Victory comes with baggage
AS THE dust settles on the Bradford West by-election it is worth remembering that George Galloway not only won it, but won it big. He will sit in Westminster as the only Respect MP because the vast majority of people of the west of Bradford want him there. He did so by mobilising a younger generation of Muslims against the community elders who had traditionally delivered the vote for Labour. The result has sent a shiver through the complacent Labour heartlands of the north of England. Mr Galloway’s description of recent events as the Bradford Spring is an obscene insult to the people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and beyond, but there is little doubt that Respect were able to mobilise social networks in a way the traditional political blocs failed to do.
For those who naively believed the sectarian politics of Mr Galloway had been swept away by his defeat in the 2010 election, the by-election serves as an important reminder that they are here to stay. It is toxic politics that draw together the stop-the-war movement, anti-americanism, anti-capitalism and anti-zionism. As such it has a powerful appeal not just to young Muslims, but to those who believe they are the defenders of the oppressed around the world.
It is tempting to dismiss Mr Galloway’s victory as an aberration based on the specific politics of Bradford. But this would be unwise. There is a generation of young Muslims who have found their political voice through soft Islamism and opposition to UK military action, and they should not be ignored. As always after a big defeat, Labour has vowed to learn lessons from this episode. There will be pressure to meet the Respect arguments half way, a process which the party under Ed Miliband is already doing with its disavowal of New Labour.
Bradford West will quickly learn what Tower Hamlets found out from bitter experience: George Galloway has just one political priority, and that is George Galloway.