Why conventional Westminster wisdom is wrong about Bradford

10:08 am - April 1st 2012

by Sunny Hundal    

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An iron-clad rule of politics is that every major event confirms the long-standing views of most commentators. As Emma Burnell points out: “It’s important for the walking wounded to keep walking. Displacement activity helps.”

The Conservatives are wounded: their drop in vote-share was bigger than Labour’s even though Bradford West was a target seat in 2010 and they were hoping to sneak in to victory with a split vote. The Liberal Democrats are wounded too: they lost their deposit and didn’t manage to excite anyone at all. Naturally, both focused on what a ‘crushing’ defeat it was for Labour.

On Friday night I was asked on to Newsnight to discuss the by-election, and didn’t get a chance to expand on my comment that the by-election “strengthened” Ed Miliband. So here it is.

Here are three views after Bradford

1. A response by many of Labour’s opponents: ‘Sitting governments always lose votes at by-elections. For the opposition to do so is shocking’.

2. A point by George Galloway to Channel 4: “I put it down to a tidal wave of alienation in this country, and not just in Bradford, against the tweedle-dee-tweedle-dum politics of the major parties. If a backside could have three cheeks, they would be the three cheeks of that backside.”

3. A summary of Labour’s problem: “If your main message is that we’re not as bad as the Tories, then you’re going to get absolutely trounced in areas where they aren’t the main opposition.” – as told to me by Sunder Katwala.

There is a common thread here, that the Westminster bubble still fits political developments into a bi-polar world where votes are exchanged between the Conservatives and Labour (with some seepage at the margins to the Libdems).

That world increasingly does not exist. The SNP, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party; UKIP and Respect have all become viable foes in certain areas, and most of the time it’s Labour that fails to take advantage of a terminal decline in vote-share of the Conservative (and now Libdems).

So how does all this impact Ed Miliband? There’s no point trying to understand what happened in Bradford from reading people who will tell you what they’ve always believed.

This report by Sean Dolat is a must-read on what happened:

Galloway constantly promoted himself as the ‘Real’ Labour candidate, I think this helped people change sides with greater ease. His election speech was also about cementing that switching of sides. The speech was bizarre in a way, it was full of praise of the Labour party and it’s traditions and how he craves the old party back, he even said on Sky that he wants to see a Labour government in 2015!

This by-election was fought over local issues like the Odeon and Westfield, rather than a granny tax or the 50p tax rate, and the fact that it was is Labour’s fault, so don’t believe what you hear from the media that this was a rejection of Ed Miliband, it was an overwhelmingly local issues based by-election.

The Bradford by-election wasn’t a referendum on Ed Miliband – it was a referendum on Labour’s old way of thinking and campaigning.

The usual ‘voices of desperation‘ keep shrieking that Ed Miliband suffered because he hasn’t hugged the centre-ground enough.

But the development actually strengthens his argument within Labour (not made strongly enough) that the party needs to change. Refounding Labour was a watered-down, badly communicated damp squib. The party now needs to go further.

There should be greater urgency to clear out the dinosaurs who stick to the 90s rule-book. There is no alternative to change and going back to the politics of Blairism will spell an even bigger electoral disaster.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Labour party ,Westminster

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Reader comments

The door is now wide open for Greens, Respect, the SNP – anyone running to the Left of Labour – to profit from it (and it wouldn’t surprise me either if UKIP or even the BNP pulled off the same trick ‘in reverse’, and gained their first ever MP before 2015). What is so interesting about this byelection was the turnout: people WANTED to get out and vote for a candidate saying something different from the neoliberal consensus.

To R Read.

The only party to the right of the Tories that will take their votes is UKIP. The BNP are fighting for the same votes as the greens, SNP and Galloways lot; I.e disaffected Labour voters. The BNP are a left wing party, I agree with you that they could do well in barking or burnley but can’t see them getting many votes in Surrey or Cheshire.

