Far-left candidate, George Galloway, won a landslide victory in the by-election for the Bradford West parliamentary seat in the U.K. on Thursday night. Galloway, a former Labour MP who was banished from the party after he called the Iraqi resistance to kill British soldiers in the country, celebrated his victory, tweeting to supporters, "Long live Iraq. Long live Palestine, free, Arab, dignified. George Galloway MP."
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The Bradford West constituency has been held by the Labour party for 37 years and was regarded a "safe seat" for Labour (party leader Ed Miliband, who had scheduled a victory visit to Bradford Friday morning, hastily cancelled) until Galloway's Respect Party targeted it in the by-election called last month following the previous MP's serious illness. Galloway exploited tensions within the local Labor party branch and targeted Bradford's large Asian-Muslim community (estimated at around 38 percent of the voters) using campaign literature specifically aimed at Muslim concerns. One of his campaign leaflets said "“God KNOWS who is a Muslim. And he KNOWS who is not. Instinctively, so do you. Let me point out to all the Muslim brothers and sisters what I stand for: I, George Galloway, do not drink alcohol and never have. Ask yourself if you believe the other candidate in this election can say that truthfully.”
On Galloway's main rival Labour candidate the leaflet said – "Thirsty Imran Hussain (hic) likes his refreshments; and campaigning in this unseasonably good weather is thirsty work indeed."
This crude electioneering seems to have worked as Galloway won Thursday night with an astonishing 56 percent of the vote (in the 2010 general election the Respect candidate in Bradford West came fifth) and Labour's Hussain received only 25 percent. The ruling Conservative party's candidate gained only a dismal eight percent.
Galloway's political career has seemed over and done with at least twice before. The Scottish MP was always on the left-wing of the party, urging for Labor to cooperate with Communist and Marxist groups and maintaining close contacts with Arab dictators including the Iraqi president Saddam Hussein to whom he said following the first Gulf War "Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability."
His isolation within the party increased following Britain's participation in the last decade's wars in Afghanistan and Iraq when he announced his support of the Muslim forces fighting against the western armies. He repeatedly accused his party's leader, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, of lying and was finally expelled from the party in October 2003. Following his banishment, he was one of the founders of the Respect Party, which combined a radical left platform with revolutionary Islamic elements. In the 2005 General Election he returned to Parliament as Respect's only MP, beating the Labour incumbent, Oona King, in a campaign in which his supporters were accused of using anti-Semitism against King, who is Jewish.
Galloway was little seen in Parliament, with one of the lowest voting and attendance records. He spent much of his time touring the world, mainly Arab countries, including trying to get into Gaza with aid convoys organized by his Viva Palestina. In the 2010 general election, he failed to get re-elected and has since been waiting for a new parliamentary seat to turn up. Bradford West was the perfect opportunity for a come-back.
Aside from the town's large Muslim community, he built his support on the growing disaffection with the Conservative-Liberal coalition and its austerity measures, and the widespread feeling that the main opposition Labor under Ed Miliband has yet to present a viable alternative.
Labor's candidate Hussain is a member of a local Pakistani family who has long been active in Bradford politics and Galloway capitalized on the feelings within the Muslim community that Hussain's clan had monopolized issues in town for too long.
Is Galloway's victory a warning sign for British politics?
By-elections are not always reliable indicators of political trends. They often reflect only local frustrations and momentary moods. Labor which fully expected to win these by-elections is certainly trying to spin it that way. Deputy party leader Harriet Harman said there was "a particular problem" with Bradford and that the result was "a last-minute phenomenon" and not representative of a more widespread problem.
While that may be the case and the Respect Party do not have any other famous and charismatic candidates who can recreate Galloway's achievement in other parts of Britain, the fact that such a radical and nakedly sectarian campaign can be so successful should raise major question marks regarding the disaffection of immigrant communities in the United Kingdom and the failure of its mainstream parties to address that.