Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

What doesn’t kill you

‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger’

I like to start columns with a quote from a great political thinker, in this case the singer Kelly Clarkson.

In last week’s column I warned George Galloway might win in Bradford West and urged people to head there to help, as I did myself on polling day. We lost and I don’t feel any better for having foreseen disaster.

Clearly the Bradford Labour party now has a massive problem. Mr Galloway is a ferocious street-fighting political operator and it will take a massive cultural change in the Bradford West CLP towards a more open, engaged and campaigning ethos to beat him in 2015.

That there is something systemically wrong in Bradford is evident from the fact that Labour had already lost the supposedly safe Bradford East constituency on a 7.6 per cent swing in the 2010 general election.

When something is badly wrong in a local Labour party and in its relationship with the wider community, sometimes the only way to lance the boil and start addressing it is after the shock of election defeat.

It’s a shame this did not start in Bradford after the loss of one constituency in 2010 rather than after the loss of two now.

We went through this in my own borough Hackney, with a period of severe infighting between rival factions, with undercurrents of communal race and faith based divisions, and political corruption that ended with a Tory and a Lib Dem councillor jailed for the UK’s biggest proxy vote fraud. In our case the problem was externalised when one faction defected en masse in 1996, 17 councillors forming a rebel group then joining the Tories and Lib Dems. In 1998 this hung council in what should be a Labour stronghold was confirmed in the borough elections. All this happened in the heyday of New Labour when we were 20 per cent ahead nationally! Sometimes all politics really is very local.

We won back big in Hackney in 2002 and have since gone on to build a reputation as one of Britain’s most improved local authorities, and won 50 of 57 councillors in 2010.

But it was hard work, involving a complete regeneration of the Labour group on the council and the local party, a massive increase in campaigning, and external intervention and support from the NEC, regional party and LGA Labour group.

Bradford Labour has a tough task ahead of it and will need careful, evidence-based external support and, if necessary, intervention to make the transformation needed to beat Galloway.

Nationally, we need to ask how we did not spot this coming when it was the talk of Twitter and the political betting community for days beforehand.

It ought to have been obvious after Bethnal Green that any seat Galloway runs in with a high Muslim population there is a risk he might win.

It ought also to be a mantra that no seat is safe in a by-election, particularly an inner city one with complex ethnic and municipal politics, and that the most potent electoral threats are non-conventional ones from insurgent minor parties.

Five years ago the by-election threat in Bradford might have been the Lib Dems. Now it is Respect in this kind of seat, but in a more Guardianista seat it could be the Greens, or in a white working class one the BNP.

Once Galloway was running we should have poured all our fire on him and destroyed him on takeoff. He is controversial enough that the ammo is there. We have the template of how to beat him from Poplar & Limehouse in 2010 and Jim Fitzpatrick and key campaigners from his team should have been shipped up to Bradford to repeat their success, seeing as Galloway is reputed to have brought in his Tower Hamlets team.

The reaction of some of our own Hard Left meanwhile has been one of ‘I told you so’, as though a by-election in one of the most demographically idiosyncratic constituencies in the UK suddenly provides justification for a wholesale change of direction for the party. Some individuals on election night came near to auto-excluding themselves from the party with their glee at victory for a fellow ‘anti-imperialist’. Others have argued we were wrong to expel Galloway over his disgusting remarks during the Iraq War. And some have argued the by-election shows our entire core vote is alienated and will only be re-enthused by a radical shift leftwards. This sort of lazy minded, shallow, post hoc shaping of the evidence to fit your own prejudices is remarkable in the extent of its hypocrisy. The same people advocating a bastardised form of triangulation with the Leninist and Islamist coalition making up Respect, or an effective merger with it by readmitting Galloway to Labour, based on losing one seat, would vehemently decry any compromise with the concerns or disillusionment of millions of voters who shifted to the Tories, costing us a net 90 seats at the general election.

Most of these people were conspicuous by their absence from Bradford West during the by-election or indeed, ever, and seem to have based their analysis on wishful thinking rather than engagement with the electorate.

Until now the kind of insanity that crept into Labour’s post-defeat debate in 1979 has been thankfully missing. Bradford West has given the usual suspects the excuse to offer their usual solutions.

Ed Miliband needs to put them back in their box and fast.

A by-election can’t kill a party. But it can provide a wakeup call that in the long term makes us stronger, less complacent and more engaged with communities both in Bradford West and in other seats like it.


Luke Akehurst is a constituency representative on Labour’s NEC, a councillor in Hackney, writes regularly for Progress here and blogs here


Photo: Tom Green

Progressive centre-ground Labour politics does not come for free.

It takes time, commitment and money to build a fight against the forces of conservatism. If you value the work Progress does, please support us by becoming a member, subscriber or donating.

Our work depends on you.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Luke Akehurst

is director of We Believe in Israel and a former member of Labour's National Executive Committee


  • As someone who now lives in a Labour ward that was supposedly a safe Tory ward I completely agree that no seat should be taken for granted.

  • Just one point to raise with you: the Labour Party needs to keep well clear of mantras. It’s talking funny that puts people off politics and enables the party to operate inner cliques, where those in the know understand so much more than everyone else. Rational debate and sharing information openly are more effective.

  • Just one point to raise with you: the Labour Party needs to keep well clear of mantras. It’s talking funny that puts people off politics and enables the party to operate inner cliques, where those in the know understand so much more than everyone else. Rational debate and sharing information openly are more effective.

  • While some of Lukes comments are valid he is making assumptions based on a few hours work in the campaign – I spent 4 weeks in Bradford West and I will keep my council until I have had time to reflect on what went wrong. Understanding Bradford politics and the manner in which Galloway operates is not easy and due to his enthusiasm for lawyers best discussed in private!