I agree of course that the BNP tend to take votes from Labour (as can UKIP, too). That however hardly makes them ‘a left wing party’?!! Unless you genuinely count the Nazi Party as leftwing, too…

4. George Hallam

“There is a common thread here, that the Westminster bubble still fits political developments into a bi-polar world where votes are exchanged between the Conservatives and Labour (with some seepage at the margins to the Libdems).”

And when it comes to proposing alternative to this political establishment there is a common thread running through the comments of people like you and that is that there is no real alternative to the status quo.

This is because you refuse to challenge the dogma of free trade and the need for an open economy. This means that until the UK has any assets to sell the pound will continue to be vastly over-priced and as a result there can be no revival of domestic industry. The consequence is mass unemployment is inevitable.

If a three-cheeked backside could have a tail, then the Left would be the tail of that backside.

For a real alternative have a look at what Lewisham People Before Profit is saying and doing.


5. Leon Wolfeson

@2 – You’re funny, and not in a good way. The BNP are a typical far-right party.

At least the worst that can truly be said about UKIP is they’re ultra-English nationalist.

And if supporting suicide bombing is “real” Labour, the party needs to disband now. Alternatively, they could shift to the left.

Yet Blairite New Labour were able to win the seat.

Sunny, while any sane person would of course welcome a concrete rejection of, what you call, “Blairism” – it simply doesn’t work out in real terms. If we take this so-called “Blairism” to be more than just a convenient abstraction, then we can define it roughly within the theories and practices of neoliberalism, which, at the moment, is actively monopolised by the Tories. However, taking into account Miliband and Balls’ austerity-lite programme and his hollow words about “ethical capitalism”, it is obvious that the Labour party are also advertising themselves (to those who will benefit) as the potential advocates and practitioners of neoliberalism. In other words, Labour’s significance as an authentic party of opposition to the Tories is being questioned.

Furthermore, if we take into account the fact that Labour, under Miliband, are pro-war, terrified of all forms of class confrontations (including union strikes, anti-cuts protests, etc) and, like all other potential vanguards of neoliberalism, preoccupied by this mythical group of phantoms referred to as the “squeezed middle”, then it perhaps again becomes clear why Labour’s monopoly on the working class vote is beginning to disintegrate.

The Labour Party, like the Conservatives, are actively opposed to the interests of the vast majority of the British people – hence the reason why those of us situated to the left of Labour have welcomed even this brief break with the political establishment apropos Bradford. But part of what you say is right, this isn’t just specific to Labour, it is rather part of a prolonged and antagonistic grassroots awakening to the mendaciousness and superficiality at the heart of the British political establishment. It is of no surprise to me at all that the Labour media bloc have overwhelmingly reacted with such fear, arrogance and delusion at a little bit of class consciousness being injected into the political discourse.

Galloway’s victory in no way helps Milliband. He is seen by many outside of London/the commenterati as being part of New Labour, and newsflash: nobody likes them anymore. Galloway won I think because he grasps that many Labour voters do not appreciate the drift to the right/centre. They want a party that doesn’t mirror/enforce/outdo the condems and their outrageous attacks on claimants, the NHS (where cuts were instigated by labour) and that people are poor, due to low wages and benefit cuts. Labour used to speak for people who felt this way. not any more.

Just because a left wing Labour party was once thought to be unelectable, it does not follow the same is true today. After all the world has changed a lot since the nineties. Back then we weren’t faced with financial meltdown, austerity cuts and endless wars. Its time the Labour party moved on from Blair and gave us a real alternative to the coalition.

10. paul barker

Bradford certainly confirms my beliefs that labour membership in the north has been hollowed out & that your poll leads are very soft.
Clearly going back to newlabour/blairism isnt on but that doesnt really tell us much. I am still very unclear about what this reformed labour will be like. Will labour accept that Britains Debts are a real problem?
Are labour going for the centre or a radical shift to the left ?

