George Galloway shouldn’t be a Member of Parliament. Apart from his overblown theatrics, his comic turn as a cat on Big Brother, and his incessant desire for the limelight, he simply is not an effective representative for his constituents. As the non-partisan “They Work for You” website makes clear, when he was the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, he had a well below average rate for speaking in debates and attending votes. His average turnaround of 2 to 3 weeks in response to a low amount of correspondence is troubling. This record suggests that the regular, routine duties of being an elected representative bore him. Perhaps it’s because there’s no glamour or headlines in it: worthy, sober and responsible – these are not adjectives which could apply to him. It may have been this lassitude which prevented him for standing for re-election in Bethnal Green.
Galloway definitely shouldn’t represent Bradford West. Bradford West has an 8.2% unemployment rate and youth unemployment has tripled in the past year. Furthermore, 32% of young people are in poverty. It is difficult to see how a man who has no roots in the community can be fully acquainted with such problems; Galloway’s most consistent place of residence is his holiday home in the Algarve. Furthermore, he apparently lacks the diligence to learn and the application to work in an disciplined manner to try to solve the grave issues facing his new constitutency.
What perhaps makes his election even more inexplicable is his party’s platform. The Respect coalition appears to be more focused on preventing war than solving Britain’s ongoing economic crisis. A simple glance at their website shows that the latest newsletter for the party has the headline, “The Drumbeats of War Are Getting Louder”. A graphic on the right hand side of the page highlights the “Palestinian Right of Return”. Galloway slams the recent budget in a blog post that appears below the fold, but Respect’s main focus has consistently been about the futility of military conflict. This is out of step with today’s concerns about cuts in public spending, questionable reforms to the NHS and out of touch with a populace that is ready to panic on the mere suggestion of a fuel shortage.
So what happened? Labour bears a large portion of blame: when I moved to Bradford last year, I made an effort to acquaint myself with the three MPs who represent the city. For Labour, there was (the now retired) Marsha Singh in Bradford West and Gerry Sutcliffe in Bradford South. For the Liberal Democrats, there is David Ward in Bradford East. Out of the three, David was the only one I’d ever heard of, largely because of his campaign against excessive motor insurance charges. Marsha Singh hadn’t even bothered to set up a website, which struck me as odd. Somehow, the Labour MPs for Bradford had a transparent quality to them, they blended into the background; yes, Gerry Sutcliffe is the shadow minister for immigration, an important post, but somehow he hasn’t turned this into a great platform for discussing the issues which matter most to his constituents. This is symptomatic of a deeper problem: Ed Miliband, Ed Balls, Harriet Harman, all seem to be of a type that doesn’t “speak Bradford”. They’re from the south of the country and appear alien to the people who live here.
I would add that Labour hasn’t done as much for Bradford as they could have. For example, I can see the effect of the Blair / Brown years on Leeds: there have been a lot of regeneration projects there such as the splendid Victoria Quarter . The effect on Bradford is more difficult to discern; the town centre features an odd mix of tired discount shops and palacial banks. Worse, the local Labour council is viewed as incompetent: the most prominent instance of their perceived incapability is the botched Westfield Bradford project which has still not been completed 8 years after it began, despite numerous false starts. There is now an empty space in the centre of the city which residents un-lovingly refer to as “the Hole”. Labour’s candidate for Bradford West, Imran Hussain, is the deputy leader of the council. Labour appears to have assumed that anyone donning a red rosette was a shoo-in.
The Conservatives should not escape some of the opprobrium. They were the main opposition to Labour in Bradford West; their vote collapsed by nearly 23% in this by-election. This was greater than Labour’s decline. David Cameron has much to answer for: he came to Bradford in support of his candidate, Jackie Whiteley, and proceeded to demonstrate he simply doesn’t understand Bradford’s problems. I was aghast when he said during his visit last week that the Tories had “done a lot” for the city; I don’t believe I was alone in being appalled. Given the statistics for unemployment, youth unemployment and poverty, this was an unbelievably complacent and arrogant statement. Furthermore, Mrs. Whiteley was a particularly tone-deaf choice: when she recently appeared on an item for BBC Look North, it was clear that she didn’t “speak Bradford” either. Hers sounded to me like a voice belonging to the shires, upper middle class, and drives a Range Rover. One wonders if the Tories were deliberately trying to fail and fail badly.
Given these circumstances, it is difficult to see what the people of Bradford West could have done: when the two main parties offer no good choice, the Liberal Democrat presence isn’t what it should be (and hindered by coalition), and you want to cry out to a distant establishment that isn’t listening, what do you do? Galloway may not be effective, disciplined or even rational, but he certainly is loud. He has already had an effect: the eyes of the country are focused on Bradford this morning. The best that may come out of it is that in the process of examining the why this has happened, the real reasons will be uncovered. Maybe the establishment will realise that any area that elects grandstanding, pompous and arrogant George Galloway is issuing an SOS, whether it’s in the slums of Glasgow, the impoverished terraces of East London, or in the faded neighbourhoods of Bradford West. Maybe, just maybe, in order to prevent someone so obnoxious and loathsome holding office again, they will do something about it.