When you see the pictures of Galloway’s victory parade around Bradford, its easy to see why he is one of the most exciting (and indeed excitable) politicians of his generation. Basically no one else acts like that anymore. Apart from maybe Dennis Skinner, there really doesn’t seem anyone who can turn on anger, clarity and oratory like Galloway. Ranting and speaking, declaring the “Bradford Spring” from the top of a double decker bus. As you see him, genuine talent eclipsed by the outrageous bombast of his cigar, hat and glasses, you have to wonder if, up there on his double decker victory bus, he thought his time in Bradford might be refreshingly uneventful. “Surely”, you can imagine him thinking, surrounded by people chanting his name, “after a career like mine, Bradford must be sedate, and not a place where controversy and scandals are going to bite me”.
I am not a professional politician and neither am I a journalist (thank the lord), so I am not going to try and set out some quasi objective narrative of what happened with yesterday’s spat between George Galloway and Bradford Brewery.
Bradford politics can be, not to put too fine a point on it, fair opaque at times. Sufficed to say, this being the kind of place it is, speculation meets counter speculation: paranoid accusations from RESPECT that the Bradford Brewery is somehow shilling for the labour party, meets the story about Chamber’s Solicitors (who support Galloway) sending “libel threat” letters demanding recipients bosh £5,000 to a random HSBC account before an arbitrary date. The question isn’t who is up to what “shadiness” because, round here that’s often most people, most of the time.
This is not a city, this is Bradford. Things are often not exactly as they seem.
Neither is this blog post the place to go into the litany of shit that Galloway has brought on himself and his followers. One interesting part of the organised left’s response to this latest episode, has been the vitriol with which a decent analysis of the situation in Bradford, especially one in which the fact that Galloway still has something like a base of support is acknowledged and investigated, has been met. This is from the same section of the left who were most supportive of him in the early period of RESPECT. The only thing unsaid on the left about the early days of RESPECT and its fall out pertinent here; maybe what groups did or did not do in RESPECT, was one of the least interesting things about it.
Regardless, because of who Galloway is, and what Bradford is perceived to be nationally, the story has attracted some political and historical detritus as it has grown and got around. Its some of this that I want to put in perspective and challenge.
Some RESPECT supporters have claimed that the new row of pubs in Bradford are a “pet project” of Dave Green, labour leader of the council. Apart from the majorly paranoid vibe here, there is a part of me that thinks so be it. The implication being that somehow this means that the twitter row was provoked (the first tweet was from Bradford Brewery) for unnamed shady reasons. I suggest quite happily that this is a bit of a silly and basically irrelevant accusation.
The reality is that, in terms of the big historic blocks in Bradford, the Labour party have been the only one in the city to really want to develop the historic centre of the city. The Tories, since Pickle’s dramatic destruction of Bradford as a centrally organised municipality, on Thatcher’s personal orders (documented at some length and with some flair in the Pickle’s Papers here), have supported a narrative of Bradford as a “city of districts”. Practically, this has meant a lack of investment in the (working class and with substantial Black and Asian, and increasingly Eastern European minorities) central areas, offset by the idea that certain “districts” (that is, the white affluent suburbs, boarding on the William Hague lands of North Yorkshire- Skipton, Ilkley and so on) will somehow magically lift the whole city. Pushing this even further Tory MPs like the perennially repulsive Philip Davies and Keighley’s Kriss Hopkin’s have argued since for the breaking up of the city on a sort of quasi Liga Norda-Yorkshire, or Ilkley Belang basis, ironically nailed as such by Galloway in the Telegraph & Argus.
On the other hand, where as Galloway is perceived by pretty much all apart from RESPECT loyalists to have done barely anything for the city, the Labour party have, since winning control of the local authority, visibly and quite bravely started to put money into big city centre activities, and would be foolish not to take credit just before the election.
Having said that, no one with a sense of history in Bradford can be an uncritical supporter of the Labour party. This is a city shaped by over a century of mass immigration and it was not without reason that the Asian Youth Movement coined the slogan “Labour, Tory both the same, both play the racist game”, at the height of their movement. Not to say anything of the links of both Labour and Tory parties to what some (I don’t like the colonial connotations myself) call “clan politics” in the city.
