The three groups who are wrong about Bradford West

30th March, 2012 2:08 pm

One of the really desperate things about politics is watching the ever present dichotomy between people who deny that there are any lessons to learn about anything, and people so keen to impress ‘lessons’ on others who ‘need to listen’ that they are able to extrapolate any event to a level of completely unjustifiable profundity. Strangely, most of the time, people tend to believe that they are right, and have some special insight. Natural, sure, but to be cautioned against.

I spoke to a shadow cabinet minister yesterday who believed that Labour had the votes (or as we call them before they are converted, ‘promises’) necessary. In fact, concessions of defeat, even anonymously, only started appearing at the count. It was a bit of a shock result, rather than one that was predictable. The campaign had been run reasonably well from a national point of view, but the sort of politics that applies to most of the country doesn’t so easily apply to Bradford.

It’s become a hand-wringing fest already. Primarily, there are three groups of people who are wrong:

1. Conservatives
The argument:

“Bradford West shows that Labour is not an effective opposition. Ed Miliband needs to go. Conveniently.”
The answer
So I shall expect to see Respect making up the official opposition in 2015, shall I? Perhaps the Government should be worried about the rise of Galloway, the people’s champ, with his unstoppable political party, plugged right into the mainstream. Come off it.

2. The Hard Left
The argument

“This proves that the left can win elections, and that working class voters are deserting to them”
The answer
I have sympathy with this view, but if anything, Galloway makes me more sceptical of it.

George Galloway did not run on a platform particularly to the left of the Labour Party. Much of it was related to the Iraq War (which Ed Miliband says was a mistake and has made an apology for). What were the views of the Labour candidate on the war? Anyone know? What about Galloway’s constant appeals to the idea of being a ‘champion of Muslims’? Does this really represent any kind of socialist outlook, stereotyping a whole religious grouping and deliberately using that to stoke tension? Nope. If this was a victory for any political philosophy, it was opportunism. In any event, before leaving the Labour Party, Galloway wasn’t even on the hard left of it, despite some Stalinist sympathies. Funny how that changed when he needed support from the SWP. Just saying.

In the absence of a left platform, left rhetoric, or a left strategy, it’s a bit difficult to represent support for Galloway as support for the left. If anything, it proves that people who are pigeon-holed as lefties have to run communalist campaigns to win.

And that’s before we talk about Galloway’s views on abortion and a range of other topics…

3. Anti-leadership Blairites
The argument

“Bradford West shows that Labour is not an effective opposition. Ed Miliband needs to go. Conveniently.”
The response
Yeah, but has there been a major public utterance by any politician of any party since 2010 that you have not claimed gave irrefutable weight to your argument? We lost this one ten points ahead in the polls. If you think Bradford changes all that, all I can say is, good luck running a campaign in Bradford West against George Galloway, with a former Brown Foreign Secretary as your leader.

Palpable nonsense, anonymously briefed to the press at any available opportunity, for completely selfish reasons. Though I did notice that they weren’t around for the ten point poll lead to tell us all that Ed is a good lad and should definitely stay. So should they be trusted as sources of insight?

– – –

Many specific local circumstances about Bradford were raised as part of Galloway’s campaign – once again, nationwide, councils tend not to be run like this. Then we come to the disproportionate influence of community politics and family voting in many South Asian communities, including among those of Kashmiri background and heritage in Bradford. This means that ‘community leaders’ and respected senior figures people play an enormous role regardless of party (whatever Galloway says about his own efforts). This plays back into the idea of stitched-up council elections. The high level of internal community cohesion and communication in areas with large immigrant populations also means that doing things which normally wouldn’t make an enormous amount of difference (for example, failing to attend a hustings) can instead end up making enormous waves.

Nobody seems to think these things have any bearing at all. What is much more important is your own agenda.

Now, maybe there are lessons to be learned. No doubt I will be accused of burying my head in the sand.

I’m not saying there are no lessons to learn. I’m saying that we could do with better ones than these. And the lessons that are there are probably far more applicable to local politics and how some local parties should be better run than they are anything to do with Labour’s political (or even organisational strategy).

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  • Johndclare

    Fairly much ditto: http://bit.ly/HwJ3lZ

  • Sorry about the weird paragraphs. I submitted this in gmail.

    Generally agree with Mark F about the need to have proper community politics.

    But there really is some nonsense being spouted today.

    • Also, I should say about David Miliband, he was of course a former BROWN foreign secretary, not Blair. Mark has changed accordingly.

  • Duncan Hall

    Pretty much agree Tom, although there does appear to have been something of a reaction against family/community-based politics too (though I don’t doubt, to a greater or lesser extent one version of this was replaced by another).