As a war baby I would like to see Clause 4 re-instated. Selling off our power, water and roads to other countries is as good as treason as these are essential requirements for any nation. If the ‘corporate’ employers require people who are educated, healthy and prepared to work then wages should enable people to live ‘decent’ly’. Paying subsistance wages and expecting taxpayers to make up the difference means that these sustandard employers are being subsidised by the state i.e. the taxpayers. Given that most of them avoid paying tax in any way possible then they are not contributing their share to either the education or wellbeing of their wage slaves. Since they also benefit from legal protection and incorporation, rubbish collection and street lighting they already are milking the country for all it is worth. Wrecking our NHS and planting horror stories in the media to justify their malice is typical political brainwashing and a lot of people have had enough of it. Give the keys of this country to Brussels. May be the British people would be better off! Offload this useless bunch of self serving hypocrites.

12. Ramsey McDonald

Oh dear! As usual Sunny doesn’t get it. Quelle Suprise. Where to begin with this intellectually lazy post?

“A response by many of Labour’s opponents: ‘Sitting governments always lose votes at by-elections. For the opposition to do so is shocking”

Perhaps this is the case because since 1979, the last 3 times an opposition has lost a by-election, they went on to lose the general election. Indeed in one of those by-elections, our friend George Galloway was closely involved in one of those campaigns (when he was MP for Glasogw Hillhead and Labour lost the neighbouring seat Glasgow Govan to the SNP).

Galloway was successful because he got those who don’t normally turn out at elections to vote for him along with Tory/LD tactical voters and some disillusioned Labour voters. Most other stayed home. If they had turned out Labour would not have lost this seat.

The truth is that had Ed Miliband spent more time outlining why people should vote for Labour instead of spending all his time Tory bashing more people may have turned out for Labour. It’s no good telling voters the Tories are useless, you have to convince them that you’re not. Ed is not doing that.

The truth is Sunny, the vast majority of the country are on the “centre ground”, they don’t want an extremist Prime minister who is happiest bashing business. They want a Prime Minister with solutions to the economic crisis, not weak banker bashing.

The SNP in Scotland have been very clever in convincing all you English lefties that they are to the left of Scottish Labour but let me tell you they are not. They appealed to the centre ground of Scottish politics and that coupled with Iain Gray’s incompetence and the general nepotism of Scottish Labour saw them romp home.

They froze the council tax, hardly left wing. They have people in their party like Fergus Ewing and Bruce Crawford who are more right wing than the Scottish Conservative party.

The answer is simple, it’s time Ed Miliband stopped pretending he was the British Obama, and started appealing to real voters and their concerns. Otherwise he should move aside for someone who can actually do the job and you’re spinning for him Sunny is not helping the Labour party one bit.

Some might say you’re actually a Liberal plant designed to bring the Labour party down from the inside….

The real white elephant in the room was the muslim vote, there are wards with 70%muslim voters, not asians, and in weeks before election Respect managed to get young muslim youth to register, this group of 1000 flooded these wards with Respect posters, On poling day, voter turn was lower the GE but nearly 30% higher in the muslim community of near 70%
Ken Livingstone has also worked out Galloway was doing, so with 1 in 5 london voter from the muslim community Ken pledge “if elected as mayour he will make london a beacon of islam”. There is no further analysis to do. It was the muslim block vote that did it for Respect.

If Galloway wants the old Labour Party back, that shouldn’t be surprising. After all, he didn’t leave the party of his own accord. He continues to speak highly of Kinnock and of John Smith ( http://blogs.dailyrecord.co.uk/georgegalloway/2011/01/labour-leader-who-spoke-from-the-heart.html ). It is perhaps questionable whether he would have been ejected from the party under a pre-New-Labour dispensation.

“An iron-clad rule of politics is that every major event confirms the long-standing views of most commentators.”

As you have just demonstrated, Sunny…

But Labour can’t change. Not enough for the likes of those young Muslims in Bradford West anyway. The party is just a spin machine at the top level. I don’t know what it’s like at branch level because I’ve never been a member, but I can’t imagine it’s too exciting.
The reality of the Labour party is someone like Chuka Umunna arguing an opponent into the ground on Newsnight. Or the nodding heads you see on the Labour front bench during Prime Minister’s Question Time. Totally boring.

Remember also (if it means anything much at all), that the Manningham Ward Labour Club was firebombed by rioters in July 2001.

One of the key factors in Galloway’s success was that he managed to enthuse and inspire a lot of young people.

