Coffee House

This is what politics has become

30 March 2012

George Galloway’s victory last night is a reminder of a wider
problem in British politics: the low regard in which all main political parties are held. By-elections can throw up quirky victories, usually ironed out in the general election. There won’t
be an army of Galloway’s marching on parliament at the next election. It’s like Glasgow East: a classic Labour safe seat-cum-‘rotten borough’ taken for granted (and ignored)
for so long that the ruling party’s apparatus had atrophied. Like John Mason in Glasgow East, Galloway won’t
last long.
But the same phenomenon which took Galloway to victory last night, and humbled the main parties, is also at work in Scotland. The unionist parties are on their knees; polls suggest the Lib Dems
will lose all of their mainland seats. And this is not because of a surge in support for independence. The SNP, for all its ills, has mass support (and no donor problems) for a simple reason: it is
a cause, a movement. Once, this could be said of the Conservatives and Labour. Not any more.

David Cameron seems to fit into a fairly long tradition of being a Tory leader who doesn’t seem to like the Tory party very much. Ed Miliband was enstooled by his union paymasters, none of
who would look out of place in a 1978 news bulletin. The Lib Dems’ identity is being subsumed beneath that of the coalition. The three parties are not doing enough to connect with the
concerns of the public. In private, Tory ministers have become used to answering criticisms with two words: Ed Miliband. In other words, ‘yes, we may be only 6 per cent of the way through the
cuts, dismal progress, with no growth to speak of. But what are these voters going to do? Vote Red Ed?’
Voters, now and again, do have other choices. The government is lucky that UKIP is so dismally led — because, like the SNP, it is a cause (and not one I agree with). It may yet overtake the
Lib Dems to become the 3rd-largest political party. The main options on the Westminster menu did not inspire the voters of Bradford last night. This should be a message not just to Cameron, but all
political parties: this isn’t a game of political chess, this isn’t about finding the middle ground in Westminster but the common ground with the public.

Six years ago, a group called the Power Inquiry published
a report
into this. Party membership may be plunging, they said, but let’s not insult the public by calling this apathy. People are still joining groups like the RSPB and volunteering in
their communities. They are just not excited by the choice in front of them. Political parties have spent so long copying each other that they have forgotten about the outside world. Ferdinand
Mount, a former Spectator political editor, was one of the commissioners. The report made very little impact, as it delivered a message that the main political parties don’t want to hear. But if
we’re to draw any lessons from Galloway’s victory, I suspect a few of them can be found in that report.

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Show comments
  • afghanvet

    What an unmitigated stream of drivel from one of the worst minds in public discourse.

  • warlord

    Maybe Labour now regret sweeping away all the checks on postal voting.

  • Ians

    Maidstone’s Peter – I know very little of Maidstone but having lived in Bradford all my 68 years, I do know this City. Bradford West is one of three constituencies here. Our last local MP was Marsha Singh (Labour), who like most Muslims in the city derides Sharia Law. If by ‘wider social changes in the area’ you refer to the number of Asian people living here, then perhaps it should be realised that the UK through its textile industry encouraged their immigration over 50 years ago. Although like most cities we have our neglected areas, Bradford’s Asian population with its cultural differences has enriched West Yorkshire.
    I am afraid that Bradford, through the media is perceived negatively with little basis.
    I and other local white, British residents who I know voted for GG (for the same reasons) think him foolish in many things, so he’s on trial regarding his promises about changing Bradford. We expect him to challenge the local status quo, but if he regresses in to the same pathetic, self- interested inactivity that our other Councillors and MPs have, then he will be out next time around. He needs to be quickly proactive if only because he hopes to have a number of Respect Councillors in place following the May local election.

  • Peter From Maidstone

    Ians, as your MP how will Galloway halt the decline of Bradford West, since it is run by the local council and not by Parliament? And does the decline in Bradford West over the last 20 years have any connection with wider social changes in the area? Are you happy having a Muslim MP? Is that the direction you believe Bradford West needs to move in, and more quickly? Will you support Sharia Law?

  • Butterknife

    Godwin’s Law states that: “As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches”. I now propose the Powell Law – ….. rivers of blood ….. etc. For years in Northern Ireland there was talk of the Orange or the Green vote where each community would vote accordingly due to tribal patterns. Are we not seeing the Islamic vote – after all the seeds where planted many years ago so it is the effect of many decades of cultivation. No one is to blame but democracy herself.

  • Douglas Aitken

    Maybe if the three main parties actually bothered to represent us rather than being in the pocket of the banksters and US foreign policy, then they would be held in higher regard. The corruption doesn’t help either – why are the majority of the last parliament’s politicians not in jail after defrauding the taxpayer with expenses? If they were on social security they surely would be. Whilst the crooks are still there, our view of them is likely to continue to fall.

  • bob mcfarlan

    how dare you dismiss Galloway as sectarian just because he has beliefs and values opposite to you.This man has taken on everybody in his time from Murdoch to the Israeli lobby
    His enemies in the establishment try to kill him every way they can.Flawed he may be but I wish parliament had dozens like him

  • Ben

    “Ed Miliband was enstooled by his union paymasters”. Yikes! Like that Lib Dem with the paper bag, you mean?

  • TomTom

    “The problem with events like Bradford is that it brings out the crazies.”

