seems alien to far too many. With this in mind, the importance of taking an active stance against aggression towards Iran (and indeed Syria, or any other country) cannot be overstated. Support for the disastrous NATO war on Libya doesn’t bear well, but apologising for Iraq and calling for an end to settlements in Palestine is a start on the long road towards creating a party of peace.
- Mobilised youth are a polical force to be reckoned with. Key to Galloway’s success were the high level of young people who had been through the experiences of the anti-war and austerity movements. Students hitting the streets in winter 2010 were the first to turn the tide on the coalition, and creating a presence amongst these young people is vital. In order to do this we will need give them something to come out for – Ken Livingstone’s pledge to reinstate EMA for FE students in London is an excellent start, but this needs to be used as a prototype for national policies. Over half of young black men in Britain are currently unemployed. We should be shouting that from the rooftops. And yes – we need to talk about free education again.
- Labour has to examine its relationships with Muslim communities. One of the more unpleasant responses to Galloway’s victory has been the suggestion that ‘the Muslim vote’ is somehow tainted and invalid. As well as wars waged on Muslim countries abroad, all too often Labour politicians have seen scapegoating Muslims as fair game- Liam Byrne’s vile campaign in Birmingham comes to mind particularly. This has extended to how people within the party are treated – see the expulsion of Lutfur Rahman, Gilligan smears being used against Ken Livingstone etc. However, MPs such as Jeremy Corbyn have managed to develop strong links with local Muslim groups by speaking out against Islamophobia and the war-mongering of the coalition and the Labour leadership before them. These are the kinds of alliances that must be built.
- Austerity needs a fighting response – and a radical alternative. In a week with clear national anger at a ConDem budget so blatantly by and for the rich, Labour has gained its greatest momentum by coming out against it – Ed Miliband’s interrogation of the frontbench was been perhaps his most impressive PMQs performance so far. However, Labour needs to extend its opposition to the budget to the wider austerity agenda. Galloway’s election literature calling for the abolition of tuition fees and a strong anti-cuts message resonates with those being hit by the cuts far more than ‘too far, too fast’. The argument for a different direction of political travel can be won- but we need to make it first.
The key factor with all of these is that the people of Bradford West trusted Galloway to fight their corner over Labour. What the party has to do if it is to stop Britain going through an irreversible destruction of its greatest achievements is to take the fight to the coalition. If it starts to do this, then maybe we can start to talk about being the party of working people once again.
By Ben Hayes