The Bradford West by-election triumphantly won by George Galloway confirms that Labour’s support in working class communities is extremely fragile and that a major political crisis is coming to a head in Britain.
A veritable collapse in Labour’s vote – a majority of over 5,700 was turned into a defeat by more than 10,000 – should not disguise the fact that support for the Tory Party, which targeted the constituency as a winnable seat in the 2010 election, fell away almost as dramatically by over 22%.
Horsegate, grannygate, donorgate, pastygate, workfaregate, a budget based on tax breaks for the rich, legislation that wrecks the national health service – it could all be summed up by the expression attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette, “let them eat cake”.
And we know what happened to her in the wake of the French Revolution. Substitute cold pasties for cake and we’re living in the present.
Ed Miliband’s party should have walked home in Bradford West in the wake of the disarray at the highest levels of government, exemplified by the officially-induced panic at the petrol pumps despite the fact that tanker drivers haven’t even set a strike date over pay and condition.
Instead, Labour viewed the predominantly Asian community as voting fodder. Galloway seized on this and by all accounts succeeded in mobilising young people to back him as candidate. Asian voters seemed to have decamped en masse to Galloway.
Labour was dubbed “austerity lite” by Galloway, who is now a Respect MP for the second time. But that’s not the half of it, not even the beginning of the story. In Bradford, Labour implemented the spending cuts ordered by Whitehall and added to the dole queue.
At Westminster, Labour has supported the attacks on welfare, was compromised on health by its own attacks on the NHS, damned workers who staged strikes in defence of pensions, supported the ConDems military adventures while making a “prosperous capitalism” the target of a Miliband government.
In truth, Miliband, Cameron and Clegg are seen as variations on a political establishment whose differences with each other are at the margins. Their lives and outlooks are far removed from the concerns of ordinary working people having their standard of living slashed, their pensions wrecked, their services cut and paying through the nose to get work whether by public transport or car.
Not that Galloway and Respect are out to provide a clear alternative to Labour. On the contrary, Galloway – ever the political opportunist – used his victory speech to tell his supporters: “I do care about the Labour Party in which I served for 37 years, for 18 as Labour MP, and appeal to Labour Party to turn away and break decisively from the path of treason set for them by Tony Blair 20 years ago.”
He added: “So I appeal to the Labour Party to be a Labour Party once again, to unite the coalition they once had, and of which I was once part. That’s the way to really defeat the Tories and the Liberal Democrats.”
So voting for Galloway was a way of sending a message to Miliband! What a misuse of people’s support.
Taking demagogy a little too far, Galloway claimed the result represented a "Bradford spring" delivered "by the Grace of God”. Turning out at a by-election can hardly be compared with the sacrifices made in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria over the past year or so.
Nevertheless, the sensational Bradford West result indicates a vacuum at the heart of the British political system as the economic crisis worsens, with all the major parties discredited in the eyes of the electorate. There is an unparalleled opportunity to argue and campaign for a new democratic constitution. This would deliver power to the people and remove it from the bankers and corporations who, with their political proxies, are responsible for the emerging social catastrophe.