Search This Blog

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

In Praise of George Galloway

Never has Voltaire's quoted view that "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" been so apt as when I think about George Galloway. Galloway's  success is a great advert for our liberal democracy - and ironically a comment on those regimes which he is alleged to support...someone with his views on the established government in those countries would be dead long ago. Instead, the man has once again turned our election system on its head by winning the recent Bradford West by-election.

To be fair, this win is not as significant as his astonishing victory in the 2005 general election in Bethnal Green and Bow by virtue of the fact that this isn't a general election - so voters aren't thinking about who they want to be prime minister when they vote and the main politcal parties aren't dominating the airwaves. But, winning a constituency is still winning a constituency, and to do so he had to win more votes than all the others (known as a simple plurality) despite not having any sort of party machine behind him.

That said, Imran Hussain, the hapless Labour candidate beaten by a massive voting swing in that constituency, will also have felt that he didn't have any sort of effective party machine behind him. To try and win a by-election in a constituency that has a heavily muslim electorate just by putting a Muslim candidate in front of them, talking about your opposition to the cuts and hoping for the best was imbeclic and underestimated what Galloway was capable of and how well planned his campaign was.

Firstly, he mobilised people who wouldn't normally vote. He used social media to talk to the young in the area and involved them in spreading his word. He used Urdu speakers to talk to those who spoke mainly urdu and hijab wearing Muslim women to talk to Muslim women. All they had to remember was "Galloway number two" (his position on the ballot)

Secondly, he chose an issue that would actually affect voting behaviour. He did talk about the unemployment and the effect of the cuts, but vitally he could use the Afghanistan and Iraq wars to distinguish himself from the Labour candidate - given that they were "Labour" wars. Galloway knew that an issue was only important if the potential voter had an opinion about it (they did), they could distinguish the competing parties' positions on it (they could) and it was something they cared enough about to change their vote (it was). Classic basic A-level politics theory.

Thirdly, Galloway used a "judo" move, in that he took on what was supposed to be his main opponents' strength - that he was a Muslim, and turned it on him. Galloway claimed that "God knows who is a Muslim" and put it about that Hussain had alcohol issues whilst Galloway didn't touch the stuff (should this be found to be a lie then this result might end up being challenged in court but since it hasn't yet I doubt it will be).

Galloway's message didn't just get through to Muslims by the way, he also won in mainly white wards, so it seems that the Bradford West electorate just wanted him to be an MP again. 

So, this week George Galloway took his seat in the House of Commons again. He sits in the back row as far away from the mainstream parties as he can. The people of Bradford West are represented by one of the most colourful, controversial and divisive figures in politics. I say "represented" but given he congratulated the people of 'Blackburn' on the night of his victory and when last an MP only went to 8% of Commons sittings I'm not sure they will actually be 'represented' as you and I might call it - but an MP he is.

Despite his views on just about everything being almost entirely different from mine, George Galloway's victory brought a smile to my face. That's what growing up in a liberal democracy does to you!

No comments:

Post a Comment