by Rob Marchant
Ah, the excitement of the “the most sensational victory in British political history”, as its author so modestly put it, has all lasted a tragically short time, hasn’t it?
The surprising thing is not that George Galloway seems to have tired of Bradford after less than a year and a half in the job as its one of its MPs. It is that his five local Respect councillors, who resigned en masse last Thursday, ever thought that he had the slightest interest in the town; a town which he memorably referred to as “Blackburn” two days after winning the seat.
The reason for their unhappiness is that Galloway is reported to be considering leaving them in the lurch by running for London mayor in 2016; theBBC reports that his shocked colleagues “feel he is using Bradford as a platform for his wider political ambitions”. Having taken sixteen whole months to reach that insightful conclusion, one has to conclude that perhaps his party colleagues are not the sharpest tools in the box.
No, the hard work of local pavement politics – or even of showing one’s face in the Commons chamber from time to time – has all seemed a little much for dear old George. Especially when there were TV programmes to present for the propaganda mouthpiece of a repressive regime, or trips to President Assad’s little client state to make.
And that is even before we start talking about last Autumn’s semi-disintegration of the Respect Party triggered by Galloway’s comments on rape or, for that matter, the making of a tastefully-titled film called “The Killing Of Tony Blair”.
The Bradford episode is clearly drawing to a close, as it was always going to. Galloway has a short attention span and tends to leave a trail of disgruntled supporters in his wake, as soon as they cotton on to him; his particular brand of political lightning does not usually strike twice in the same place.
But we cannot, and should not, discount his return. In Bradford – as he did in Bethnal Green a few years before – he has shown his consummate expertise in whipping up what many commentators saw as a plainly sectarian campaign. And the London politics he left three short years ago is surely just as receptive to his tactics as before.
If you doubt this, think about the following. Although Galloway left Tower Hamlets with his tail between his legs (in 2010 he failed to get elected in Poplar and Limehouse), a few months later the Galloway-backed Lutfur Rahman became the independent, directly-elected mayor of Tower Hamlets.
The new mayor then proceeded to run the borough in a way which should surely make his good colleague proud (the administration’s failings are meticulously documented on Ted Jeory’s excellent blog: thousands of pounds in taxi fares à la Derek Hatton; hundreds of thousands spent onpursuing whistleblowers through the courts and losing; its leader, a man of whom the PCC upheld the description he disputed, of being “extremist-linked”; the list is lengthy).
It was not Galloway’s style of politics which was rejected in East London, therefore, but Galloway himself.
That said, there may of course be other parts of London where he might still find support; where they have not yet seen enough of him to realise how much of a disaster he represents as any kind of elected politician.
Indeed, with Ken Livingstone gone, and given the hitherto rather presidential nature of the London mayoral elections – that is, the importance of a recognisable face – he could even expect some modest measure of success as a London mayoral candidate. That is, in the unlikely event that he can stay out of trouble long enough.
But why should we really care about Galloway; where is the learning point for Labour in all of this?
It is a timely reminder that Galloway, like Rahman, is a kind of Frankenstein’s monster created in Labour’s own laboratory. Unwittingly, we fashioned them both by playing racial, sectarian and clan politics, and then when those very local parties spiralled out of control, or (in the case of Bradford West) the voters simply decided they had had enough of Labour’s shenanigans, altogether less healthy political groupings were on hand to step in and take control. When you play that kind of game, there’s always someone who can play it dirtier than you.
The Bradford Spring is already effectively over; it seems a very long shot that Respect could win there again in 2015, or win control of the council. We should be thankful for small mercies.
But there will be more Bradford Springs, over and over again, until Labour notices that its root cause is the type of politics it has managed in various of Britain’s inner cities over recent decades.
Happily, something important has changed between then and now. Thanks to Falkirk, party reform is back on the agenda with a vengeance and Miliband now has the perfect opportunity to clean up this tawdry aspect of Labour’s local politics. He should take it.
Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour Party manager who blogs at The Centre Left