Could George Galloway's election win trigger sectarianism in London?
Will the same divisive tactics be used in the capital?
George Galloway said of his win in Bradford West: “By the grace of God, we have won the most sensational victory in British political history”. Gorgeous George might be right, and not just because he achieved one of the biggest swings ever, 36.59 per cent.
Galloway’s win is significant because for the first time a campaign was conducted not on local issues, but openly sectarian lines. As the race neared election day both the Labour candidate and Galloway appeared to urge voters to support them because of their religious and ethnic affiliations. Galloway’s trump card was an extraordinary letter in which he claimed “God KNOWS who is a Muslim. And he KNOWS who is not”. We have reproduced the letter in full below - it makes jaw-dropping reading. Needless to say, the potholes of Shipley don’t get a mention.
Now the question needs to be asked: what does Galloway’s win mean for London?
The demographics make the city ripe for a sectarian approach. In inner London 67 per cent of school pupils are from ethnic minorities, a rise of 57 per cent in a decade. In Newham, Brent and Tower Hamlets the figure is above 80 per cent. In a handful of constituencies the three major parties have increasingly shifted their candidate selection to match the dominant ethnic or religious group. David Lammy in Tottenham, or Virendra Sharma in Ealing Southall where Punjabi influence is dominant. But both have campaigned on traditional agendas, avoiding any racial or partisan policy-making. In fact, when Diane Abbott made an off-the-cuff reference to black mothers being prepared to “go to the wall” for their children the backlash was revealing.
But will this change?
Already we have seen Ken Livingstone running a campaign which has alienated swathes of the Jewish community in London. And has desire to secure the so-called Muslim vote has prompted campaigning rhetoric unlike any previous London election. At Finsbury Park Mosque he promised to “educate the mass of Londoners” about Islam, saying: “That will help to cement our city as a beacon that demonstrates the meaning of the words of the Prophet.” He called Mohammed’s words in his last sermon as “an agenda for all humanity…I want to spend the next four years making sure that every non-Muslim in London knows and understands [its] words and message.”
The last London Assembly election saw the BNP win a seat, although its candidate Richard Barnbrook has since switched to be an independent.
Galloway’s landslide victory have proven that partisan politics can be employed to sensational effect at the ballot box. The question will be whether London’s politicians can resist following his triumphant example.
Recruitment entrepreneur Tony Goodwin and CEO of Antal International doesn’t think so: “My feeling about George Galloway is that he is very articulate and savvy man who rides on the back of certain interest groups. He is not unlike an entrepreneur in many ways, he spots gaps in the market and singles out interest groups which he hijacks for his own proposes.
“He managed to get back in by tapping into a niche, he is populist and ethnic focused but like the last time, it won’t be long before people realise that he is riding on the back of their beliefs and he will be seen for what he is,” he told LondonlovesBusiness.com.
Stephen Canning, councillor, Braintree district council does give much precedence to Galloway’s tactics either: “The election of George Galloway in Bradford West, now free to return to the House after a two year absence, in a way says more about Labour’s recent failure to oppose the current government than it does a dramatic shift in the politics of London and the country.
“Labour has lost the seat which it has held since 1974 to a politician who it ejected from it’s party in 2003,” he continues. “Clearly of course the effect of ethnic diversity and religion in the election cannot be underestimated, especially in an election where only four out of 10 votes were to a mainstream party.
“However it does feel like George Galloway is more a shameless political chancer who appealed to the Asian youth with his radical anti-imperialist stance much as Ken Livingstone has with his promise in Finsbury Park Mosque to make a London a beacon for Islam. Both men, it seems, when confronted by an electorate they cannot win, resort to aligning themselves to religious causes,” Canning told us.
Galloway’s letter to voters in Bradford West
To voters of the Muslim faith and Pakistani heritage in Bradford West
A’Salaam o Aleukum
I have been increasingly angered by the dishonest and desperate efforts of the Labour campaign for Imran Hussein, to deceive you about your vote.
You should vote for him because he is a “Muslim” they say, and because he is of Pakistani background.
Leaving aside the wisdom of a Labour party running such a sectarian campaign in a constituency which contains thousands of people of many faiths and backgrounds, and in the name of the deputy leader of Bradford City Council, no lesss, let us look at this more closely.
God KNOWS who is a Muslim. And he KNOWS who is not. Instinctively, so do you.
Let me point out to all the Muslim brothers and sisters what I stand for:
I, George Galloway, do not drink alcohol and never have. Ask yourself if you believe the other candidate in this election can say that truthfully.
I, George Galloway, have fought for the Muslims at home and abroad, all my life. And paid a price for it. I believe the other candidates in this election cannot say that truthfully.
I, George Galloway, tell the truth, stand up for truth, in parliament, on radio, on television, in the face of all its enemies, without fear, however powerful they are. Even in the US Senate, by the Grace of God. The truth and Mr Blair’s New Labour are passing strangers.
I, George Galloway, hold Pakistan’s highest civil awards. The Hilal-i-Quaid-i-Azzam for services to the restoration of democracy in Kashmir. What has the Labour candidate ever done for Bradford let alone Pakistan and Kashmir?
I, George Galloway, came to the side of the people of Palestine in their agony, tried to save the people of Iraq, now demand the immediate end of the war begun by NEW LABOUR upon the people of Iraq and I am leading the fight against a new war, this time with Iran.
And, with your support, and if God wills it, I want to give my remaining days in the service of all people – Muslims, Pakistanis and everyone in Bradford West. I await your sincere judgement on this matter
Wa’ Salaam o Aleukum