I looked at the form. It was printed on green paper; the black sans-serif letters ensured the questions were clear: did I want to be a councillor, was there anything in my past that could embarass the party, and why did I want to do this? As I scanned the paper, I exhaled.
I’ve lived in Bradford for nearly two years; I have become very attached to the city. Last Saturday, this affection was particularly evident to me; I went into the centre of town for lunch, taking advantage of the fact that it was a beautiful day. It was so warm that my usual morning trip to the rubbish bin didn’t require putting on slippers: rather, the pavement radiated a pleasant heat. My cat Amelia followed me out of the open front door. She sniffed the air, and then bounded into the midst of a patch of buttercups growing on a small expanse of green in front of my home. She was ready to frolic.
Despite the lovely weather, I felt some level of trepidation: the English Defence League were supposedly in town. They were there, presumably, to protest against Bradford’s diversity, which in my opinion should be a source of civic pride. However, a quick check on Twitter suggested only 3 people had turned up to their “rally”.
So, accompanied by friends and my significant other, I went in. After parking the car, our party set off by foot. In the distance, I could hear pop music booming out of outdoor speakers. The sound echoed throughout the city centre, ricocheting off of buildings both illuminated by sunlight and cast in shadow. Upon arriving at Centenary Square, I saw that Bradford Pride was in full swing right in front of the majestic town hall: the city’s LGBT community apparently hadn’t been at all cowed by the threat of the EDL. In fact, I didn’t see any EDL presence whatsoever. In contrast, Bradford Pride was as diverse as it possibly be: a young man was singing on stage, in the audience were two women dressed in niqabs. Couples of all varieties were on show, visiting the beer tent, wading in Centenary Square’s vast water feature, eating at outdoor restaurant tables in the golden light and warmth.
I smiled. I don’t think I’d been happier to live here; elsewhere, the voices of hatred and intolerance were supposedly at full volume. Not here: I later found out via social media that the EDL’s motley band had retreated from Bradford. They apparently went to Leeds and spent a less than productive afternoon harassing shoppers. In London, there were clashes between supporters of the fascist British National Party and United Against Fascism: both groups were dwarfed in numbers by those opposed to culling badgers. There was turmoil, but not in Bradford. Families frolicked in the spring sunlight. The scents of peri peri chicken and fresh beer out of the tap lingered in the air. On stage, a singer tried to reprise Erasure’s greatest hits; what he lacked in raw ability, he made up for in sincerity. A young lady with curly red hair and sporting a rainbow bow tie accompanied by another young lady who was presumably her partner even offered free hugs. All was at peace.
Could Bradford be improved? Certainly: compare it to London and it’s obvious that there is a vast difference in wealth. Nevertheless, Bradford possesses fertile soil from which the green shoots of a renaissance could emerge: there is fibre optic broadband available in much of the city, it is a particularly young town, and even its industrial heritage makes it appealing to those who like “steampunk” couture. It is held back by a number of factors: central government, for example, seems determined to reduce the city to penury, cutting its budget with all the aggression of a crazed butcher with a chainsaw. Most recently, the National Media Museum, which has a wonderful IMAX theatre, was put under threat. Bradford has also suffered from a notable lack of self-belief, though the recent promotion of Bradford City FC to League One seems to have provided a much needed boost to the city’s psyche. Bradford’s politics are an additional barrier: an electorate that can enthusiastically vote for George Galloway is showing obvious signs of stress. For eight years, as control of Bradford city council passed between Labour and Coalition parties, the development of a shopping mall in the city centre has languished: was this due to political timidity? Was it due to stupidity? Both? It’s only been recently that the end of “the Hole’s” tenure in Bradford has come within sight.
Many thoughts raced through my mind as I examined the green form. It would be easy to look at Bradford’s problems and think that no one person could possibly make a bit of difference. Certainly, my membership of the Liberal Democrats hitherto had left me with the distinct impression that my contribution was neither wanted nor desirable. Hitherto, I’ve been invited to two “chats” on topics including equality and taxation. I played the role of “Mr. Awkward” with some relish at these gatherings, asking questions which perhaps didn’t chime pleasantly: for example, when the discussion turned to the environment, I’d asked why the party had allowed schemes to encourage the use of solar panels to be dismantled. When the attendees were expected to be grateful that the income threshold had been raised so as to remove many poor people from taxation altogether, I pointed out that this wasn’t sufficient to counter rises in the cost of living, including the increase in VAT which the Coalition had enacted. Yet, they sent me the green form; I wondered if filling it out would be an act of futility. I’m probably flattering myself in thinking my name would be recognised, but perhaps it might, and the green form which I was filling out with a black ink pen would immediately be put on the reject pile. Indeed, not only might it be futile to send the form in, it might be a complete waste of time to even think of serving the city. I’m a refusenik, a rebel, a renegade. All that I’d seen so far suggested that the party had two tiers. One was for the hoi polloi who could pass all the resolutions against Coalition policy they liked; the second (and upper) level was for those who actually made the decisions. Loyalty to the leadership was what ensured selection and progression; but, I thought, I’d rather be loyal to the truth and to Bradford. This apparently had a cost; hitherto, I hadn’t even been asked to stuff leaflets in envelopes despite having offered to do so.
Nevertheless, with a swoop of the pen, I signed the form off, folded it, and sealed it within a small white envelope. I then dropped it in the mailbox. As I bade it a silent farewell, I resigned myself to the possibility that it’s likely there will be no reply. No matter: this is a good home, and a home worth giving time, effort and energy to help make it even better; as the fans of Bradford City chant, I’m “City ’til I die!” If one avenue is blocked, no doubt there will be another way.