The inability of the also-rans to do the same is a problem they don’t seem to want to address.

Perhaps this is why they would rather focus on the religion of Respect’s supporters rather than their age. Losing the support of voters within a minority religion is a lot less unsettling than losing the support of an entire generation.

I can’t see how this helps Ed. His supporters urged us to choose him over the more obvious successor on the basis that he represented a break with Blair and Brown which would help energise the base. How’s that working out?

George Galloway is a one off. ‘Respect’ can only win a few seats in this manner, so there are few lessons to be learned. However, I would make the following observations:

1) Galloway is hated by something like 95% of the electorate, none of whom would ever vote for him under any circumstances. Galloway completely understands this, however, he makes no attempt to convince them otherwise. He does not attempt to moderate his views to accommodate his enemies. They may hate him, but they can only vote against him once, so it does matter how much they hate him so he may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.*
2) Galloway defends his electorate’s alliances. For all the whataboutery regarding Iran’s regime, he knows that among his supporters attacking it is not too popular, so he doesn’t.
3) Galloway instead attacks his electorate’s enemies. A bit of Anti Americanism, anti Blairism and anti Toryism is what his electorate want, so they get it. Galloway is not a consensus politician, he thrives in
4) The Iraq War hurts the Labour Party and Galloway knows that and makes hay while the sun shines.

Finally, if there is a SINGLE lesson that Labour needs to learn is this:

5) ‘Diversity’ means more than superficial appearances. Having a Pakistani Muslim fight Bradford West is meaningless if he is a pre screened New Labour clone. Diversity means diversity of thought and opinion, not just skin colour and ethnic background. Galloway is a middle aged, middle class Scot from Dundee and has little in common with most of his constituency, but he speaks the type of political language that they speak.

*Note to fuck wits. I know Labour cannot win if 95% of the electorate hate them, but we have to accept that there are a percentage of people who never vote Labour and never will. Trying to moderate your language to accommodate that is mindless stupity.

For me clause 4 singled Labour out as the socialist party of the UK, or more precisely, the party who would lead us into socialism in a slow, well ordered way. Unfortunately Labour have now burnt their bridges, firstly by revoking clause 4 and secondly the Blairite years. The direct post-war period was really Labour’s spring, it was a unique period of consensus politics which allowed ‘socialist’ policies to prevail, there is no going back and the opportunity is unlikely to present itself again anytime soon.

Those who believe that Galloway’s victory in Bradford was about the racial demographic are fooling themselves, Asians are also a particular class and there are a large number of working-class Asians in Bradford. This election, in the Labour heartlands, is a continuum of the massive working-class support that Labour have lost over the past ten years or so.

I have absolutely no constructive opinion as to how Labour can move forward, even going to left of centre (which is still right compared to the 60s and 70s) isn’t going to be enough to win back their traditional supporters.

They are the three cheeks but Galloway is the arsehole.

22. Leon Wolfeson

@12 – Funny, it would appear that leaving 4 million at home and taking the vote back decades in numbers isn’t a winning strategy. But no, things need to shift further right and alienate those voters further!

23. Shatterface

“I put it down to a tidal wave of alienation in this country, and not just in Bradford, against the tweedle-dee-tweedle-dum politics of the major parties. If a backside could have three cheeks, they would be the three cheeks of that backside.”

With Galloway the hole between them.

24. Shatterface

Bugger, Dave Bones got there before me.

25. Sunder Katwala

Thanks for the mention.

I think all sides of the Labour internal discussion are stuck in “what I have always thought”, when more than one thing can be true at once.

1. Labour does have a problem in running anti-Tory campaigns where the Tories aren’t in contention. That was the big mistake in Scotland in the Scottish election, which surprised Labour, having got a swing to Labour in May 2010 where “keep the Tories out” was relevant (and worked). That isn’t necessarily a left/centre-left/right point. It could also just be a “have a positive argument” point.

2. There may well be fair criticisms of Ed Miliband, Labour’s credibility on the economy, etc. But it is completely implausible to argue these would have made the party more likely to hold Bradford West. Why would a David Miliband party been better insulated against Galloway in this by-election?

