by Atul Hatwal
This morning it’s a cold new world. But as the shock passes and the harsh reality of George Galloway’s crushing victory begins to sink in, the questions will become louder and more insistent. Two in particular will dominate: How could this happen? And what does it mean for the leader?
The party briefers will try to box this result as a freak. They will cite the combined effect of the swing from Labour towards Respect among the British Pakistani community and the collapse in Tory vote as a localised one-off.
They will be wrong.
The vote demonstrates two critical points: first, hell will freeze over before large numbers of Tories switch to Labour. After the week the Tories have had, it’s not surprising their vote was down. But Labour picked up no Conservative switchers and remains toxic to swing voters.
The reality is, for too many people, Labour under Ed Miliband is not a viable alternative. The polls on leadership and economic competence have been unrelenting since he became leader.
Earlier this month the Guardian’s ICM poll placed David Cameron and George Osborne 17% ahead of Ed Miliband and Ed Balls on managing the economy 42% to 25%. Meanwhile YouGov’s latest March figures on peoples’ preference to be prime minister had David Cameron 20% ahead of Ed Miliband 38% to 18% – that’s double the lead he held at the same point last year.
Second, the British Pakistani community has sent a clear signal to a party that has long taken their vote for granted: no more. Labour has spent two years since the general election agonising about Mrs.Duffy, Englishness and what are euphemistically called “white working class issues”. Well, congratulations, this is the result.
Simply cranking the handle on decaying community political machines and expecting the sheep to file through the pen will not work forever. When George Galloway condemned Labour’s use of “biraderi” or clan-based politics last night, he was right.
At some point Labour as a party will have to engage with its former ethnic minority supporters rather than just assume they will be there, regardless of whatever the party does.
But in one sense, there really is no excuse for such total and utter shock. This isn’t the first time that a feeling has taken hold in a formerly Labour supporting electorate that the party is no longer upto leading or even interested in the local community.
What just happened in Bradford now happens in Scotland as a matter of course. For Alex Salmond read George Galloway and the pattern begins to look a little more familiar.