A Year of Living Dangerously

This article is dedicated to the memory of the greatest ever British parliamentary figure, Charles James Fox MP

If a year could be compared to an earthquake, then the 12 months which have just elapsed, has definitely been at the upper reaches of the political Richter scale.

Exactly a year ago at around 11pm I tweeted the following: “By the Grace of God we have won a landslide victory in the Bradford West by-election. Long live Iraq, Long live Palestine”. Not only had the votes not been counted by then, they hadn’t even arrived at the Counting House.

 

That tweet may have been the most audacious act I had ever performed. But within a few hours almost everyone in the country knew it was, indeed, a landmark landslide, in fact unprecedented in British political history.

It was the biggest swing recorded in Britain in a by-election since 1945. It was the first time a fourth party candidate ever secured 58% of the vote (and in an eight party race) more than the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour combined.

It was the first time a candidate standing to the left of Labour took a seat from them whilst the Tories were in power (and in trouble). And it was the second time I had taken a seat from Labour.  In 2005 I was the first left of Labour MP elected in England since 1945.

And it placed me alongside only Sir Winston Churchill, as having won six parliamentary election victories in four constituencies in two countries (Scotland and England). Churchill briefly sat for Dundee, the town in which I was born and my ancestors – of Irish extraction – had helped turn over his car when he was defeated and pelted out of town).

The result took almost everybody by surprise, gladdened many, and infuriated some of the most powerfully prolific interests in the land.

On the day the parliamentary vacancy was announced I had tweeted “A parliamentary by-election in Bradford West. Hmmm…. interesting”.

Other than my large Twitter following, no-one in politics seemed to have noticed. Not the national media, who virtually ignored my candidature until I won. Certainly not the Labour Party (from which I had been expelled by Tony Blair over the Iraq war, after 36 years of membership, in 2004) If they had they would not have proceeded to select local councillor Imran Hussein, possibly the worst of the available candidates in the whole country to defend the seat, which had been held by popular MP Marsha Singh, sadly now deceased.

My nearest and dearest, every one, urged me not to stand. They told me that I didn’t need it, couldn’t afford it, was better off (in every respect) out of it. Most of all, they told me that I couldn’t win. One of my chief strategists told me I would lose my deposit (i.e. gain less than 5% of the vote)!

Labour even made it one of the shortest by-election campaigns in modern times – a crucial error given our desperate financial position (virtually nil, in fact I had to use my own money to fund my candidature in the beginning) and facilitating the short sharp and ultimately overwhelming campaign we were able to mount. We would have struggled badly over a lengthy campaign.

“The Bradford Earthquake” as a respected academic study (funded by the Rowntree Foundation) of the campaign came to describe it, started with the merest of tremors and finished shaking the political establishment to its foundations.

On the day I arrived in the city to announce my interest in standing in the by-election Labour moved the writ in parliament and so my speech on the steps of the City Hall was thus instantly transformed into a campaign launch.

My campaign consisted of just two Respect members, Arshad Ali and Riaz Ahmad from Bradford, my now chief of staff Rob Hoveman, who had been by my side for many years, and another Respect member Caroline Conway, my former parliamentary assistant, who couldn’t be there for reasons of work.

Moments after the launch we encountered a former Respect member Abu Bak’r Rauf and his wife Kauser with their baby daughter Arabyah. So now we were seven (and a fraction).

It turned out magnificently for Respect, tragically for the Rauf’s. Midway through the short campaign Abu Bak’r aged just 28, fell dead in front of his family and other campaigners in a local car park. I next saw him on the mortuary slab; he was still wearing my rosette and my election leaflets were bulging in his pockets. May God have mercy upon him. His big brave heart had simply stopped beating. And we stopped campaigning, until his brave widow Kauser literally beat me on the chest berating me back onto the campaign trail after just a 24 hour hiatus. Deducting that 24 hours, and other day trips back to London for previous unbreakable commitments, my battle to win Bradford lasted just 19 days.

The few ebbs and the many flo’s of the campaign – the hundreds of activists who flocked to the cause, the role of Muslim women in the campaign, the triumph over “Baraderieism”, the enormous physical contribution of a family of local solicitors, particularly my now lawyer Alias Yusef, Bradford’s top restaurateurs Shabir Akbar and Ishfaq Farooq, a former RAF officer “Sugar” Ray from Sheffield and others will all have to be described another time. Suffice to say the subsequent electoral landslide caused much consternation amongst the powerful, in the political class and in their media echo-chambers.

How could this happen? How could this turbulent priest of whom they thought they were rid, come back from the dead… again!? How could Tweedledee and Tweedledum have been rolled off the dyke like some… Humpty Dumpties? How could the three cheeks of the same arse get such a comprehensive spanking? And how come nobody saw it coming?

In my book “I’m not the Only One” (Penguin) I talked about “the boys in the bubble”. The political bubble, in which only those opinions which agree to remain within the prevailing orthodoxy, get heard and considered valid. That was the bubble which burst on 29th March 2012.

Of course no-one who’s watched events ever since could say that the establishment accepted their thrashing with grace!

It started in the morning after the night before. A queue of media monkeys lined up to try and rubbish the result. And they have been trying ever since. My religion, my marriage, my record, my work pattern, my views, my podcasts, my suits, my tweets, my beard, my facebook status and more have all been savagely traduced over the last twelve months.

The dogs began barking immediately, apparently oblivious to the fact that the caravan had moved on.

For example when I sacked my secretary I had discovered had been entertaining a senior commander of the Metropolitan Police Anti-Terrorism Squad (head of the Muslim “Contact” Group no less) in our house without our knowledge or consent. Subsequently they were both arrested and are currently still on bail suspected of a slough of offences. Never mind; the media – “liberal” as well as right – STILL signed her up and have been mining stories from her right up until this very day.