3. There may well be fair “don’t neglect your own base” arguments. But these have a problem if they imply that strategy X to defeat Galloway in Bradford is the route to winning a national election. (And it is a bit simplistic to eg make it only about Iraq, when the constituency twice elected Labour MPs since. However, given a byelection, most voters wanted to give Labour and the establishment parties a two finger gesture).

Much as I don’t like his politics, or his personal egotism, it seems to me Galloway perhaps for once did something good in connecting to disengaged under 25s in a very young constituency, as well as something very worrying in the way he played very divisive and sectarian politics with his appeals to Muslims over alcohol having never touched his lips, etc.

“[M]y comment that the by-election ‘strengthened’ Ed Miliband…”

This is an April 1st spoof, isn’t it? Isn’t it??

The fact is, Labour is bleeding votes in its heartlands, Galloway only received a similar number of votes as Labour in 2010. Their vote share went down by one half in Bradford West, although I am open to the argument that those voters did not defect from Labour, but that is absolutely no consolation.
The Labour Party have been extremely lucky in that voters in its’ heartlands will not vote Labour but do not vote for other parties. Looking at a few South Yorkshire constituencies it’s the same pattern:-

Barnsley has lost nearly 50% between 1992 and 2010
Doncaster North (Ed Miliband) the same pattern (incidently he only received about 1000 more votes in 2010 as Galloway).
Don Valley (Caroline Flint) has 50% fewer votes than Labour in 1992.

Labour have alientated their traditional supporters, so far it has been sentiment that has saved Labour but that won’t last forever.

Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    Why conventional Westminster wisdom is wrong about Bradford http://t.co/vzme7QtI

  2. Jason Brickley

    Why conventional Westminster wisdom is wrong about Bradford http://t.co/YTDLCbeu

  3. Chris Brooke

    Sunny Hundal: "a referendum on Labour’s old way of thinking" http://t.co/NU2FZhUQ #whythebradfordwestresultmeansweshouldsupportmypolitics

  4. Tony Leech

    Conventional Westminster wisdom is wrong about Bradford election (and how it helps Ed Mili) http://t.co/itx5E3Ox by me

  5. roifield brown

    @sunny_hundal We are witnessing the Balkanisation of UK politics, Bradford was a referendum on all major parties http://t.co/ZLiuJBGp

  6. Nautilus in Red

    Oh no, I agree with @sunny_hundal! (On Bradford West) (Well, I partly agree) (I don't agree about Westminster bubble) http://t.co/WLG4qpld

  7. Paul Trembath

    Conventional Westminster wisdom is wrong about Bradford election (and how it helps Ed Mili) http://t.co/itx5E3Ox by me

  8. Daggle

    Hundal smells the coffee but doesn't know what to do about it. http://t.co/MTkTGy46

  9. Daggle

    “@sunny_hundal: Westminster wisdom is wrong about Bradford http://t.co/MTkTGy46 > Something is happening here but you don't know what it is.

  10. Matt Harwood

    Why conventional Westminster wisdom is wrong about Bradford http://t.co/gakUghmz

  11. Steve Douglas

    Conventional Westminster wisdom is wrong about Bradford election (and how it helps Ed Mili) http://t.co/itx5E3Ox by me

  12. Pantomime, Pasties and Election failures, some observations and a moan « Northernheckler's Blog

    […] Why conventional Westminster wisdom is wrong about Bradford (liberalconspiracy.org) […]

  13. criticalpraxis

    Why conventional Westminster wisdom is wrong about Bradford http://t.co/vzme7QtI

  14. faz hakim

    Conventional Westminster wisdom is wrong about Bradford election (and how it helps Ed Mili) http://t.co/itx5E3Ox by me

  15. Alex Braithwaite

    Why conventional Westminster wisdom is wrong about Bradford | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/ddDiTocp via @libcon

  16. Peter Kenyon

    @sunny_hundal in yr Bradford post http://t.co/1Ux3h41J How will yr clear out of the dinosaurs who stick to the 90s rule-book work?

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