No love lost: The election in Bradford West has been dominated by the battle between Respect’s George Galloway and Labour’s Naz Shah (pictured)
When George Galloway won Bradford West for Respect from Labour in 2012 by a 10,140 majority, he announced his victory through a megaphone: “All praise to Allah!” For a Scottish Catholic, Galloway appears to be doing very well at speaking on issues affecting Muslims.
During that by-election campaign Galloway produced a leaflet that said, “I’m a better Pakistani than [Imran Hussain, the Labour candidate] will ever be. God knows who’s a Muslim and who is not. And a man that’s never out of the pub shouldn’t be going around telling people you should vote for him because he’s a Muslim.”
Galloway’s opponent at the general election is Naseem (Naz) Shah, a local to Bradford who is of Pakistani Muslim origin. Last month, I travelled to Bradford to join Shah on the campaign trail soon after she was catapulted into the race by the withdrawal of the original Labour candidate, Amina Ali, for “family reasons”.
Shah is full of energy when she joins me at my Bradford hotel. “I’m real, I’m from the grassroots. I am from Bradford, I am a part of Bradford. I am Bradford,” she tells me. With her warm, approachable manner and impeccable local credentials, she is certain to give Galloway a run for his money on May 7, although he remains favourite to retain his seat.
In contrast to Shah’s feminism, Galloway appears to consider women as inferior. Commenting in 2012 on the legal case against Julian Assange, who is accused of rapes, Galloway suggested that Assange was guilty only of “bad sexual etiquette”.
Galloway’s remarks caused widespread consternation even within his own party, Respect: Salma Yaqoob resigned as its leader. For his defence of Assange, Galloway was voted “Sexist of the Year” in a poll run by the End Violence Against Women Coalition: the prize was a copy of Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman.
Galloway’s victory in Bradford West was, ironically, ascribed mainly to women, in particular those from religious backgrounds who had in the past been expected to vote the way male relatives voted. This was part of a baradari system that generally delivered block votes to Labour. Naz Shah says that those women, herself included, were let down. “What happened was that Galloway came and made a lot of false promises. He raised expectations. He took us to the top of the mountain and just left us there. He did not deliver. He promised Arab investments. He promised football investment. None of which materialised.What Galloway did was ask women to join the conversation but he didn’t actually converse with them.”
The Muslim population of Bradford West is just over half of the total number of residents, far higher than anywhere else in the UK. In the 2012 by-election Galloway managed to garner support from across the electorate irrespective of social class, ethnicity or religion.
But the honeymoon period for Respect and Galloway in Bradford West is, for many, over. “What this election is dragging out into the open,” says Fawzia, a resident and local activist in Bradford West, “is how Galloway has relied on his reputation as a defender of all things Islamic. But by denying the problems inherent to the culture for women, he is encouraging people to pick up the stones and to take a long, hard look underneath.”
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