George Galloway's Bradford West victory may change the shape of British politicsby David Goodhart / April 4, 2012 / Leave a comment
George Galloway won the overwhelming support of Bradford’s young Muslim population. Here, at a pro-Palestine rally in Whitehall, 2009. Photo: Flickr Creative Commons
Even more than George Galloway, a young man called Naweed Hussain is the key to the Bradford West by-election upset. I spent a couple of hours with him last summer when I went to Bradford to write a piece “ten years on” from the 2001 riots. He was an angry and thwarted man; angry not so much about joblessness or discrimination (though he did complain about a “brown ceiling” at the council and university) but about the control of minority representation in the Labour party by people from the Jats and Bains clans from the Mirpur region of Kashmir, from where so many of Britain’s 1.2m Pakistanis originate.
When those clans strong-armed Imran Hussain, a lawyer and Bradford Labour councillor of Kashmiri background, into the Labour nomination for the seat, it was the final straw for Naweed, who had worked closely with the previous Labour MP Marsha Singh. He is an articulate and well-integrated 30-year-old training consultant but he is from a Punjabi background so he was never going to thrive in Bradford Labour. When two weeks before the election he abandoned Labour and became, in effect, Galloway’s agent, the result was sealed. Of course it needed other things too—a charismatic candidate, an ethnic grievance culture that could be mobilised through social media and Muslim websites, the willingness of younger Muslim voters and especially increasingly well educated young women to break with the Biraderi system of clan loyalty.
So the Bradford West upset is probably most accurately described as the result of a minor civil war within the Pakistani elite in the town which then led to the younger generation revolting against its elders. And a successful by-election campaign that loudly highlights the plight of the Palestinians is not likely to tell us much about, or have much impact on, national politics.
It does, however, show how “soft” support is for all the main parties, especially in depressed places like Bradford, and also how Ed Miliband has failed to create much buzz around his leadership (it is hard to imagine this happening under a young Tony Blair in 1996). It may also help to revive the Respect party, a sort of Islamic version of the Socialist Workers Party, which after its great successes at the height of…