George Galloway in Bradford
For anyone outside the city, George Galloway’s win in the Bradford West by-election will have been a shock.
I woke up that day to several emails and texts either jubilant or merely informative – whether they were shocked or not was entirely dependent on their geographical location.
To be surprised at Galloway’s win is to be utterly out of touch with the thoughts and feelings of most of Bradford – fine, if that’s not your job. Not so fine if you’re on Bradford Council.
From the moment George Galloway appeared in Bradford declaring a scrap with the council, I couldn’t help but like him a little bit for that reason alone.ÃÂ His fighting talk cut straight to what is enraging people in the city at that moment and has been for some years, matching every conversation on the street. He’d done his research and he knew exactly what he was doing.
British people are stereotyped for a tendency to turn to the weather as a means for finding some common ground for smalltalk. In Bradford, it’s the failing regeneration projects first, then the weather if there’s time. Everyone seems to have a better idea of how to run the place than the people currently doing it, and they’re always agitated enough to tell you. Not a great sign.
This is why I knew he would win, despite the answers to my Twitter question: ‘Would Galloway be good or bad for Bradford and why?’ coming back with 50% negative responses based on his showboating, lack of substance, self serving nature, and worse. His policies were quite simple: regenerate the Odeon. Sort out Westfield. Sort out education. He either succeeds, in which case, great. Or he fails, in which case, we’re not exactly losing out are we?
There’s been much made of his appealing to Muslim voters, which he did as well, but 18,000+ votes in Bradford West makes a mockery of the accusation that this is the real reason he won. His policies were pretty broadly relevant and Twitter was buzzing with ‘I wouldn’t normally vote for him BUT… <local issue>’. This shouldn’t have been an angle that any of the big three should have had to worry about, because they should have had it covered.
The Labour candidate, by all accounts, seemed so unconcerned at the possibility of losing that he did virtually no work on his campaign, turning up to nothing, answering no questions and making no promises. Whether arrogance, laziness or ineptitude, how well does that bode? Say what you like about Galloway, he at least lookedÃÂ enthusiastic.
We’ve had a hung council for as long as I can remember, blocking each other’s paths and getting nothing done, and I genuinely haven’t felt any difference between our previous Conservative council leader, and our current Labour one. I’ve disliked them both, and been frustrated almost to tears at a lack of public opinion ever affecting anything they do. The city’s regeneration seems to have been run like that of a tiny village by about five people passing the ball to their mates as they moved from organisation to organisation doing whatever they liked and ignoring the public, while we get what we’re given and told to like it. See fewer than 3,000 people’s positive opinions being canvassed before spending millions on the City Park, with more than 3,000 objections to the Odeon demolition doing nothing at all. The canvassing is done to justify the goal sought, it’s a bent and maddening thing to watch.
Civic pride has had a boost of late, and it seems that we’re not prepared to let this process continue. When Galloway talked in his victory speech of a “corrupt, incompetent council”, I can’t disagree with him, because I’ve heard chilling things about behind-closed-doors conversations dictating the regeneration process based on the desires and ambitions of mere individuals, which can only lead to one or more of those conclusions.
Labour getting their arses handed to them in this Northern former mill town was a PR disaster, but it was inevitable. I almost feel sorry for them because in the absence of much attention being paid to Bradford until now, they’ll have got away with telling colleagues in Westminster “yeah, everything’s fine up there, yeah, usual, you?” and who would ever have known the truth? That this downtrodden city would shake off the people responsible for holding us back in a second-rate position where we don’t belong anymore.
The question for Labour is not ‘will George Galloway be good for Bradford?’, the question is ‘what made people vote for him in their droves regardless?’. ÃÂ That’s a question that Labour seem to be unwilling to delve into, blaming his 10,000+ landslide majority on an embarrassing turn as a cat on Celebrity Big Brother, rather than taking a look at what they were doing wrong in Bradford for him to win a huge victory in a Northern Labour stronghold in spite of that. Nice work losing badly and then insulting the intelligence of your electorate.ÃÂ As Labour’s assessment of what’s just happened, their idea that it’s the CBB incident that is responsible would be quite funny, if it weren’t so very worrying. What happened to the rest of your votes? Did the dog eat them?
No, it’s not their fault is it. It’s Galloway’s. And it’s ours. Us, the people they represent, who keep messing things up by getting in the way with our ‘wanting a right to be properly represented’ and our ‘interest in how our money is being spent’ and our ‘caring about where we live’ when surely it’s just some dump that a shopping centre should be begged to descend on to improve.
What about people wanting to set up their own businesses?ÃÂ If business rates were lower (they’re currently higher than Leeds) then maybe we’d see more independents, and wouldn’t be competing with the financial sector’s shiny offices and big name retail brands of Leeds.
We can’t do that anyway, not effectively, but why do we need to?
The number of graduates from Bradford who stick around to work here or open their own businesses here is healthy; we have two UNESCO titles, one as the City of Film and another in Saltaire; our University made headlines in September by developing effective cancer treatments after 40 years of research; we have country’s only Peace Museum and largest Peace Studies department in the world; we have the most visited museum outside London in the National Media Museum; one of the large and long empty shops in the city centre has been turned into the fantastic Handmade in Bradford, selling handmade items from local producers.
These are the routes to pursue that could actually work to mark us out, not jumping through hoops to get a major shopping centre in town and then letting them get away with destroying part of the city centre for years on end. The Council have made the city look like it has no self respect and no better ideas.
I can’t speak for the ins and outs of every issue in Bradford, but I’ve seen enough of how a few key people have operated to think that whatever Galloway does, it can’t possibly be worse. He’s pictured with a lot of loving supporters but his ‘sod it, may as well’ contingent will be the silent majority. It’s up to him now to convert the floating voters if he can, or lose out in three years.
But is this about to be a trend, as Galloway predicts? I don’t know.
The surprise all over the country indicates that there’s a different set of complaints here than anywhere else, but it certainly provides something to think about.
It’s inevitable Bradford would do something like this first; it was the birthplace of the Independent Labour Party; the first city to limit working hours for children in the 19th Century and the first to implement and then force the free school meals act; it has the world’s first Fairtrade cafe, and the 31-year-old 1 in 12 club is as strong and active as ever. This is not exactly a politically lazy city. But will the rest of the country follow? Maybe see how it works out here first.
With the dismantling of the NHS, the tuition fees, the Tell Dave Everything email scanning, the bankers and tax dodgers – it all stinks right now. We don’t like the Tories, we don’t like the Lib Dems for being Tories 2, and we don’t like Labour anymore apparently.
I can’t wait to see how this pans out nationally, maybe it’s time for the Greens to have a go at last…
More comment from within Bradford