After just three weeks of campaigning, the stunning victory of George Galloway in the Bradford West by-election shows that rapid developments can take us all by surprise. Labour politicians have been quick to downplay the significance of Galloway’s return to Parliament – along with the disintegration of their 10,000 vote majority. In reality this was no “one-off” but a precursor to the inevitable effects of the decades of neglect and cuts agenda overseen by the mainstream parties.
Bradford is a city plagued by poverty, unemployment, de-industrialisation and over-stretched local services and is in desperate need of investment in jobs, housing, health and education. The Tory-led coalition government – as in many poor northern cities – earmarked for Bradford some of the biggest cuts in jobs and services, £28.5 million will be hacked from the budget this year alone. While up to 600 local government staff are expected to lose their jobs. Labour, as elsewhere, have offered no resistance to the government imposed cuts – hand-wringing has done nothing to protect working class people, including those in the Bradford West constituency, from austerity by proxy.
Galloway, standing under the RESPECT banner, barely had to say a word to unleash the rage against the mainstream parties. George Galloway stood on an anti-cuts program, for free education, against war and to defend the NHS. He was able to tap in to a mood for change and for protest, taking votes from all three parties, while reaching out to many women and young people who hadn’t voted before. The challenge for Galloway and RESPECT now is to appeal to the mass of working people in Bradford to fight the cuts consensus, to organise and fight back, not just in terms of elections but in their workplaces, trade unions and campaign groups.
The result can be very significant, with the local elections just around the corner and 100+ anti-cuts candidates contesting elections across Britain. TUSC (Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition) candidates stand on a clear no-cuts program and was formed as an alliance of socialist groups and trade unionists in 2010. Candidates include RMT president Alex Gordon and union executive members from the RMT, the FBU, UNISON, the POA and the NUT as well as dozens of local activists and fighters. TUSC will also be contesting the London GLA (Greater London Assembly) elections and in Liverpool for the Mayoral seat, with Tony Mulhearn, former deputy leader of the ‘Liverpool 47’ council who fought Thatcher, fighting for that seat.
Galloways victory shows the depth of the crisis for the mainstream parties and the potential for left wing, campaigning candidates to rock the establishment. It also shows the potential for not just one or two outstanding victories, but for the formation of a new party of the working class, armed with a socialist program to challenge austerity and offer a genuine alternative to the despair of capitalism.