George Galloway's win is mainstream politics' loss

When the British electorate opt for populism, you know the mainstream parties are taking a kicking

The cat that got the cream
Houriya Ahmed
On 30 March 2012 18:41

There are fewer things in life that are more depressing than seeing George Galloway’s smug face after winning an election. Yet this is the reality after Galloway managed to convince 55.9 percent of those who voted in Bradford West to vote for him, despite his past stint as the Respect MP in Bethnal Green showing him to be more interested in self-aggrandisement than his constituents.

Galloway is not just appalling because he likes to act like a cat on public television. He is appalling because he is a demagogue who resorts to sectarian politics as a means to acquire popularity and power. He is everything I despise in a politician.

Sadly, it seems his sectarian politics worked. In the lead up to voting day, Galloway reached out to Muslim voters and those with Pakistani heritage and told them they shouldn’t vote for the Labour candidate Imran Husain. He insinuated that Husain drinks alcohol and is therefore not a proper Muslim. He also told Bradford West’s voters that he has done more for Pakistan and Kashmir than Labour ever did. He reminded them that he has been the one who cares about Muslims by standing up to Western “imperialism” and has tried to “save the people of Iraq”, sided with Palestinians “in their agony” and has demanded an “immediate” end of the war in Afghanistan.

Galloway claims to care about Muslims abroad, yet all he has ever done is pander to Middle Eastern dictators, including the Iranian regime, who have oppressed the democratic will of their people. He is duplicitous.

And what is so insulting about Galloway’s campaign is that he assumes all Muslims and all those with Pakistani heritage care about matters not related to how they live their lives in Britain, but in matters that are remote and on the other side of the world. Galloway treats Muslims like primates, telling them what they should be concerned about rather than asking what matters to them.

How, then, did he manage to accrue 18,341 votes in a constituency that has been a safe labour seat since 1974? While I am loathe to agree with anything Conservative party chair Baroness Warsi says, she has a point: “If Labour can't win one of their safe seats in these tough economic times and in a tough week for the Government, how can they win anywhere?”

If anything, the result is a damning indictment of what a bad job Labour—and indeed other mainstream political parties—has done to convince voters that they are the best party to attend to and serve the needs of Bradford West’s voters.

Galloway is a disingenuous megalomaniac, but he is not the only politician that resorts to identity politics. Instead of capitalising on the Coalition government’s unpopularity at a time of austerity, Labour probably assumed that putting forward a Muslim candidate would get them that winning vote.

In the case of Bradford West, the majority of voters didn’t choose Labour or Conservative (the party also lost a huge amount of votes in the by-election) but a populist from an obscure political party. This shows how disillusioned voters are with mainstream politicians in Britain. In a multi-ethnic and multi-religious Britain, sectarian politics should be thrown out the window.  Otherwise, how else are our politicians ever to build a truly cohesive, well integrated—and pluralistic—society?

Houriya Ahmed is a Research Fellow at The Henry Jackson Society. Follow her on Twitter at @HouriyaAhmed

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