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Monday 13 July 2015

Lessons from George Galloway's loss

Last week Bradford West MP Naz Shah gave her maidan speech to Parliament. She did not hold back. Talking about her opponent, George Galloway, she said:
I would like to take this opportunity to thank him for his actions, which united the people of Bradford West. Their patience – and, indeed, mine –certainly paid off when we handed him his P45 on 8 May. The spandex cat has truly left the building.

Here she is referring to Galloway's infamous performance on the reality TV show Big Brother, where he at one point pretended to be a cat whilst dressed in clingy bright red spandex. That appearance happened whilst he was an MP for ‎Bethnal Green and Bow. When he entered the Big Brother House his interests were announced as including "sunbathing and sex."

The details of the campaign Galloway ran against Shah are well known. Shah called it, correctly, "misogynistic".

Yet there were many on the left who backed Galloway despite the appalling comments and behaviour. He was seen by them as a 'great man'. They saw him entirely through the prism of foreign affairs and as the only man able to challenge 'imperialists'.

Despite the previous experience in Tower Hamlets, where the sight of their MP embarrassing himself on reality TV just underlined his distaste for the job of representing his constituents, where he said he just loved elections and being an MP was a base for his international media appearances. Despite all that recent history Galloway won Bradford West - including with the vote of Shah herself.

Another vote for Galloway came from a Bradford socialist teacher, John Atkinson, whose tweets during the 2015 campaign under the moniker of 'Angry of Bradford' became a must follow.

Atkinson has blogged about the Galloway legacy and I think he should be read by anyone putting their faith in a 'great man'.
When I voted for Galloway, which I did in 2012, Bradford’s political landscape was one of ignorance and abuse. There we were, a big city, in the north, with a multi-cultural electorate and suffering from the post-industrial diseases of poor education, poor skills and poor job prospects. Labour ignored us; the Tories punished us.

The left wrung its hands and watched us decline, ignoring our kids’ failure as first London then Manchester and Birmingham got their Challenge initiatives, ignoring our City of Film and Media Museum to send Aunty Beeb to Salford, and ignoring our lack of infrastructure to give Sheffield & Manchester trams and London whatever it wants.

The ConDem coalition, well, they trimmed our funding to the bone, taking far more from Bradford and giving it to their fattened southern heartlands, a punishment made worse by 3 of 5 Bradford MDC MPs being coalition partners. Respect, such a laughable misnomer as it now seems, were the answer, and their firebrand standard-bearer was a shoo-in.

I truly believed that Bradford West and her partners within the city, so long stalwarts of Labour and painted red religiously at almost every election, would actually get something, anything, out of this slavish, parasitic relationship if once, and it needed only to be once, we bit the hand that barely fed us and said, categorically, ‘Please, sir, can we have some more?”

In short, I thought Galloway’s election would stop Labour taking us for granted.
Atkinson says that the so-called 'Bradford Spring' really was "a movement in which popular and progressive community activists, young people and disaffected Labour voters were [sic] brought into a broadly socialist political project that shook the city, region and country."

But Atkinson documents in his blog his own and others growing disillusionment and laments that:
If Galloway had put the interests of his party, the movement of young women who brought him the seat and the socialist movement at large before his own ego and career, we would be potentially looking at a very different Bradford.
And that the 2015 election showed that Labour had not changed in Bradford:
What is unconscionable is the execrable manner in which she came to power which was entirely despite Labour’s activities. The Labour Party put up council lambs to be slaughtered by wolfish George; picked a southerner without experience and watched her scamper back down South; then picked an unknown, inexperienced candidate who, by luck rather than judgment, had the balls to take on one of the most seasoned, vicious, uncompromising opponents in British politics… and win! 
Although Atkinson has hopes for Shah he backed the Greens.
In a seat like Bradford West, the Greens should be fighting to be known as RESPECT without Galloway.  They are standing nationally on an anti war, anti austerity and pro migrant program. An offer that could be made in a way that cuts across traditional patterns of ethnic and “neighbourhood” politics in Bradford.  They are the ideas that put Galloway on top of that bus in the first place, and they are ideas that can win. 
But his biggest takeaway from Galloway's defeat is one which needs to be heard far more widely across the left.
Personally, I won’t put so much faith, trust and responsibility in politicians. Perhaps his greatest legacy is to teach us that we must do it for ourselves and not rely on politicians who are, like us, human, fallible and frail. Galloway, a promised panacea that turned out to be a placebo, has, maybe, taught us to do things for ourselves and use politicians as conduits, as tools, for us to use and, when they have been worn out, discarded and traded in for new.

What a legacy for George it would be if we treat politicians as we should, and make them fear being picked for Bradford West, a constituency with such active, vociferous, uncompromising, unforgiving voters that the incumbent trembles and the upstart shivers; a constituency which sends chills down the back of the media and SPADs alike; a constituency that becomes the rocks on which careers are smashed.

What a legacy it would be if George has taught us to push politicians to perform and produce or be punished.
Watch Shah's maidan speech after the jump. If it is not working go to the Parliament website.

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