A day many of our political and media elite would rather have avoided: George Galloway’s ‘Bradford Spring’. Galloway, it seems, has never been one for the understatement. He is, and always will, be a divisive political animal.
Yet the perennial underdog has struck an unlikely political victory in a seat seemingly reserved for one of the three major parties. While the upper echelons of the Labour party frantically search for answers, the ex-Celebrity Big Brother contestant resembles the cat that got the cream.
The question that should be asked now is not only why he won, but also what comes next. Is the Galloway political storm simply a one-off, or a symptom of wider change?
The scale of the electoral upset was impressive. Mr Galloway won 18,341 votes and 56 percent share of the total vote. The Labour candidate Imran Hussein came second with 8,201 votes which represents a fall of 20 percent down on its 2010 figure. The Conservative candidate was third, with 2,746 votes, while the Liberal Democrats performed so badly they lost their deposit.
To say this was simply down to demagogic populist politics from a political loose cannon would be disingenuous. Similarly the proposition that Galloway won only due to the vote of the Muslim community on a specifically anti-war ticket is equally amiss. The electoral data prove an altogether different story.
Galloway won a majority in every major demographic, Muslim and non-Muslim. He won an 85% majority from the University ward galvanized by his anti-tuition fees stance, while he also returned large majorities in working-class wards like Manningham, which continue to suffer from high levels of unemployment and poverty.
Disillusionment from the incumbent Labour MP and Labour dominated council, accused of ‘clan-politics’ and serial incompetence, must have played a role at a local level. Yet although one should not be too eager to claim a major shift in British politics after a by-election upset, it is clear that Bradford represents a symptom of wider trends. The continuing alienation from the major three parties is becoming systemic. Galloway put it eloquently when he asked “who knew one back-side could have three cheeks?”
The greatest worry must be for the Labour party. It was Galloway after all who campaigned claiming to represent ‘Real Labour’, not New Labour. His damning critique of Labour’s record in both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and their continued infatuation with neoliberal economics remains disturbing reading for the Labour leadership.
Galloway represents not a far-left alternative, but the last vestiges of Labourism; a Labour party before the manicured politics of the Blair epoch. A campaign explicitly against the austerity consensus on a national level seemed to represent a potent elixir when combined with unique resentments over the local MP and Labour dominated Council.
Yet it would be wrong to see Galloway’s victory only in terms of Bradford West, or for that matter British politics. Across Europe the anti-austerity left have not only started to organize but are starting to confront the existing political parties. From the 11.05 percent vote of Communist candidate Jean-Luc Melenchon in the French Presidential elections to the recent polls in Greece putting the radical Left commanding 35 percent of the vote; what we are seeing is the mood of protest moving from the streets and workplaces to the ballot box.
As flawed as the George Galloway brand is; his victory in Bradford further proves that politics is becoming a far more volatile than its pre-crisis form. The major parties should ignore this trend at their peril.