There is clearly a racist aspect to a focus on so-called “clan politics” in the hands of the right wing press. However there is also an articulation of it that comes out of organisations with deep historical roots in bradford’s Black and Asian communities. Indeed the selection of the latest candidate for Bradford West provided another example to these critics of Bradford’s status quo. The fact of the matter is, as JUST West Yorkshire, the Guardian and others have argued is that Galloway won an election through standing against this system, on a political platform of anti imperialism, basic old labour social democracy and a nice line in the old hat and cigar one-two combo. That he did win, was in many ways a huge step for left wing politics in Bradford, or at least it had the potential to be.
The break down of Galloway’s election results through the “Bradford Spring” moment, shows a lot of the racist nonsense talked about the election result for the poisonous establishment reaction that it was. Gibberish like the tabloid claim that Galloway’s original campaign was fought on some communitarian basis is belied by the absolutely thumping majority that the RESPECT party won for him: It would have been physically impossible for a good few thousand of those votes not to have come from white people voting for him.
Equally, the radical nature of the campaign was documented by the Guardian who, as you can imagine, got tremendously excited of young (primarily but not only) Asian (primarily but not only) Women who actually wore out shoe leather and won the campaign for RESPECT. Although with the Guardian and white liberals in general, one wonders if a little of this does not grow from a certain safari based toruistism (“Look Sebastian, a real hijabi, oh my god, oh my god, in a chicken shop, oh my god, oh my god”), nevertheless this picked on something real; a movement in which popular and progressive community activists, young people and disaffected Labour voters where brought into a broadly socialist political project that shook the city, region and country.
What we are left with in the city now, is the degeneration and frustration of this moment. Anyone who is talking about Galloway’s latest (or indeed next) spat without locating it in this context is viewing the situation with one eye shut, either through will or ignorance. To paraphrase leftist cliche to talk about Galloway without talkign about the defeat of the Bradford Spring is, consciously or not, to talk with a questionable labour party branch’s agenda in one’s mouth.
If Galloway had put the interests of his party, the movement of young women who brought him the seat and the socialist movement at large before his own ego and career, we would be potentially looking at a very different Bradford. Or maybe even England. I cannot help but wonder if it would have been a Green Surge we have witnessed, if figures like Salma Yaqoob and Kate Hudson had gone on to win (or nearly win) the seats that they were meant to be contesting.
Part of this degeneration is apparent in the arguably “soft communitarian code words” being deployed by some RESPECT supporters. What was once a group that was cutting across this kind of thing, has had supporters online talk of the pubs in Bradford being only being for “some people” because they sell “expensive beer and pork pies”; a disingenuous attempt to make it seem like someone is resisting a “gentrification” attempt. The reality is there is no really expensive Beer in Bradford city centre.
And I write this as a Bradfordian muslim who wants to be able to drink where I live, and not walk around a bombed out looking, apocalyptic city centre hole.
There is probably a broader point to be made here about the difference between “regeneration” in a city like Bradford or like London. Where for one it might mean gentrification, yuppification and social cleansing, for the other it means some extra money for cultural activities, support to keep stuff open in the city, and so on.
To be blunt, Bradford has many problems, but hordes of yuppies and lawyers about descend on the city centre and price everyone else out are really not one of them.
At the same time, Galloway’s talk of “anti social behaviour” is laughable. The street where the pub is located is not a residential one. I mentioned the genuine feeling of pride that developments like city park, and the new pubs and bars popping up have inspired in Bradfordians. If you were smashing stuff up outside the Bradford Brewery, you would get chased up the road, to be frank.
So, we are left with these accusations as a farcical remnant of what once looked like a principled attempt to bring a cross racial and angrily anti establishment politics to Bradford.
At the same time, the row has provided the kind of dull low thud that brings the stooping goblins and assorted reactionaries of the internet and RL out in their slobbering droves: “Attacking breweries nearly as popular with Bradford voters as attacking Jews, and for similar reasons” spewed a leading donk on twitter.
Its not just that this is (not very) coded liberal racism about “backwards muslims”. Rather, it feeds into a larger narrative that a lot of the critique of “communitarian” politics actually focuses on. It disarms anti racism, and it seeks to paint Black & Asian communities as passive idiotic sheep who can be cajoled into submission through the deployment of a handful of words.
