The political and media establishment have never liked George Galloway—and never understood his appeal.
Since the by-election they have peddled a series of myths to deflect attention from the real reasons behind his win.
‘It was the Muslim vote’
Many of the myths appeal to anti-Muslim racism.
They treat the “Muslim vote” as a block and credit Galloway with an almost supernatural ability to beguile Muslims into voting for him.
This was the line taken by the Daily Telegraph’s Andrew Gilligan, for example. But even Gilligan was forced to admit that Galloway “won across the seat, in the mixed and mainly white wards of Thornton & Allerton, Heaton and Clayton & Fairweather Green as well as in the inner-city wards”.
And a glance at Galloway’s key election material demonstrates it was designed to appeal to working class people of all backgrounds.
‘It was all about the war’
Another myth paints Muslims as uniquely obsessed with opposing British and US imperialism in Afghanistan, Palestine and Iraq.
Galloway’s record in opposing the war has certainly made him popular—and not just among Muslims. But cuts, unemployment, and Bradford’s political problems were far more important in motivating people to vote for Galloway.
‘An apolitical backlash’
Some commentators argue that Galloway’s vote represented a simple protest vote against all the mainstream parties. Tories, Lib Dems and Labour are all “three cheeks of the same arse”, to use Galloway’s phrase.
There is a history in British politics of people voting for unusual or maverick candidates because they are fed up with business as usual.
But Galloway campaigned on a clear left reformist ticket, calling for investment to counter unemployment and opposing tuition fees and NHS privatisation.
‘Bradford is just different’
There certainly were local factors that created a perfect storm in Bradford. Young Pakistani voters in particular seized the chance to defy the patronage and “community” politics that were hallmarks of Labour’s reign in the city.
And youth unemployment there is significantly higher than the regional and national rate. Educational attainment is unusually low.
But these problems are faced by ordinary people across Britain. The anger and frustration of people who voted Galloway is by no means unique to Bradford.
Nor is the ability of that city’s people to organise themselves to deliver a blow to the political establishment.