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Galloway Marches as Labour Reels


SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | New Delhi, April 4, 2012 14:10
Tags : Bradford West | george Galloway | Birmingham Hodge Hill | labour Party | Respect Party | |

Galloway Marches as Labour ReelsLast week, while the world was debating usual topics of interest, something happened in Great Britain that as expected went largely unnoticed in India. The incident is being pegged as a political Tsunami in Britain and is being seen as a catalyst for the collapse of the old socio-political order.

Britain's prominent mainstream political outfits were left stunned as firebrand politician and broadcaster George Galloway, a vocal and fierce opponent of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, won a stunning return to parliament. And by doing so, this Scottish politico became the lone member of his newly found Respect party to reach to parliament. This political miracle played out in Bradford in northern England that was bastion of the Labour Party for close to 4 decades now.

What made this by-elections contest interesting is the fact that Galloway was a member of Labour Party before deciding to quit and form his own outfit. Official figures from the Election Commission suggest that Galloway managed to bag more than half of the votes cast, a miracle again in a country that follows First-Past-The-Post system. As the dust settled, Galloway had trounced his Labour competitor Imran Hussain by over 10,000 popular votes.

So why is it being termed as a political Tsunami? What has Galloway achieved through his victory? Let's look at some of the positions Galloway has taken on key issues facing Britain. The most important poll plank was his opposition to the war in Afghanistan. He was categorical in suggesting that Britain wants its “Kids” to return home and not in body-bags.
Whereas, on the domestic front, Galloway has since the beginning overtly condemned the austerity program floated by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition regime. The measures have started to show its effect but sadly on the masses and not economy as planned. What worked for Galloway is the understanding among the voters that he is not just another populist cashing on the sombre mood but sticks to his ground even in non-electoral season.

That the losing candidate was a Labour appointee, makes the win even more savory. After being kicked out of Labour Party for opposing Britain's involvement in Iraq War, Galloway got elected in 2005 from the east London constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow on his Respect Party ticket. However, he lost the seat in 2010. Bradford West, from where he has won, has over 30 percent of its voters of South Asian origin and Galloway's political and economic positions have won him a majority in the community.

On the personal front, Galloway has the ability to impress his supporters and numb his opponents. His wit and command on world affairs works wonders for him. In 1994, when he was little more than a rookie in British politics, he flew to Baghdad and congratulated Saddam Hussein for his courage in the full view of camera.

He was called to testify before the US Senate to defend himself over claims he received illicit payments from the United Nations Oil for Food Programme, popularly called Volcker revelations, and used the opportunity to lambast the Bush regime officials who were seen ducking for cover. “I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference is Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns and to give him maps the better to target those guns,” he roared as Rumsfeld was seen shifting on his seat uncomfortably and then leaving the House without explanation. Surely, Galloway has not made his bones from nothing.

There are obviously people who claim that Galloway played the Muslim Card to win the seat. Nothing is farther from truth. No doubt withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan is an issue that appeals an average south Asian Muslim voter, but it also appeals over 70 percent of whites in Britain, surveys reveal.

Also, withdrawal was just one of the issues. Galloway spent majority of his time discussing austerity drive, school fees, unemployment, crime, poverty and the way cities in the North have been neglected by mainstream parties to appease South. Galloway also evoked the spirit of "real Labour" as opposed to New Labour. When the results were announced, instead of splitting the voters on ethnic or religious lines, it was revealed that Galloway won majorities in the entire constituency including the Anglo-Saxon majority pockets.

In the coming months, there are chances of another by-election. This time it will be for Birmingham Hodge Hill that has more or less similar demographic distribution as Bradford West. In hay days, Labour Party would have piggy-backed on Muslim votes and won the day. But things have changed. British Muslim community is trying to break the “Baradari” system of voting that assured entire community vote to Labour Party that played on Muslim insecurity of Tories.

 If you look closely, the scenario has a parallel with India. Replace Labour and Tories with Congress and BJP and it start making sense. Baradari order has collapsed in Britain as young Muslims are defying orders from elders to vote for Labour. On its part, the Labour Party has tried to show composure and dismiss Bradford Tsunami as an aberration. Birmingham Hodge Hill will tell us if it is otherwise.  

(Disclaimer: The views expressed in the blog are that of the author and does not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of The Sunday Indian)
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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017