Dear Bradford West Labour Party,
Congratulations on your local election results in May. You managed to contain the Respect momentum and minimise the number of Respect councillors elected.
Your next task is to build so you hold seats in upcoming local elections and beat Galloway in 2015.
George Galloway has a brilliant talent for rhetoric. His ability to move an audience with words and his ruthless skill at verbally mowing down any opponent wins him short term support. His skill with language and his enormous personal self confidence sometimes make it difficult for people to see through to the person he really is.
His recent comments on rape were a moment when the real man and his values shone through.
Galloway’s opinions about what constitutes rape have been widely quoted. The part of his statement which repulses me most is his “I don’t believe either of them”. I’ve seen Galloway declare himself a feminist. Using a public platform to imply that two women who have reported rape are liars makes him the enemy of anyone who wants to increase rape reporting and conviction rates. As Salma Yaqoob said, this incident “has taken the debate around violence against women a step backwards”.
To her great credit, the leader of the Respect party, Salma Yaqoob, condemned Galloway’s remarks, calling them “deeply disappointing and wrong”.
Every Respect representative, councillor and party activist, must be asked which side they are on. Do you they agree with George Galloway or Salma Yaqoob on the question of rape and access to justice?
If they agree with Galloway, they are equally culpable. If they support their party leader, surely they must recognise that George Galloway is not a fit person to represent them in parliament. Local people deserve to know where their councillors stand. They should be asked at every Full Council meeting until they respond, and the people of Bradford must be told about it.
In Tower Hamlets, George Galloway’s appearance in the Big Brother house was a turning point, when people who had supported him turned away as he publicly embarrassed them. This time his actions are far worse.
He needs to be held accountable in Bradford. Before you take on George Galloway, you need to have thought through his strengths and weaknesses. Both are considerable.
In person George Galloway’s tactic is always to bulldoze any opponent with rhetoric.
Make sure you’re well prepared. He will cite supporters to make it seem that he is in the mainstream, as if his view is the only one that can be legitimate. Make sure you have groups and individuals you can cite who are authoritative and who will speak out in your support.
Galloway hates being challenged on his record, and he will know he is weak after these comments. His response to being challenged is to dish out very eloquent insults. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted defending yourself. Think through likely attacks and have a quick response to each one which will allow you to segue back quickly into your main points.
Never ask Galloway a rhetorical question. Never give him a way back into debate. Take charge of your own moment.
Choose your moment to tackle Galloway. You do need to take him on to beat him, but make choices about what platforms you share. He will.
Once Respect started to fall apart in Tower Hamlets the previously high profile Galloway almost disappeared. Make this the moment when the people of Bradford saw him for what he is. The opportunists who revelled in his success will soon melt away once he becomes a liability.
None of this will be enough if Labour isn’t also offering the people of Bradford an alternative they can believe in.