Published on 30 Mar 2012

Biradari, Ed Miliband and Bradford

Having not visited the Bradford West by-election when it was happening (sorry!) I’ve been chatting to those that campaigned there, looking back at coverage and at George Galloway’s own campaign website. You see video here of George Galloway, campaigning in the street, attacking his Labour opponent Cllr Hussain, as a man who “can’t string two sentences together” and is “never out of the pub”. “I’m a better Muslim than he is … I’m a better Pakistani than he is,” George Galloway claimed. Just a personal attack? Definitely not.

George Galloway sensed that an entire social system in Bradford was in decline. The young voters who seem to have turned out in surprising numbers yesterday rose up, in part, against the Biradari system of elders and deference which has dominated many wards in Bradford and has its origins in the Kashmiri villages where many families were originally rooted. Elders expect their deeds to be done. The young feel these elders aren’t up to much. At one speech in the student union during the campaign, George Galloway actually called for an uprising against the system.

And Labour had got itself deeply entwined with Biradari – in this by-election and in local politics here for decades. The outgoing Labour MP, Marsha Singh, who stood down for health reasons, is a Sikh, and so managed to side-step the rivalries within Bradford’s Muslim community. Councillor Hussain, the losing Labour candidate, was at the epicentre of those rivalries and the old system. He was seen by many Muslim youths as one of the underperforming elders that Labour connives to keep in charge of the community, regardless of merit. One source told me that Cllr Hussain seems to have taken particularly presumptuous approach to the mosques – have a few conversations with the imams and thinking they will decree “vote Labour” and the worshippers will follow the edict. They didn’t.

There also clearly was a wider, collective Labour intelligence failure on the ground, on a scale it’s hard to remember happening in recent times. The wave of support that pushed George Galloway back into parliament seems to have really taken off in the last week of the campaign. The Labour Party didn’t keep tabs on people who had told them early on that they were voting for them. Late on, the ground shifted massively and the Labour team didn’t hear the earthquake. At 10.30 last night Labour’s high command still thought they’d won and the plans for Ed Miliband to do a victory lap of interviews in Bradford were still in place. Add to that, Marsha Singh, the former MP, had been seriously ill for a while so the constituency probably hadn’t been getting the attention it would normally get.

Read more: Young Muslims defied elders to vote in Galloway

Other mistakes may have included a campaign that some think didn’t send out an inclusive signal to white voters in the seat. Lib Dem MP for Bradford East, David Ward, told Radio 4’s “World at One” that he thought the outer boroughs of the seat, the more suburban areas with more white voters, didn’t turn out in anything like the strength that the inner city wards did. One Labour MP who campaigned in the seat thought the Labour literature he saw had no white faces in it at all.

So there are lots of possible local factors that you can point at to explain the shift of votes to George Galloway, without even going into his formidable campaigning and rhetorical skills (in the street in Bradford campaigning you can hear him on his website citing Spectator magazine and Channel 4 parliamentary/debater awards as reasons for voting for him – expect a front page “It’s the Speccie What Won It” headline in the next edition). But, all that said, there are senior Labour figures who think this isn’t just local.

Ed Miliband was meant to be the “change” candidate for Labour leader but one-and-a-half years into his leadership you’re still getting revolts against the Labour establishment (Bradford, Scotland) and the Blair/Brown legacy. A man whose first utterance as Labour leader was to distance himself from the Iraq war is getting hit in a by-election by a candidate invoking its memory.

There is a danger for Ed Miliband that if Ken Livingstone loses to Boris Johnson in London and Labour loses Glasgow (quite possibly to No Overall Control, the SNP gaining but not enough to control the council) you’ll get calls for him to be put “on probation” and similar mutterings. One Labour frontbencher said to me today “David Miliband’s supporters are clearly on manoeuvres” and “smelling blood”.

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13 reader comments

  1. philip says:

    It’s not so much that Ed isn’t the “change” candidate – it’s that he isn’t anything very much. There’s no compelling vision, no passion, virtually no personality. All we have is tactical opportunism & nothing to replace the public view of Brown/Blair – Iraq, the financial crisis, uncontrolled immigration, etc.

  2. Philip Edwards says:


    This is the first time I have seen anyone on C4 News blogs even think about what is REALLY going on outside your M25 ghetto.

    I don’t think there’s much doubt that dear George – and I like him a lot – exploited the religious issue. If so, he’ll get a bad slap on the wrist at the next Bradford West election. Which will be a pity, but he’ll deserve it for misbehaving.

    Much more important is the fact that New Labour still control the party. Their era has been an umitigated disaster for the Labour Party, the country, and particularly non-London Britain. This (for them) electoral disaster confirms a growing, intensely angry feeling amongst the young that will one day ignite in ways I don’t even want to think about. The London Riots will be a passing joke by comparison. You people in London simply have no conceptio of what is brewing.

