The Respect party candidate George Galloway, expelled by the Labour Party in 2003, caused political upset when he eased to victory in a local by-election last month. Mr Galloway took Labour’s Bradford West seat by over 10,000 votes, in what Mr.Galloway has personally described as, a “Bradford Spring”. His victory is the first example of an independent party candidate defeating another party in a by-election since 1973.
Apart from a brief period in the 80‘s, Labour held the Bradford West seat since 1974. Mr Galloway, who co-founded the anti-war Respect Party, has described this rejection of the mainstream parties, in which only four out of ten people voted for one of the three main parties, as ‘the most sensational victory in British political history’.
The Respect Party, whose initials stand for Respect, Equality, Socialism, Peace, Environmentalism, Community and Trade Unionism, was founded in 2004 with its main political focus being opposition to the war in Iraq. Other key party policies relate to events in the Middle East – a region that George Galloway has long taken a political interest in.
Labour’s own campaign was attacked by some backbenchers who accused the leadership of having ‘no game plan and no strategy’ to win the seat, assuming a victory. There was a sense of complacency from Labour, who not only seemed disconnected to voters but also failed to acknowledge the campaign from George Galloway and the Respect party as an actual threat. As a result, Galloway’s cruise to victory has been a huge embarrassment to Labour,
But why did Galloway win? There have been various opinions expressed regarding the role of the Asian community in the Respect Party’s victory, with outsiders stating that the party ran an Asian-only campaign. George Galloway himself said of Labour that they ‘must stop imagining that working people and poor people have no option but to support them if they hate the Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition partners.’
In the final days leading up to the by-election, leaflets flooded the mostly Asian-populated areas with the headline, ‘God knows who is a Muslim. And he knows who is not’. It also said ‘Let me point out to all the Muslim brothers and sisters what I stand for. I, George Galloway, do not drink alcohol and never have. Ask yourself if the other candidate can say that truthfully. I, George Galloway, have fought for the Muslims at home and abroad, all my life, and paid a price for it. I, George Galloway, hold Pakistan’s highest civil awards.’
But more importantly it seems that George Galloway and the Respect Party found an area where the public felt particularly ignored and disconnected from the main political parties. Turnout for the election was just over 50%, which is considered high for such a contest, especially in an urban area.
I expect an element of why voters came out in such force was jumping on a political coup bandwagon, wanting to express their frustration at current government and the alternatives. George Galloway’s celebrity status only aided in this protest. Having a high profile representative is the perfect way to send a message. The Respect Party were a beacon for the people of Bradford West to express their distaste with the political representation available to them.
This is not the first time Mr.Galloway has caused upset. In the 2005 general election, he overturned the large Labour majority in London’s Bethnal Green and Bow, becoming the Respect Party’s first MP.