Respect Bradford: Breaking the Cycle of Political Silence

Respect - Bradford

The news that Bradford’s Respect councillors have broken ranks with their party leader and are calling on George Galloway to step down as Bradford West MP, comes as no surprise, following Galloway’s declaration that he was seriously thinking of running for the 2016 London Mayoral elections. Galloway’s subsequent decision to suspend two of his councillors for disloyalty and his accusation that Bradford’s five Respect councillors are conspiring to seize executive power, suggests that the breach is terminal and the Respect Party in its present form in Bradford is dead in the water.

It has long been an open secret that the five Respect councillors have been disillusioned that Galloway has failed to capitalize on his ten-thousand-vote majority to create a real political alternative in the district. The Councillors have also been known to be uneasy with Galloway’s leadership style, in particular: his failure to communicate with them; the absence of a strategic vision for the Party; and his absence from Bradford while he graces the national and international stage. Perhaps what must have felt like an ultimate slap in the face for the two Respect councilors who have been suspended by the Party, is that they only found this out when they were contacted by BBC Radio Leeds.

There is no doubting that the Respect councilors – all of them political rookies – were catapulted into power on the crest of Galloway’s by-election victory in 2012. With a long history of working in the voluntary sector and with strong roots in the local community, their decision to enter the messy world of local politics was borne out of a belief that they could genuinely make a difference. Against the background of economic austerity; the steady decline in the economic fortunes of the district; the grinding poverty in some of Bradford’s poorest inner-city neighbourhoods; and the stranglehold of the clan or ‘Biraderi’ politics, they too were seduced by Galloway’s message of an alternative politics which put people first.

In the heydays following Respect’s electoral victory, Galloway’s political machismo and his ‘two-fingers to the establishment’ version of politics won the Party early plaudits. As time has gone by however the disillusionment among voters has become increasingly palpable. Despite Galloway’s electoral promises, the Party has failed to deliver a clear regeneration and investment strategy to stem the steady decline in the neighbourhoods and city centre districts within Galloway’s Bradford West constituency. Galloway is right to point out to his critics that he cannot single-handedly bring about economic deliverance and only a cross-party strategy can lift Bradford out of its present morass. However, judging by the criticisms of Respect councillors, it is difficult to see how Galloway’s style of leadership can provide a basis for developing meaningful political consensus in the district.

So what does the future hold for Galloway’s Respect Party? It is hard to know if Galloway always intended for Bradford West to be a staging post for loftier political ambitions. Judging by his political track record, there was every likelihood that, despite the political fairy dust that he showered on the eyes of the Bradford West electorate, Galloway was unlikely to serve more than one term as their MP. It is unlikely that Galloway will step down despite the calls of his Respect colleagues to make way for someone who has a long-term commitment to the district. Consequently the Party is likely to limp on lamely up to the next general election in 2015 with the seat returning to Labour as the Respect brand appears to be increasingly losing its luster among the electorate.
While the election of a ‘fringe’ party may prove to be a blip on Bradford’s political landscape, the five Respect councilors have shown tremendous courage in lifting the lid and exposing the seamy underbelly of politics, which is usually hidden behind closed doors.  Their actions may well cost them their political future and it is a risk they have taken with eyes wide open. Notwithstanding their future prospects, the real casualties in the crossfire are the 18,341 voters who have witnessed their democratic hopes dashed.

While pundits may be writing the political obituaries of the five Respect councilors perhaps the political ‘project’ in Bradford is still not over. Bradford like many other places needs a strong independent voice that has hitherto not been met by the mainstream parties. Although Respect maybe a tainted brand the aspiration of local people who have been disenfranchised and disillusioned with mainstream politics can still be met by a responsive and inclusive local party which puts people first. Whether the five Respect councilors are able to pull a proverbial rabbit out of the political hat remains to be seen.
However, what the political shenanigans over the past few days have served to highlight is that frankly Bradfordians deserve better.

Ratna Lachman
JUST West Yorkshire