At the end of a disastrous week for the Tories, the Respect victory in the Bradford West by-election is a wake-up call for Labour.
We must give credit to them, as a party without resources they have won by projecting a clear and coherent message of opposition to the governments cuts and its ongoing commitment to foreign military interventions – and with a strong brand in George Galloway.
Attacking Galloway, as many Labour members are doing, is fruitless and a distraction from the real task. It is shameful how many Labour Party members are guilty of ‘taking votes for granted’ in northern cities, and have suddenly now shifted to claiming Muslim voters can be simply manipulated by Galloway. It is a sign of the disconnect of many in the Westminster Bubble from life on the ground, as Diane Abbott tweeted last night. The party should seek to understand why it could not hold such a safe seat as Bradford West, particularly in such a bad week for the government.
In nine opinion polls that I’ve seen since the Budget announcement, Labour has had an average 7% lead and as high as 10% in a YouGov poll released just as the polling stations closed in Bradford West last night.
The Tories have damaged themselves, showing themselves to be an out of touch elite in the Budget with the ‘millionaires tax cut’ and introduction of the so-called ‘granny tax’, swiftly followed by the cash-for-access scandal and their woeful handling of the fuel tanker dispute.
But that has allowed Labour to coast with a national opinion poll lead. But when the weak support the coalition ever had begins weakening, we should not assume that is the same as winning back the five million votes we lost between 1997 and 2010.
What Bradford West does demonstrate, if one can draw conclusions from a single seat, is that there is political space for a much harder attack on the Tories austerity agenda. It also demonstrates that while Iraq may have declined as a defining issue, opposition to the war in Afghanistan is as real as ever, with little understanding of why we are there and significant support for a ‘bring them home’ call.
In perhaps unique circumstances, Galloway was able to fill this political space by being a stronger opponent of the Tories than Labour. The party must now take on board the election result and demonstrate it has understood public concerns in its next steps.