    Just one point on the “hard left” version (which I would argue is slightly more subtle than you give it credit here, but to be fair you have parodied all the positions to an extent), I do think there is an argument to be made that an “anti-politics” campaign, or a “plague on all your houses” campaign was made easier by a tendency to try and over-nuance a message that has led to it being difficult to formulate the positive case.  As such, a campaign against Conservative and Lib Dems (which, fortunately most are) provides plenty of ammunition because of their shockingly awful record in government; we might well find it harder to beat a strong challenge from, say, the Greens at this time.  We shall see in the local elections.

    • “there does appear to have been something of a reaction against family/community-based politics too”

      Agree, but it’s part of the same dialectic. The context of reaction is that the practise is so pervasive in the first place, obviously. I agree with your point about nuance and I would say that this at least is a general problem for us. That one is a fair point I guess…

  • I wonder where Purplebooker is – he was advocating Imran Hussain on March 12th!

    • Brumanuensis

      Well so was I, and Purplebooker and I have very different views. I think most people thought Imran Hussain was a good candidate, based on what we knew. Evidently we were wrong.

  • LondonStatto

    A former Brown foreign secretary would be more credible than the current leadership, as come 2015 the main story will (still) be the economy. It’s important to realise just how much the public associates Balls and (presumably to a lesser extent) Ed Miliband with the economic failures of the Brown era.

    Perhaps it’s not much. Perhaps by 2015 the electorate will have forgotten. But if they haven’t, and if Labour are offering them Ed Miliband as PM and Balls as Chancellor, Labour are doomed to another defeat, and probably a bigger one than 2010.

    • madasafish

      . But if they haven’t, and if Labour are offering them Ed Miliband as PM and Balls as Chancellor, Labour are doomed to another defeat, and probably a bigger one than 2010.

      I fundamentally disagree with that view.

      IF the economy improves , you may be correct. A feeling of economic wealth = good news.

      BUT if after 5 years of austerity,things do not improve, a Labour win is an odds on certainty : unless the cause can be pinned on the unions…. (which with McCluskie is not an impossibility).

    • Brumanuensis

      If Brown is colouring peoples’ views of Ed Miliband, who had a low profile before the 2010 General Election, then I’m well nigh certain that David Miliband would get tarred with the same brush.

  • LondonStatto

    A former Brown foreign secretary would be more credible than the current leadership, as come 2015 the main story will (still) be the economy. It’s important to realise just how much the public associates Balls and (presumably to a lesser extent) Ed Miliband with the economic failures of the Brown era.

    Perhaps it’s not much. Perhaps by 2015 the electorate will have forgotten. But if they haven’t, and if Labour are offering them Ed Miliband as PM and Balls as Chancellor, Labour are doomed to another defeat, and probably a bigger one than 2010.

  • Pingback: What George Galloway’s victory in Bradford does and doesn’t tell us | Liberal Conspiracy()

  • Rob Sheffield

    Best analysis I have seen thus far today

  • Mike Homfray

    A lot of good sense there. But foreign policy did make a difference

    • Brumanuensis

      I’m not sure how, Mike. Afghanistan is winding down and Iran isn’t really on the popular radar. Additionally, if it’s the former, why did large numbers of BAME voters who turned against us in 2005, return to Labour in 2010?

  • Tonystrad

    Ed might have said Iraq was a mistake, but what about all the obscene wars since then including Afghanistan? Oh and the Class War – remember that?

  • Brumanuensis

    Couldn’t have put it better myself. Although I doubted it before polling day, the Guardian’s comment about the unpopularity of the ‘Mirpur’ set within local Labour politics – of whom Imran Hussain was a member – seems to have a lot of truth about it, judging from the swing. Clearly the local party has become so clannish and dysfunctional, that a root and branch review is required. Equally, the local council’s unpopularity has played a role. I suspect if Labour had not been in charge of the local authority, then the anti-government vote would have gone our way, but instead it went to Respect who were seen as a genuine ‘anti-establishment’ vote.

    The huge falls in the Tory and Lib Dem vote indicate this is not fatal to Labour nationally. It is a serious concern, but as you rightly point out not one the Conventional Wisdom Blairites would solve. Following their logic on ‘the popular mood’, Labour ought now to adopt hard-left policies. We won’t and shouldn’t, but it follows if we assume every by-election is of immense significance.

  • Taquin Biscuit-Barrell

    Ed may have apologised for the Iraq war but he didn’t vote for it. I have yet to hear an apology from any of the Bush loving crypto Tory Labour MPs who voted for it. The party cannot move on until there is a full apology. Perhaps the people of Bradford West would like to see a Labour Party which actually opposes this government and stops pandering to Daily Mail readers.

    • treborc

      How do you apologies to the dead soldiers who gave their lives in a war zone.

  • Pingback: How on earth did he win? Analysing George Galloway’s Bradford by-election victory | The Multicultural Politic()

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