It snowed this morning. Not an unusual occurrence in Bradford as the massive grit pile at Denholme attests but late April is pushing it for snowstorms. Because I chose to stay in rather than head into town, I found myself reading a piece in the Independent by the writer, Ben Judah where he - with some justification - tears into the politics of Bradford:
Were you shocked by Naz Shah’s outbursts on social media? Were you baffled that an aspiring MP would call to “relocate” (that is, destroy and deport) Israel to America? Did you baulk, wondering why on earth a self-respecting politician would ask supporters to vote in an online poll because “the Jews are rallying”?
Don’t be. Because Naz Shah, and everything she said, is normal politics in Bradford.
Ben goes on to recount his experiences of visiting Bradford including a terrifying and terrible racist assault. The picture painted in the article is a pretty bleak one filled with references to the poverty, depression and segregation of the City. I bridled a little at the suggestion that all politics in Bradford is shaped by events in Israel and Palestine and, as a result, got into a spat with Ben on Twitter.
Nevertheless, the view about Bradford's politics that Ben put across is understandable when all outsiders see of that politics is this:
I contacted all the candidates vying to replace him. Most had photos exhibiting themselves at pro-Palestine rallies. One Labour hopeful responded, rather bizarrely, to my request for an interview with a video of herself speaking at a pro-Palestine rally.
From the sectarian mania of George Galloway - he would be a comedy act had his words and actions not damaged Bradford so much - through to the recent reports of anti-semitism, the public face of Bradford politics is exactly as Ben Judah describes. As another writer recently asked of me - "does everyone have to say this sort of thing to get elected in Bradford?"
My answer to that writer was that, in 20 years as a Councillor, I've never found the need to make inflammatory, racist statements in order to get elected. And I'm sure the same goes for many of my colleagues from across the political parties in Bradford. It is indeed depressing that the picture painted by Ben Judah is painfully close to the truth but it is only part of the truth. And it's that other truth about Bradford that still gives me hope.
This is the truth about the men from Bradford Council of Mosques who helped raise the funds to repair Bradford synagogue. This is the truth of a City that's not simply a Muslim enclave in a non-Muslim Yorkshire but is a varied, interesting and at times exciting place. Muslims make up little more than a quarter of Bradford's population yet the public discourse about the City is almost completely captured by the issues that minority are focused upon.
As I said, it snowed this morning. So there weren't any horses clip-clopping along the bridleway behind our house. But there will be tomorrow. This is the other Bradford, the place that visiting writers never see, the place that isn't described in comments like this from Nigel Farage:
What has happened, and I think what has happened in Bradford, is that left-wing support and sympathy for anti-Israel/anti-Israeli views has now become allied to a very big growth in the Muslim vote in this country.
"I think what you have in Bradford is sectarian politics and I loathe it because if we think about the other part of the United Kingdom that has been plagued by sectarian politics, it is called Northern Ireland with Protestant v Catholic and look where that has got us."
When I've talked to Muslim audiences during this year's election campaign, I've stressed that this is a local election, I've told them that the Labour Party takes their votes for granted, and I've told them that we need to focus on getting the basic services right if we want a better City. What I haven't mentioned is foreign policy, the familiar litany of other places grievances that have infected politics in Bradford - Palestine, Kashmir, Syria.
That message is the same one we put out everywhere - make savings, deliver good services, help improve schools. And that everywhere includes the World Heritage Site at Saltaire, it includes the village of Thornton where the Brontes were born and Haworth where they lived. It includes a City centre with a nightlife of bars and restaurants that's starting to thrive again. And it includes Cullingworth where I live. Bradford is a great place filled with many fantastic people and I'd love for Ben Judah to visit again so we can, by way of asking for forgiveness, show him the good side of the City to balance the bad side he experienced.
I hope that my message - that you don't need to be a racist sectarian bigot to get elected in Bradford - is the right one. And rest assured that, if the only way to get elected in Bradford is by being anti-semitic, then I'd rather not be elected.
As I said, it snowed on Bradford today.