They attacked me for being in Venezuela supporting the hero and martyr Comandante Hugo Chavez during his last triumphant election, even though the other MPs were sitting on deckchairs at seaside resorts at the time.

This weekend (at the end of a week in which I made TWO speeches in parliament) they attacked me for not speaking enough in parliament. Maybe I should speak more there, though this week’s experience of sitting on the back benches for more than EIGHT hours to make two FIVE minute speeches does make me wonder…

They imply I am not in parliament enough, even though the staff there (and the CCTV), could establish that I am in parliament virtually every day (today, Good Friday, I was the ONLY person there because it was on holiday as it has been for 50% of the time since my re-election).

They haven’t noticed, apparently, that in the last 12 months I have placed more issues before the British parliament than ANY other MP; ranging from the Rohingyan genocide in Burma to the price of popcorn in British cinemas. That I have tabled more motions than all the other Bradford MPs put together. That I’ve asked scores of parliamentary questions, entertained scores of campaigning organisations in the House, pursued the cases of hundreds of constituents with ministers, agencies and others.

They say I haven’t “voted” in parliament enough though they know that in parliament MPs can ONLY vote for David Cameron’s motions or Ed Miliband’s amendments, and that I seldom wish to vote for either. They don’t record abstentions, or “none of the above please” in the House of Commons.

In any case what would be gained hanging around the parliament building in the evenings most nights ? Unlike most of the rest, I have never set foot in the many, subsidised, bars and the place holds few attractions for me. To reduce the government’s majority by one? I prefer to use my evenings to speak at public meetings, and I have addressed more of those in the last twelve months than have the other hundreds of MPs put together.

New Labour routinely lie about my work in Bradford, and no wonder. They will never win the seat back if the truth be told. I have a busy surgery in my constituency office there almost every Saturday morning, and have done since I was elected. I have organised three large demonstrations in the City Centre; on the Rohingyas, on Drone strikes, and on the Israeli attacks on Gaza. They say “Make Bradford British”. We say “Make Bradford a World City”

When the Westfield site was occupied by concerned citizens furious at the TEN year delay in filling in the big hole in the centre of the city where a shopping mall was supposed to be, I was the first public official down there to join them. In fact I was the ONLY public official who ever joined them. Westfield now say they will start work this year. If they are telling the truth; well the focus we placed on them by that occupation must have helped.

When I was elected as MP for Bradford West the iconic Odeon building was slated to be knocked down. Now it’s been saved, though its future is still not being guaranteed by the New Labour City Council.

As if in counterpoint to the “Bradford Spring” Bradford City Football Club which had been facing relegation from the football league before I arrived had a simply astounding run of victories all the way to Wembley and their first Cup Final for a hundred years. They became the first ever fourth-tier English football team to reach a Cup-Final. And, thanks to my friend and parliamentary colleague Gerry Sutcliffe MP – the Rugby League team The Bradford Bulls are on the up again.

We forced New Labour to suspend one of its Bradford councillors (he’s now been expelled) over financial skulduggery. We defeated the City Council leader; we won five seats on the city council….all this in twelve months!

Our campaigns in Bradford; against war, crime, corruption, the state of Bradford schools ( the third worst in the country) child poverty ( the third worst in the country) youth unemployment (tripled in the last two years) infant mortality (second worst in the country – 1 death in a hundred births) unemployment levels ( at 12%, one of the highest in the country) car insurance (the highest premiums in the country) to have the Tour de France actually enter the city of Bradford when the council is paying them hundreds of thousands of pounds, rather than merely circumvent it through our admittedly beautiful hinterland, our devastating election victories over all three of the big parties in council elections – have all disturbed the calm in the political class who were bent on Bradford’s steady decline. Fifty years ago Bradford was every bit the equal of Leeds, now Leeds is booming and Bradford is sinking. Their panic, and the ensuing backlash has been considerable.

Local press, echoing obediently their paymasters in the big parties whose council advertising keeps them afloat, either ignore us or attack us, whenever they possibly can. Thankfully fewer and fewer people read newspapers, and fewer still believe much what off what they read there.

Anyway my message is still getting out there.

In a whirl of Question Time, Any Questions, C4 News, Daily Politics, Parliament Channel, Press TV, Russia Today and other appearances.

On YouTube, where there are more than 30,000 videos featuring my work, attracting millions and millions of viewers.

On Facebook and on Twitter I have approaching a quarter of a million friends and followers from all over the world. When I give public speeches, which I do every week and often several times a week, the halls are always full. As is my public appearances diary.

My books sell well; my articles circulate on the internet. Google me and you’ll find millions of references. Who can name the other Bradford MPs, however worthy?

It’s been a truly amazing year, through the turbulence of which I have only passed safely by the Grace of God, the love of my brilliant intellectual and beautiful wife Gayatri, my staff, and the work and support of my comrades and friends and constituents in Bradford, on the internet, across the country and around the world. Here’s to the next year, God-willing.

Words by George Galloway MP

Design by Gayatri

Copyright Red Molucca

Note:

Charles James Fox was Parliament’s finest ever orator, was thrice expelled from the House and thrice carried back by the people on their shoulders. He was the only British MP to support the American side in their War of Independence against the British Crown. He was the only British MP to support the French Revolution to the extent that he tabled a Motion congratulating the people of France on the execution of their King and looking forward to the day when the same fate befell all the Crowned heads of Europe. He fought against slavery and for Catholic Emancipation and parliamentary reform.