Friday, 30 March 2012

Not what anyone expected - thoughts on Bradford, Galloway and what might be done

I guess it had to happen one day. Not that we ever thought yesterday was that day. Nor indeed, that George Galloway would be the man to do it. But it happened – Labour’s inner-city machine lost its wheels as people, mostly young people, flocked to the polls so as to give the finger to Bradford’s political leadership.

This nearly happened once before – less dramatically to be fair but it happened. From 1995, Conservatives won previously safe Labour wards – Toller, University (now City), Bradford Moor – only to come unstuck in the postal vote election of 2004. From being new – perhaps not exciting but new – challengers to the Labour machine, the Conservatives became seen as just the same. Why vote for a different set of machine politicians playing games of clan, caste and religion when you can stick with Labour?

Stood outside City Hall this morning, I chanced to speak to a leading Labour activist. He told me:

 “The biraderi game is over. This is a terrible result for us but it had to happen.”

This was followed by some choice words about the Council leadership, the Labour Party and the prospect of losing seats – Toller and Manningham particularly – to a local Respect surge. 

Galloway didn’t offer any answers, just the promise to be loud about the things that matter to the constituency – or rather to that young, Asian demographic fed up with machine politics, with a local political class that appears not to care about them or their community. The young men and women look up their street at the Labour Councillor in the big house, see him drive off in a shiny sports car and say to themselves, “is he really on our side?”

Pick up one of the postcards that Galloway delivered across the City and read the headlines – oppose the war, sort out the City centre, do something about jobs, put an end to corruption. Are these not the same cries that those young people utter? Galloway offers no answers but plays the role of echo chamber making those cries louder, more strident, more urgent. For all his rhetoric, Galloway will never provide the answers but we – the politicians looking at rejection – can begin to consider what might be done.

  • Take control of the regeneration agenda – rather than, as so many Council leaders (including me) have done, hiding in the smoke and mirrors that is our regeneration strategy. Use some of the war chest – the £180 million in reserves – to kick start work in the City. Perhaps a new central library in the former Odeon, maybe actually digging out that canal we promised and even demanding a ‘put up or go away’ from Westfield. 
  •  Asking where tomorrow’s jobs will come from – those thousands of young Bradfordians face a choice right now. Stay in the City on benefits or working stupidly long hours for not much money driving a taxi or sitting in a take-away. Or leaving – heading south to London, to the Thames Valley, to the Home Counties where there’s a chance of a job with prospects.
  • Ending the Council’s culture of venal navel-gazing – for the past few years the Council has been obsessed with its internal structures, operations and organisation. Rather than bothering about how good or bad the City’s schools were, we obsessed instead about closing down Education Bradford, about bringing it back “in house”. As if this would change anything about the educating of children in Girlington. And the same goes for everything else – for social care, for health, for planning – we paid attention to the structure and cared little for the outcome
  • Protecting services – over the past two years, rather than admit that its change programme wasn’t delivering savings quickly enough, the Council’s leadership chose to cut services. Right now they’re crowing about how the 2011/12 budget will have a £5.7 million surplus – that’s money which could have kept open a swimming pool, provided much needed care for the elderly or helped a few of those young people into jobs

On Monday the Council will return to normal. Officers will plonk behind their desks and pick up where they left off before the Galloway whirlwind swept through Bradford. There’ll be some frantic debate and discussion behind those heavy doors in City Hall but will anything change? The Labour Party will do its electoral calculus – wins in working class white wards like Eccleshill, Keighley West, Windhill, and Clayton will take them across the line even if Galloway’s acolytes snatch a couple of inner city wards. And no elections then until 2014.

And in three years Galloway will be gone, the fires will have burned out and the venal, self-serving Labour machine can reassert its malign control over Bradford’s inner-city.

Unless of course Bradfordians choose to have an elected mayor. Now that might just be interesting!



Curmudgeon said...

I see this as a distinctly disturbing development, given Galloway's blatant anti-Semitism. And I wouldn't be too sure he'll be gone in 2015.

Anonymous said...

I too think it is a start, everyone is irritated by the main three parties now its been proved that we can make a change, expect more!

Bill Ellson said...

The reason why Galloway will be gone in three years time is that the Conservative and Lib Dem voters who yesterday took the opportunity to give Labour a bloody nose will revert to their usual loyalties.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I've got an idea - How about keeping some election promises? I'm still waiting for my promised referendum on the EU. What was this 'bonfire of the quangos' that was promised? Why haven't you sorted out immigration as promised? Why are we still paying for feral scum to breed?
You want to know why you lost? Because you live in a fantasy world and the real inhabitants of this country who actually pay for people like you to live in your ivory towers think that politicians are the scum of the earth, whichever party they belong to....