    If Milliband and co don’t reassert Labour’s founding principles and moral imperative – and do so ringingly – they will ensure working class citizens have no representation. That will lead in only one tragic direction.

    To hell with the middle class, particularly the London Daily Mail kind. They’ve had their day.

    1. Caliban says:

      Enjoy your dreams.

      Any sensible analysis of polling shows an inbuilt Conservative majority in the English counties.

      Without the Celtic fringes, we would never have another Labour government. And Scotland seems to want to go.

      But I agree Labour should revert to its traditional left wing values, just to be on the safe side.

  3. Mudplugger says:

    Although defending Miliband Minor is not my natural brief, it is a tad unfair to heap all the blame for the Bradford West disaster on his gently sloping shoulders.
    The Labour candidate was a known ‘nasty piece of work’ who had serious questions raised about his conduct in council elections.
    The Tories, incredibly, selected a very white, very middle-class, very woman from a very cosy suburb – that she managed more than 2,000 votes with that background is remarkable.
    The Lib-Dems offered yet another failed city councillor, again a very white woman, hence the lost deposit.
    This collective bunch of no-hopers were up against one of the most formidable, nay indefatigable, campaigners in the business, a genuine character in a world of safe, grey politicos – like lambs to Halal slaughter, they didn’t stand a chance.

    Interesting to note that around 50% of the turnout was via Postal Votes – is that a record ? We must, of course, assume that every single one was personally completed by the named voter …….. even though that named voter may actually have been back ‘home’ in Mirpur at the time, or maybe not even bothered to stay alive …….

  4. The Iceman says:

    With respect you have utterly missed the point in Bradford. You are not alone. This was not Galloway tapping into muslim disaffection – he got 58% of the vote in a seat which is 31% muslim ( even if every single muslim vote were disqualified he would still have won) I am a Labour party member and have despised Galloway for a long time. His victory however reveals that there is a huge constituency to the left of Labour who will latch on to any party that articulates these views and has a realistic capacity to win and in huge numbers. This is far more akin to what happened in Scotland last year when the heartlanse moved SNP. There is real disgust at the Labour party’s triangulation. The idea that Blairites will use this to push forward DM may be true but in reality DM would vastly exacerbate this issue for Labour. I confidently would predict that DM will never be Labour leader and if he becomes it then Labour vote would disintegrate to other parties of the left in its heartlands as the three main parties all occupy the right of centre ground.

    1. Philip says:

      The problem is that the left appears to live in a time-warp of protest votes and an economic strategy which fails to take account of the globalised economy. If Labour elected a left winger with Galloway’s policies & views, we could reckon on getting perhaps 25% of the vote – & be out of power indefinitely. So Cameron & his ilk would impose Tory policies on the country. I’m a life-long Labour voter & no great fan of Blair. But I do believe the original intention was to achieve levels of economic growth from a business-friendly economy so that there could be significant increases in public spending on disadvantaged people – e.g. things like Sure Start. But once in power, they got the taste for power for its own sake, rather than what it could achieve and the original intention faded away to the neo-Tory mess of the last 5 years.
      The Left needs to come up with relevant ideas, policies and actions that appeal to enough people beyond the “Labour heartlands”. If they aren’t, they make us all feel virtuous, but we won’t be able to achieve any of it, because we won’t win elections. And a first step would be to seek a measure of unity, because without that we’re going nowhere.

  5. Ian says:

    Could this be the first example that parts of the country which have allowed to become, in many ways, immigrant ghettos starting to vote for their own party?

    Britain has never been this divided before and I’m not confident for the future

    1. Caliban says:

      Me neither.
      It did not end well in Sri Lanka.

    2. Scottish Lass says:

      I think voters outside SE England have had enough. Year after year the three main parties have treated the rest of the UK with contempt and things will only get worse if they go ahead with regional pay etc. The divide is getting wider and the coalition think only about how to benefit themselves and their City friends. Labour promise the earth to get the votes then don’t follow through.

  6. Caliban says:

    Ths vote simply underlines what most of us already know – we have a vast immigrant community that has no connection with and no allegiance to, England as we know it.

    I predict this isolation will grow and be self reinforcing and they grow in confidence. We will have more politicians who represent minority views that are anathema to the indigenous people of this country.

    The English have always been very slow to anger, but when they are, it’s not a pretty sight.

    Ask the Germans.

  7. Yorkshire Lass says:

    I think The Iceman is correct. If you are a lifelong Labour voter, or a youngster who wants the Coalition out, who would you vote for? Not the Tories, obviously, and not the Lib Dems ever again. The Labour Party is now no different from these two, so anyone else is in with a chance. If Ed M stuck to his real principles we might get somewhere. David M would be Tony Blair all over again.

  8. Holy nickers says:

    Sorry, ask the Americans how they had to come and bail us out. We all English or other wise nee to wake up and challenge the exsisting Banking mafia followed by the Israeli mafia

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