I joined the campaign full time 2 weeks before the election, and spent every day campaigning at the office and out canvassing and door knocking. Obviously we thought we were going to win, we were never complacent, and we worked our hides off till polling day.
From around the 15th March till the 22nd it was clear it seemed we were going to win – we had our headquarters set up in each ward and our campaign was leaps ahead in backing, money and numbers.
The first danger sign was in our HQ on Toller lane. I was only there once, and it was packed with members from the Asian community, all of whom were old, and as I sat down I picked up a newspaper the man sitting next to me leaned over and pointed to George Galloway. He then looked at me and smiled and nodded as he said confidently – “he’s good!”
I was shocked. This was in a Labour headquarters! And I have the man next to me liking the Respect candidate – it was bizarre. Though I didn’t think anything of it, I just assumed it was some silly second preference if he could give – little did I know it was a sign of things to come.
The Asian vote in particular collapsed in that last week of campaigning (22nd till the 29th), and we were getting a bit shook up by it. I was in the office when two Asian female campaigners came in genuinely frightened to the point of paralysis by the experience they just had. They said how they canvassed Asian houses where voters there who had been Labour for decades were now voting Respect, and on a few occasions they witnessed having voters ripping up the Imran literature in front of them and throwing it to the floor. This was days before the election.
So any argument raised by the press that we expected a landslide were lying.
On Twitter during this last week I’d check the #bradfordwest hash tag, and for every pro-Labour tweet there was easily 10 pro-Galloway ones, seemingly from young Asian Bradford constituents. Also my university friends were getting inundated with emails that had been forwarded from friends about voting for Respect, and someone on our campaign team was telling me how school kids were texting each other about who their brothers and sisters should vote for (Galloway). And the day after the Sunday Politics hustings I had 3 people on the doorstep in one round who told me that their friends told them to watch the show to watch Imran get bested, and my Asian friends in particular were talking to me about this interview too, and that they heard from their friends. We’d pass kids in the street who would shout Galloway at us all the time. Their campaign was so much better organised and so much more enthused, it was quite unreal, I’ve never witnessed anything like this in British politics, and I really don’t say that lightly. The communication between activists on the Galloway side was phenomenal.
Our Ground Strategy
Could Labour have held it? Probably, though there were a few problems, primarily that our literature was solely focused on the Tories and national issues, and not on Galloway and local issues, which was key. Galloway picked on local issues like ‘The hole in ground’ which was meant to be a Westfield in the city centre, our Odeon building which is in ruins and Bradford’s 30 year+ industrial decline. All 3 of which weren’t Labours fault, the first being the Tory-Liberal coalition on the council, the Odeon being private, and the industrial decline happened in the 1980s under Thatcher. Though these 3 things were on all the Respect literature, we produced no counter leaflets whatsoever. And I heard on polling night that our HQ received a paper on everything bad Galloway has got himself into if we wished to use it – from supporting the Iranian and Syrian leadership, to his second home in the Algarve, to his poor attendance in Parliament – everything. None was used. It was especially annoying when I heard lots of people telling me about what they read on the Galloway flyers and how great he is without knowing all that he’s got up to. Such was the scale that even I was being informed of some other negative Galloway facts after 10pm on Thursday in the Hotel that even I didn’t know, so if I as an activist didn’t have all the information at hand, how can we expect the electorate to make a fully informed judgement on him?
Secondly, we had this bizarre obsession with getting members of the shadow cabinet to come down and campaign and knock on some doors. On one occasion three days before the vote this reached a peak where we wasted half a day trying to organise MPs in to groups that can canvass doors so the media can take photos – we wasted 100’s of doors doing this.
Why Galloway won
Overall I’d say these factors lost us the election:
1. Galloway’s personal appeal as an orator and debater.
2. Many financial backers in Bradford switched sides to Galloway in that final week.
3. Muslim youth’s general feeling of being disenfranchised (and who campaigned for him on mass).
4. An organisational failure on the ground to identify Galloway as a threat and our insistence on making this about the Tories nationally.
5. A local candidate who was perceived as a puppet and weak and who got his candidacy through Bradree nepotism rather than merit. This played a massive part that needs a separate article.
6. And a feeling (trumpeted by Galloway) that Labour locally was weak, complacent and corrupt. A view I heard a lot on the doorstep.
7. Galloway constantly promoted himself as the ‘Real’ Labour candidate – I think this helped people change sides with greater ease. His election speech was also about cementing that switching of sides. The speech was bizarre in a way. Iit was full of praise of the Labour party and it’s traditions and how he craves the old party back, he even said on Sky that he wants to see a Labour government in 2015.
From what I saw on the ground, this had absolutely nothing to do with the leadership of Ed Miliband, if David was leader I can assure you we’d have exactly the same result. It was more of a vote for Galloway as a person than of Respect as a party, and it didn’t happen because people started hating Labour as a national party with its ideas, but rather as a rejection of points 5 and 6 above.
This by-election was fought over local issues like the Odeon and Westfield, rather than a granny tax or the 50p tax rate, and the fact that it was is Labour’s fault. So don’t believe what you hear from the media that this was a rejection of Ed Miliband, it was an overwhelmingly local issues based by-election.
I don’t know how Labour can win this back, I’m still in shock…