The ‘key’ issues on the streets of Bradford West at the time of the recent by-election were many, and have been many, for a good while now. From drugs, crime and violence, to jobs and the failure to regenerate the city, to The Wars, the people (youth in particular) asked: are these the key issues for you as politicians, or have you other things on your mind – like getting re-elected?
Those in solidarity with the youth, a state-of-being which comes from proximity to their social realities, felt compelled to vote likewise; discontent spreads faster amongst those working with young people and their wider communities. These are the kind of people politicians of all persuasions should have the greatest respect for, and realise they’re those politics can’t do without.
But don’t be naïve, or prejudiced, in thinking that this was just young, disenfranchised, working-class Muslims who voted. Lawyers and doctors voted for Respect too. Conversely, the Muslim perspective is important, not least because it reminds and inspires us to be cognisant of global perspectives. But, lest we forget, there are plenty of non-Muslims who have a similar global consciousness. Rescinding the pledge to spend 0.7% of GDP on overseas aid (for many, a sole redeeming feature of the Coalition government) will do it more harm than they possibly imagine. Likewise, The War does matter to others.
These are unhappy, maybe even angry, people, turned off by the failures and arrogance of mainstream politicians. They’re fed up with politics, whether local or national, at risk of losing hope. ‘It’s the same old crap’, they say, doubting, through experience, the claims of improvement. This is the failure of politics; the wrong sort of politics. And of baraderi – village politics, which The Cantle report (2001) into the Bradford riots picked up on more than a decade ago: disaffection was such that Asian youth felt their, so-called, community leaders (surely a concept now, more than ever, reasonably contested) were also out of touch. Their votes can no longer be delivered en masse (Sieghart, 2012).
This is not to say, as Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, suggested, that they are somehow ‘disconnected’, which is the subliminal message in saying the Labour Party failed to connect [with the Asian community]. A more enlightened approach might be to stop calling ‘them’ Muslim, as if a singular definition will do. We need respect for all British subjects, and all people’s politics (as distinct from their faith), whoever they might be, and an appreciation (in this case) that not all Muslims think and believe the same. They have their own minds; they are not disconnected from politics. In sum, it’s the politicians who need to consider, for a moment at least, please, that it might be they who are disconnected, rather than a growing list of sections of society they identify, but whose real plight and circumstances they seem to ignore.
People in Bradford were saying ‘our city is in a mess’, and they should be listened to. ‘We have one of the highest rates of unemployment in the country, especially among the youth.’ (Indeed, Bradford topped the list of the fifty constituencies which have seen the biggest increase in young people claiming Job Seekers Allowance in the last year. In fact, the numbers on the dole long-term have shot up across the Bradford district by a staggering 314 per cent since this time last year). Galloway was surely right, and needed little of his boundless rhetoric to persuade people that ‘Youth unemployment could be a time bomb’. The Employment Opportunities Fund needs to be made to work, but first folk will need to have heard of it. Or we can wait for Workfare to work (sic.) its magic.
Listen on: ‘We are at the bottom of any assessment of how well education is performing. The city-centre is a hole. Who was/is/should be talking about these issues?’ And more: ‘they (mainstream politicians) are trapped in a bubble, unable to see out. So what’s to lose? They need a kick in the teeth; as do the chattering classes.’ And listen good.
The writing on the wall here is that voting for a mainstream party can no longer be presumed; stop being blasé; stop worrying about Mondeo Man. Voters hate being talked at or taken for granted. It’s the new Third Way. Be afraid, be very afraid, there’ll be an increasing interest in voting for minority parties, at both local and national levels. In contrast, many saw in Respect the embodiment of character, and guts; which is surely what politics needs more now than ever.
And don’t laugh at the concept of the Bradford Spring; a good deal of the processes we witnessed in the Maghreb were seen here. Especially, the Twitter, Facebook and wider social/multi-media onslaught that so captivated the youth. According to Sean Dolat, a young labour activist in Bradford West, Galloway trounced Labour in social media. On Twitter there were 10 pro-Galloway tweets by young Asian voters for every pro-Labour one. Dolat’s student friends were inundated with emails and texts from the Galloway camp. “Their campaign was so much better organised and so much more enthused”, he writes. “I’ve never seen anything like this in British politics. The communication between activists on the Galloway side was phenomenal”. And the events and festivals. Young people were engaged; who (now) says they are not interested in politics? There’s something to learn here, something that should challenge the orthodoxy that young people don’t matter, because they don’t vote.
Mainstream parties need to be self-critical. They need to listen attentively to their constituents and focus on addressing local concerns and dimensions beyond. This is a different and more worthy interpretation of Localism, Glocalism some say. Beware also campaigning locally on national issues; and especially against things. Negative politics, rather than a politics of hope, is part of the problem. And for Labour, in particular, think on, there is a desire (despite what Sieghart says) for something to the Left, and something positive; there’s a real message here: think about what happened, and learn from it.