Actually, we have to be clear about the campaign that Galloway fought and won to see how offensive, and frankly untrue, that idea is. Galloway specifically stood on an understanding that he represented the “old” Labour party. Now, as soi-dissant revolutionaries, Marxists or critical theorists some of us might want to say that the “objective role” or “class composition” or just “blah blah blah” of the Labour hasn’t changed, but “old labour” is a phrase people understand, and it is certainly one that working class Asian people understand; in towns like Bradford we have been the historic backbone of it. As Salma Yaqoob once memorably said, the thing with RESPECT was “Asian people wont be voting fodder anymore”. It takes a certain brand of arrogant racism to see the beginnings of people fighting for their own interests, as a step away from that.
More importantly, if we want to start talking about there being a problem with communitarian politics in Bradford, that’s fine. Let’s, as tedious contemporary doylems like to say, “have that conversation”.
Lets talk about the dog whistle politics, the appeals to sense of community identity that really operates, not just in Bradford, but nationally. Phillip Davies, MP for Shipley, has built his odious career spicing a blandly typical anti traveller bigotry with the occasional masala of trying to ban Urdu language books in Bradford libraries or fingerprint all immigrants to this country. Which is to say nothing of the history of inflammatory remarks by Labour figures like Ann Cryer (Keighley), spreading a racialized narrative of attacks on white girls by Asian men, when the evidence shows that Asian girls are as likely to be targeted.
What I do have to point out though, as a strong Bradford Nationalist and patriot, is that the worst of these tweets and comments didn’t come from a Bradfordian, but people outside. Out of towners. Probably southern.
Now the problem with the white response to this has been that, as per usual, it has become one of people saying well “of course we’re not racists”, and that some “individuals” have used the events as an excuse to attack along racial lines.
What I am certainly not doing, is accusing anyone linked to the original dispute of making racist remarks. But the problem is there is a disconnect between how liberal/left opinion sees the situation in Bradford, and the reality of the mechanical reproduction of structural racism.
Not to say I support Galloway on this, I just cant really find anything from a lot of white folk caught up in this that speaks to that level; just a series of platitudes, to be honest.
This is not to say that Bradford isn’t a city, rightfully, proud of its status as one that is, in many ways, a leading example of how best to deal with the echoes of colonial adventure, mass migration and structural racism that keep the bricks of this country cemented together. Quite to the contrary. The problem is this pride can slide into a kind of back slapping “official” anti racism that actually, obfuscates the issues.
In one of the tweets that Bradford Brewery shared, you can really see the dual nature of this “official anti racism” at work. They shared a sort of left liberal populist meme, with a picture of Bradford with the over-layered text; “We welcome Christians, Mulsims, Sikhs, Jews….but not gobshite politicians”.
The problem with this kind of official anti racism is that actually masks the fact that it is simply not true that people of all ethnicities and “faiths” have the same sort of life, life chances and freedoms as others: A young Bangladeshi person in Bradford is still more likely to grow up in poverty than a white one; there are far more Black Marias and done up shield wielding cops around the areas where the new Slovakian community has moved, than you get up Queensbury; many Black, Asian or East European children will get used to being told “not to talk their own languages” by teachers and youth workers.
Whilst the predominantly white owned small businesses around town have done so much to help regenerate the city, let us not fool ourselves into thinking they are the people who should be abel to tell us whether or not racism and faith bigotry are still problems in Bradford.
Ultimately, we have to read these events as a further example of the degeneration of what Galloway was once able to call the “Bradford Spring”. The fact of the matter is that Galloway wants to position himself as a firebrand leftwinger, with the official left opposition of the city being RESPECT. Unfortunately or not, this is just simply not the case. From demos of a thousand strong, now a couple of hundred go to RESPECT organised demos, apart from in a few notable cases. The substantial section of the city (some white, some asian) who were excited when he won, has deserted him. Nevertheless, if a new left is to grow in Bradford, it will not only need to engage some of the people who have grown disenchanted with Galloway already, but also some of those few hundred who are still under enchantment.
Personally, I will be voting, and urge others to vote, for the Greens in Bradford West. The Greens are a mixed bag in Bradford, as they are all over the country, but with their current national leadership, it is possible to make an argument in Bradford West that a vote for them is the first step towards a vote for the continuation of the “Bradford Spring”. In a seat like Bradford West, the Greens should be fighting to be known as RESPECT without Galloway. They are standing nationally on an anti war, anti austerity and pro migrant program. An offer that could be made in a way that cuts across traditional patterns of ethnic and “neighbourhood” politics in Bradford. They are the ideas that put Galloway on top of that bus in the first place, and they are ideas that can win.