Talking Politics

Galloway: Our politicians need to start listening to the people

Getty ImagesBy George Galloway MP

Slowly and reluctantly, more and more commentators have had to acknowledge that the sensational Bradford West by-election result cannot be trivialised or put down to accidental factors.

If more had bothered to visit Bradford during the campaign, they would have been less taken aback by the result and not left floundering for an explanation.

Bradford has revealed the yawning gap between the cast-iron consensus shared by the old three parties over so many fundamental issues on the one hand, and the alienation of millions of people in Britain on the other. The leitmotif of the Bradford Spring was above all the cry for change, rather than the same old, same old. It was for a change in economic policy - not to the Labour frontbench's alternatives of savage cuts for tea rather than for breakfast, but to a strategy for growth, investment and jobs rather than forever putting the interests of the banks and bond markets first. It was for a reversal of over a decade of war and the threat of more war.

Those who claimed that calling for withdrawal from Afghanistan was somehow disreputable in an area where high unemployment has driven many into the armed forces and which has lost all too many in combat over the last few years clearly failed to appreciate the public mood. This war is unpopular - not only among those whose coreligionists are being killed in even greater numbers than British personnel, but among the public as a whole. And the succession of wars - Iraq, Afghanistan, the threat of war with Iran - has come to symbolise something deeper: that the political class, and sitting in the same echo chamber so much of the media, simply do not represent the feelings of most people over most things.

That was the most salient truth revealed in Bradford. No amount of promises to listen (while carrying on in the same old way) will bridge that gulf. It's not just that people want politicians to sound like they actually believe what they are saying - whether the audience fully agrees or not - it's also the message.

The evidence is mounting elsewhere. The Financial Times this week reported on how all old parties are speculating about a resurgence of "fourth party politics". The reason is that the three established parties resemble more and more three cheeks of the same backside. There has never before been a time when the leaders of the Tories, Lib Dems and Labour between them register a -121% approval rating.

This and Bradford are a British expression of a wider European phenomenon. There has been a grim orthodoxy, especially since the onset of the Great Recession four years ago that austerity, slashing the state, lowering living standards and appeasing the money markets is the only game in town. The result from Greece to Spain and beyond has been disastrous. Now that consensus, only ever shared at the top, is cracking as alternatives begin to register on the political spectrum.

The presidential campaign of Jean-Luc Melénchon has electrified France - eclipsing the Front National and forcing the Socialist Party's Francois Hollande to echo attacks on the financiers and multi-millionaires. In Greece, parties to the left of Pasok, which committed Blairite suicide, are polling anywhere between a quarter and a third of the vote. A general election will take place at the start of May.

So by this time next month, we are likely to see a break in the 'Merkozy' orthodoxy, with Hollande in the Élysée, and also a vote for the left in Greece so strong that it makes it difficult for the others to form a coalition.

Writing from a cafeteria in parliament (three weeks after winning my seat, they somehow have yet to give me an office) I assure you that there are few here who seem to have imagined the consequences of that possibility.

For Bradford was not some "anti-politics" protest. It is nothing short of narcissism for a narrow class of politicians and associated chatterati to imagine that they constitute what is meant by politics. It was a rejection of them, certainly, but it was a vote for another kind of politics. For so many years we have been told that that was impossible or antediluvian. As the recession and foreign disasters grind on in Europe, and Britain prepares for more "one-offs" or "freak results" which together will point to a political awakening, desire is growing for a big politics about the fundamental course of our society. Not about marginal differences, often of presentation.

You can feel it, especially in the northern cities of England and in other industrial or post-industrial areas. In the distressed areas an army for change is beginning to muster. The complacent London class had better start listening.

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