Petrol madness. Pasty Tax. Granny Tax. A tax cut for the rich. A Tory donation scandal.
It was Cameron’s worst week. Everything was heading his way. And now it will be obscured – in the Westminster Village at least – after Labour managed to lose a “safe” seat to the demagogue that is George Galloway.
How on earth did we allow this to happen? There will be many lessons to learn from the Bradford West debacle, and we will be poring over those in the days and weeks ahead. I had hoped that the Labour Party had learned the lessons picked up so carefully and painstakingly in Tower Hamlets after Galloway was driven out of there in 2010. Unfortunately, it seems that isn’t the case.
We didn’t just lose by a bit – we were given a total 10,000 vote pasting.
Now, just before the media begins to think about Easter and the half term holidays, the PM will believe that he’s been given a huge gift. In reality he has little to cheer either – the Tory vote collapsed too (and in a seat that was a Tory target in 2010). This was an anti-Westminster vote. But for now, let’s not talk of that, or the unusually high turnout which caught some by surprise.
These look like excuses today.
So why did this happen? The reasons are manifold. You cannot lose any election – not even a by-election as topsy turvy as this one, on the day. Voter ID and anti-Tory campaigning was, on this occasion, insufficient up against the onslaught of demagoguery. This is what happens when constituencies are taken for granted. This is what happens when too many of the voters in a constituency believe that an election is about “community” politics and isn’t for them. This is what happens when voters become considered as “voting blocks”, and when wards are talked of as “Muslim wards” and “White wards”, rather than talked of – and to – as individuals, families, neighbourhoods. As fathers, mothers, young people and old. Students and workers. As people. When politics seems irrelevant and parties are machines, the angry man who stokes up tension seems different by comparison. Because for all of the many, enormous, painful and damaging flaws of George Galloway, he is – you have to say – different.
The attacks will rain down on the party and the leadership in the coming days, and in many ways rightly so. But if we’re honest, this kind of politics, and this way of doing things, is exactly the kind of thing that Iain McNicol as General Secretary and Ed Miliband as leader were elected to change. It’s a movement to another kind of politics that we really can’t afford to delay any longer.
And if we are to avoid this kind of result again – we will need to. The next week should be about what form that kind of politics takes, rather than beating ourselves up about such a catastrophic loss – as hard as that might be to do today.