Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Arab Spring Hits Bradford

Histomat salutes George Galloway and Respect for their triumphant and historic win in the Bradford West by-election yesterday - very many congratulations to the people of Bradford West for showing such exquisite political taste and judgement. As Galloway put it, "We have won the most sensational victory in British political history … Labour has been hit by a tidal wave in a seat they have held for many decades and dominated for 100 years. I have won a big victory in every part of the constituency, including in areas many people said I should not even compete..."

Earlier this year I was doing a bit of a spring clean and came across a box of Respect badges under my bed - dating back a few years to when as an SWP member I was part of building Respect*. The box looked kind of sad, and basically redundant. Respect had seemedly all but collapsed as a party itself - and while I did think about posting it off to their national office I gave it to my local SWP organiser in Leeds instead in case he had time to do something with it. Yesterday that very same organiser phoned me up and asked me if I wanted to go over to Bradford to help on the last day of Galloway's election campaign - it was by then clear that he had a good outside chance of winning - or at least polling very respectably. It was a glorious sunny day, I had the time and so for a few hours yesterday I went over to campaign. On the way we popped into a local bookies and put down a cheeky bet on Galloway winning ('a flutter on the GG') - the odds then were 5/1. We thought briefly about betting the whole SWP district finances on Galloway, but decided a) it would be undemocratic to do so and b) the other comrades might not be too happy to hear about this decision afterwards if it went wrong...

Anyway, we got allocated to covering a polling station on Thornton Road in what must have been by the presence of the Tory poll counters at the station one of the supposed 'Tory areas' of the constituency - though this being part of Bradford West it was a largely working class, multi-racial and multicultural area. What was clear was the amount of support for Galloway among voters going in - and from all sections of the community. Every Asian woman - young and old - that passed said they either had voted for Galloway or were voting for Galloway - for some he was their 'hero' - and they mentioned issues like the war (Galloway expressesly declared on his publicity that he was for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and pledged to oppose any new imperialist war on Iran). I did not take them all at face value at first - from past experience campaigning in Bradford for Respect years ago - people might say they were voting for the candidate you were campaigning for to your face but it didn't necessarily mean they would. There was much in the campaign earlier about the strength of 'Bradree' - communal or family loyalties which were apparently rock solid for Labour after years of this kind of paternalist networking - and so I didn't want to get my hopes up. However, by the end of my shift I thought that if indeed every Asian woman at least did vote for Galloway he would at least poll very well.

But it wasn't just Asian women who told me they were voting Galloway - a young Asian bus driver stopped his bus on the road I was on just to collect a flier from me. There was supposed to be an issue about the fact that Galloway was not 'local' - compared to the other candidates - but as Galloway himself declared being a Bradford outsider is an advantage, given the "utter failure" of 38 years of representation by Labour MPs.

"It's no electoral benefit at all to be the local candidate here," he said last week in his campaign headquarters at a Bradford solicitors' office. "People look around them and see a city that's sinking into the big black hole down there in town," he said, referring to an abandoned building site where a Westfield shopping centre was supposed to be built – an eyesore Labour blames on a Conservative-Lib Dem coalition in the city council in the first decade of the new millennium. "The city centre is filled with pound shops, pawn shops and payday loan shops. There is mass unemployment. I think somebody coming from outside and offering a new start is an electoral plus." Galloway said that support for him had "flowered like daffodils in spring".

One elderly white woman told me that all the other candidates were local councillors who had done nothing - and she had read what Galloway had written and listened to what he had said and that she agreed with him. I was reminded of the old saying 'sometimes you gotta shake the tree to see what falls out' - well, the tree of Labour-controlled politics in Bradford was given one hell of a shaking by Galloway's campaign and was found very wanting indeed. Galloway's campaign literature spoke of 'a new start in Bradford', 'an industrial policy which will bring jobs back to Bradford', an end to 'tuition fees' and stopping 'the break up of the NHS' - as he put it 'you know that, while standing for Respect, I am the real Labour man in this election. I will be a strong voice for all in Bradford'.

The only other evidence that other parties were even running in the area I was campaigning in was four young Labour-supporting student canvassers who walked past, looked dejected when they saw I was campaigning for Galloway - and a car that passed - also full of Labour activists who booed when they saw my Galloway literature. I think many in Labour secretly knew they were beaten even by that point. But no-one could have predicted the late surge of support - particularly among the young - which gave Galloway to describe the victory as an 'uprising' against the mainstream parties - and to dub this the 'Bradford Spring'. The reality is that support for Galloway came from across the constituency - and from all sections of society - and that is what is so uncomfortable for the mainstream parties about this result - it reveals just how weak the bases of all the mainsteam parties have become - even in their most 'safe seats'.

In many ways the result is a reflection of how volatile politics is in Britain just now - and across Europe as a result of the economic crisis. We see the slow polarisation of politics away from the 'centre' towards the socialist Left (as Galloway here - or look at Greece where the left of Labour parties together are now polling about 40 percent in opinion polls) and far right (eg Marine Le Pen in France). The basic fact is that Galloway won because he promised real opposition to the Tory cuts and attacks on the working class - something New Labour under Ed Miliband can't deliver at all. As one comrade put it to me in a text this morning, 'the Tories have a real opposition now and Moribund et al are in the shit'.

Finally, Galloway's win raises the question about possible future left re-alignment in Britain. Ideally it would I think be great to see a unification of Respect and the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition - 'Respect: The Trade Union and Socialist Coalition' anyone? - but this may not happen that quickly. Nonetheless, the echoes of history are here for all to see - the Independent Labour Party had its beginnings in Bradford in the 1890s - lets hope that Galloway's victory in Bradford means that 2012 sees the resurgence of 'independent Labour' - independent working class - politics in Britain again. You can almost feel what the early ILP socialists liked to call 'the rising sun of socialism' again...

Yes, spring is in the air, politics in Britain has just got interesting again after the earthquake that has just hit Bradford - and I am off to Greggs to celebrate my winnings - there are not many times when it feels like you are with the majority of opinion as a socialist - but today is one of those rare moments - and it should be savoured...

*George Galloway in a public meeting once kindly described me as a 'smart cookie', because I was apparently the only person in a room of hundreds of people who knew anything about the political career of one-time Labour Defence Minister Geoff Hoon (a.k.a. 'Geoff Who?')

Edited to add: The comments here seem to be not working so well, so in response to the challenge that this post is too optimistic about the result and its implications, I would say yes, I probably got carried away a bit here by the sunny weather - Galloway is not a revolutionary socialist, and his campaign team was noticeably very male-dominated - though also very well organised it has to be said. Nonetheless, as I think Kevin Maguire has noted, all the other political parties' votes put together couldn't have stopped Galloway here, and I think he will have learnt some lessons from his past experience as a Respect MP that mean he will be more of an asset for the socialist left this time around...

Edited to also add: see Lenin's Tomb for more analysis. The final thing I would say while I am here - and without wishing to stroke the ego of Galloway too much - is that the speed of the campaign and its unexpected victory is a little bit reminiscent of the Cuban Revolution - stealing a march on the American Empire and the British Establishment under their very noses as it were... I'll leave you with that thought...

Edited again to add: Comment from
Tariq Ali, Charlie Kimber for the SWP, and the man himself.

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At 11:04 am, Anonymous Grim and Dim said...

Optimism of the will, pessimism of the intellect.....

At 4:24 pm, Blogger Unknown said...

Thanks for this comrade! Great to have from the ground reports. We've linked to it on cf :-)

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