It did not take George Galloway winning in Bradford West to highlight the fact that politics in the UK is hugely unpredictable at the moment. Dislike of the coalition Government does not automatically translate into support for the opposition party. Those like George Galloway who are willing to take risks and campaign consistently on a strong platform of civil-liberties, can appeal to a broad range of voters.
We must dispel the fallacy that that Galloway only attracted ‘the Muslim vote’. On a 50% turnout Galloway garnered 55.9% of the vote, let’s concede that mathematics alone informs us that the issues he was addressing spoke to a large majority of the Bradford West electorate.
If an ‘anti-establishment’ vote was looking for a home, surely there was the Green candidate, Dawud Islam? How did he manage to lose his party almost a full percentage point of votes since 2010? A general anti-establishment vote would surely not have reduced the margin of the Green Party?
There are lots of things which don’t seem to add up in this stunning victory for Galloway. But equally, there are some things that should make complete sense to Liberal Democrat activists.
Yes Galloway has a rare and easy charisma. And yes, he is a passionate orator. He undoubtedly won a large share of ‘the Muslim vote’ in spite of an embarrassing Big Brother appearance, most certainly not because of it. On this point, Liberal Democrats will do well to recall how Lembit Öpik lost his seat even though he, like Galloway, flirted with ‘celebrity’ TV.
But one of the biggest keys to Galloway’s success must be his consistency. Amongst other things, his consistency in opposing wars and his consistency in supporting the rights of Palestinians.
In his blog, ‘A Just Church‘, Chris Howson – a priest working in the city centre of Bradford tells us that:
Bradford has a strong anti-war tradition. The previous MP Marsha Singh was popular (increasing his Labour majority in 2010) because he voted against the war in Iraq and against spending on Trident. George Galloway was the only candidate who was clear on these issues… Galloway has many flaws, and may well be accused of being a ‘popularist’ but at least he also espouses principles that ring true with the principles of the people of Bradford.
The first time I was arrested at Faslane Nuclear Base, George Galloway was arrested alongside me. I just don’t see many politicians with those sorts of convictions any more.
Voting against the war in Iraq? Against spending on Trident? Whatever else one thinks of Galloway and his methods, he shares some clear Liberal Democrat positions.
In or out of office the policies and priorities of George Galloway are crystal clear, and they appeal to a broad range of people. Certainly the issues did not turn off traditional Labour voters, indeed, the claim that George Galloway makes of being ‘real Labour’ is certain to give Ed Milliband a headache or two as the blogosphere and traditional media alike mutter in low tones about the efficacy and longevity of his leadership.
After his victory, Galloway tweeted on another issue upon which Liberal Democrats have been consistent. Palestine.
In 2009 Nick Clegg called on then Prime Minister Gordon Brown to “stop sitting on his hands”, to stop arming Israel. More recently Nick has rightly criticised illegal Israeli settlements. And it’s not just Lib Dem leadership who are driving this agenda.
Also in 2009 Liberal Democrat Conference agreed a motion stating that the “Israel Association Agreement should be suspended until Israel ends its blockade of Gaza”. This remains official Liberal Democrat party policy. Soon, the agreement between Israel and the EU on Conformity Assessment and Acceptance of Industrial Products (ACAA) will be will be coming before the European Parliament and so our Liberal Democrat MEPs now have a chance to take positive action.
Galloway’s victory reminds us that taking long-term principled stands – on Iraq, on Trident, on Palestine – can only ever demonstrate to the electorate that we don’t say one thing and do another.
Following the disappointment of the public in politicians – and tuition fees and the Health and Social Care Bill have done much to divide Liberal Democrat members as well as the wider public. Liberal Democrat MEPs must ask themselves if they can now afford to be seen to turn against not only stated party policy, but also those elements – Muslim or not – within their own constituencies for whom a demonstrable pro-peace and pro-civil rights record will be hugely appealing.
The Labour campaign in Bradford West made the twin mistakes of overestimating the myriad connections which bind an electorate to a particular party, and underestimating the length to which that same electorate will go to to punish any party which shows a disconnection from it’s traditional values and supporters.
Liberal Democrat MEPs who do not vote against ACAA will not only be adding fuel to the narrative being crafted by our political adversaries that Liberal Democrats say one thing and do another, they will also be betraying the trust placed in them by Liberal Democrat members at Conference.
As Liberal Democrats we are proud of our internal democracy, but there are only so many times that our internal process can be seen to disappoint before Liberal Democrat members begin to question the point of them, and of supporting the party, and by extension, elected representatives at all levels of Government.
This article was written by Jason Mehmet.