The charismatic politician George Galloway wins a remarkable by-election for his tiny Respect party in Bradford. His success resists simple analysis. A charismatic leadership style, campaigning focus, and voter disaffection with the major parties all appear to have contributed. Political clan politics, or Bradree, was also cited by members of the Muslim community
A BBC report stated the political statistics. Mr Galloway won the by-election by a staggering 10,140 votes, overturning a Labour majority of over 5,000 votes in the 2010 general election. The result came after a week in which the Government had suffered a series of PR blunders. The news turned the political spotlight away from the coalition, and back on the Labour opposition, and on Ed Milliband’s leadership credentials.
The celebrity candidate
Those who voted for Galloway tended to have a number of things in common. They were either a first-time voter or a disaffected Labourite, and all wanted to congratulate him on his robust stance against the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many said they watched him on Press TV, the English language Iranian-controlled channel until it was taken off air by the government earlier this year. .
More still had watched YouTube clips of Galloway ripping into his detractors, whether in front of the US senate in 2005 or in a classically adversarial interview with Sky News about Gaza. Galloway proudly refers to these as his “greatest hits”. Only a handful recognised him primarily from his appearance on Celebrity Big Brother in 2006, when he dressed in a red unitard and pretended to be [actress] Rula Lenska’s pussy cat.
The Guardian also offered a diagnosis of the defection of the Muslim vote from the Muslim labour candidate:
A common theme on the stump was frustration at clan politics in Bradford, known by the Urdu word Bradree or Biradiri, meaning brotherhood or family, which here has become a byword for exclusivity.
Many felt that too many important decisions were taken in Bradford by a small number of Pakistanis who came from Mirpur, a small town in Kashmir, who had carved up the most important Labour party positions between them over the years.
The Labour candidate in the byelection seemed to fit into that mould. Imran Hussain, a 34-year-old barrister from Bradford with Mirpur heritage, was following in his father’s footsteps when he became involved in the local Labour party, rising two years ago to become deputy leader of the city council.
Voters appear to have been swept up in George Galloway’s rhetoric. The result was hugely influenced by Labour defections and by first-time voters from the Muslim community. But there must have been a further contribution from the votes of defectors from all other political parties as well.
To be continued