  • “Some individuals on election night came near to auto-excluding themselves from the party with their glee at victory for a fellow ‘anti-imperialist’. Others have argued we were wrong to expel Galloway over his disgusting remarks during the Iraq War.”
    Well, I do not know that GG invented any trash about ‘weapons of mass destruction” in the hands of Saddam Hussein. Did LA help expose any of this fraudulent trash, worthy of Joseph Goebbels, as a casus belli? my recollection is that he pushed it hook line and sinker at the 2002 LP “launch the war” Conference. Did he write Martin Beecroft’s speech threatening another Srebrenica if the “will’ of the UN was defied? If not, who did? Did AngloAmerican aggression really murder as few as 8000 Iraqi civilians ( the maximum Srebrenica figure)? Sorry, Luke, give us the “‘rose-petals’ greeting the AngloAmerican liberators of Iraq” one next!! Are they still flying?

    are the heroes still imperilled by them?

    “half a million dead children is worth the price’

    (Madeline Allbright ) – strikes me at least as quite disgusting,but Blairites such as LA still fawn on Obama (see Antony Painter on this site, who actually believes against US and Israeli experts, the nonsense about ‘evidence ‘that Iran is currently pursuing nuclear weapons) Obama , whose foreign policy is even more aggressive than that of GW Bush, and still more repressive of American liberties. Bush’s administration never boasted of an untrammelled right to murder any US citizen they decided might be a threat, ‘due process’ being reserved for the Oval Office. By comparison with Eric Holder, John Yoo was a timid black letter civil libertarian . To regard Galloway’s comparison of Blair and Bush’s unprovoked aggression against an almost unarmed state to the behaviour of wolves as ‘disgusting’ is to plumb a new depth in the effeteness stakes. A slander against the wolves…..
    LA may regard it as sectarian to take as justified Muslims’ dislike of AngloAmerican imperialists’ mass murder of their fellow religionists. As a paid advocate of the Zionist entity, he is ill-placed to make such criticism. And as a former hireling of the arms manufacturers, to complain of Galloway’s comparison is enough to make a cat laugh.

    BTW, why does LA put in quotes GG’s anti-imperialist comments? Does he not have the courage to admit, nay boast, of Blairite imperialist ambitions? Doe he not regard the Blair project as the way New Labour should rule the world…? if not, why not?

    thanks Luke. You have revealed the total bankruptcy of the Murphy/Alexander, and I fear the Ed Miliband ,foreign policy….(sorry, not a policy more an EMOTIONAL SPASM…)

  • Anyone read the G2 article on the role of women in Galloway’s victory? It’s more than a tale of a politician engaging with Muslim women whose views and voices are generally overlooked. It’s also a tale of how women generally – most affected by cuts to everything – were encouraged out of the margins and into the centre of a key political moment. Labour could learn a few from the experience.

  • i think that you would have prefered it if the torys had won then you could have told the people who didnt vote labour to grow up. if labour wants to do better then fight the torys i know that this is hard as it leads you open to saying one thing in power and another in oposition but it is necessary.
    the german social democrats are losing support because they have decided that they would rather work with the christian demcrats than the parties to thier left. labour made an anti tory coalition impossible two years ago by saying they would nt work with the snp. social democratic parties are dying and i think that they wont make a come back untill they are prepared to work with people outside them.

  • This is absolute rubbish. If this is the standard set by members of the NEC than Labour is in real trouble. Fully agree with the point on taking the party back.

    Now Luke why do you think there is a English Democrat Mayor in Doncaster. The Labour Leader always seems to avoid this issue, that is the Mayoral System and the New Labour Education agenda.

    There is no room at the inn for Blairite policy. There is no room for “reliance on the state” Brownite/Milibandite policies. Bradford is a wake up call. It is a little unfair to blame Bradford Labour Party when the public are cynical of national politicians and their folly. Ed Miliband is not reaching out to the core vote. This is being duplicated and repeated on website after website and other media articles. There is too much time spent on dreaming the good life and analysing the obvious. Bradford was no one off. There is real community in Bradford….more community than the Labour Shadow Cabinet.

    No safe seat is now safe. Particularly in other Yorkshire Towns. Ed Balls, Ed Miliband and Yvette Cooper should be very worried. Take your constituency for granted at your peril.

    The Labour Party need real politicians not more of the same politicians.

    The Twitter pages are full of celebrity MPs who believe virtual reality is the key to a successful future in the party. Alongside their followers.

    The constituency offices are full of relations, husbands, wifes, daughters, caseworkers daughters working for other MP’s, officers of CLPs (Chairman, Secretaries, Campaign Managers) Voter ID, Contact Creators, local councillors. Lets do an audit of these. This is where Labour is going wrong.

    Stop making excuses Luke and as a NEC representative who has now aware of what I have just said. Why don’t you investigate this and do an audit.

    For the few and not the many eh Luke

  • Well Luke. The Labour Leader agrees with me. Please read his recent visit to Bradford. I do believe you are out of touch with the people and your party. Please do your research before penning issues that have no substance. This will have an effect on your judgement as an NEC official, particularly if you are involved in choosing candidates on the organisational committee.

    This is where Labour is going wrong.

  • Luke,
    I wish you take this opportunity to thank you for allowing me to get the message across. It would appear there many individuals who read the comments on here who believe they are beyond reach and are comfortable in the position they hold. It is really pleasing to observe Caroline Flint and campaigning in the North and South. I do not how MPs and their office staff find the time to take up all these roles. Its amazing.

    Look forward to the tax forms, timesheets and audits….oh yes and the elctoral commission

    I am led to believe from a reliable source they read your articles. This will be my last comment. I will now be focus all my energies on putting right all the wrongs. 2012 is going to be a fun year

    Have a good day

Sign up to our daily roundup email