    Certainly on the Speccie site where some people cannot conceive on not voting for corrupt Conservative politicians because they are Conservative. Fortunately, Voters in Bradford West made a choice to say No Thank you to the corrupt politicians who have destroyed the city

  • Simon Stephenson.

    Archibald : 11.40pm

    Thank you.

    Honesty, of course, is at the heart of it. We’ve become a society in which it is believed to be correct to treat adults as though they were vulnerable (and badly-behaved) children. If reality is harsh, they must be shielded from it, and if the mood of the present is enhanced by promulgating ever more unrealistic dreams about the future then misrepresenting the future is what must happen.

    It all comes from the United States, of course, but at the end of World War II the choice of the free nations was to become more American or to sink. Not much of a choice, unfortunately.

  • cc cc

    Edward McLaughlin
    cc cc To which Bradford ‘event’ do you allude?

    The events were the election results but the point was a reference to the crackpot who penned the 4 lines abovethe comment.

  • Ians

    It’s interesting that those who comment and have all the answers are those who don’t live anywhere near the constituency, so they’ve no idea of what matters locally. Bradford was a very proud city, but the years of neglect and complacency with which local politicians have endowed the city have led it to its current demise. George Galloway was elected because no one else has been prepared to halt that collapse – and I’m speaking as a Bradford West constituent who voted for GG.

  • The Remittance Man

    There won’t be an army of Galloways marching to Westminster.

    Probably true, but there might be an army of Labour/Tory/Libdem placemen watching their nearest rivals marching to Westminster thanks to the Galloways, Farages and others depriving them of enough votes to wipe out once safe margins.

    That’s the power of the smaller parties in times like this.

  • Edward McLaughlin

    cc cc To which Bradford ‘event’ do you allude?

    Those who live there have now been subjected to many.

  • Archie

    What Rhoda said, yet again; and Mr. Nelson, as this is SUPPOSED to be a right-wing area, would you please consider engaging the services of Boadicea, she speaks more sense than I’ve ever heard from you, dear boy!

  • daniel maris

    Censorship again?

  • Hexhamgeezer

    I S @ 30th, 6:08pm


  • Archibald

    Simon Stephenson,
    Some good points as always even if I don’t agree 100%.
    To my list, to be a bit more explicit, although it was probably clear, honesty is a huge factor. I’m reminded of QT prior to the election, an example which is perhaps useful given the Galloway win. Caroline Lucas, never much of a hero here, was (at least in the mind of her Tory attacker on the panel) ‘cornered’. She was, he said, nothing more than a socialist hiding behind a cloak of green. She replied that she’d never hidden her socialist beliefs and on the contrary was very proud to call herself a socialist. His face was a picture of incredulity, here he was faced with someone who could say what she believed and thought about any subject. Galloway was in the same position. While the views of the cabinet are clearly a different matter, why normal MPs can’t say what they feel about issues is beyond me, now and again there will be something they will disagree on versus party policy. Unless it is the entire manifesto, I have no issue with that, and I don’t see why the parties do. The press make so much of it, and so parties do, then the press get annoyed by avoidance of questions. They have been one of the main factors in creating the situation, politicians need to realize that the public don’t care, they want their MPs to tell the truth and stand up for what they believe in. More people like Frank Field, someone I rarely agree with but he thinks people first, party second. A rare thing these days.

  • Myles Harrison

    I see that the newspapers, BBC, Sky and of course the main parties have all refused to address the real issues arising from Bradford. Genuinely depressing and it will not end well but many conservatives who have reluctantly stayed with party will draw their own conclusions and move on. If ever a vote represented isolationism, rejection of the host society and a challenge to the rest of us then this was it.

  • Andy Barnes

    Am I the only one who spotted:

    ‘Ed Miliband was enstooled by his union paymasters’

    Priceless Freudian Slip Fraser.

  • Punk 2 ation

    “There won’t be an army of Galloway’s marching on parliament at the next election.”

    Fraser. Why the apostrophe?

  • cc cc

    There will come a time for the English when words are no longer sufficient to counter the evils that threaten them as a distinct people. They will have to fight, as before, and they will.

    The problem with events like Bradford is that it brings out the crazies.

  • Simon Stephenson.

    These are the reasons why there’s so much disillusionment with politicians:-

    1. Over the last 25-30 years, Parties have grown to understand that to be elected they must promise more than the other Parties. Being the more capable at administering the reality is no longer an election winner.

    2. This battle of promises has led both to an ever-increasing unreality about the portrayals of what politicians are capable of, and also to the widely-held misunderstanding that things only happen if the politicians cause them to happen.

    3. Large numbers of the general population have grown to expect far more than is reasonable from the political system, and in their disappointment with what they are actually getting, they’re concluding that it is the people who are inadequate, and not that their expectations are unreasonable.

    4. The type of person now going into politics is different, now that the emphasis is so much on style and presentation, and less and less on substance and competent statesmanship.

    So what we have is a political culture which has gone off in totally the wrong direction, and in doing so has attracted too many of the wrong sort of people into running it. What we need now is for the marketing men and the snake-oil salesmen who have colonised politics to go off and resume trying to sell widgets to people who don’t want them, and leave politics to those with the knowledge, experience and good reasoning to enable them to govern competently.

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