What happened to Labour's Asian votes?
Published: 2nd Apr 2012 17:38:20
After George Galloway's victory in the Bradford West by-election, are Labour now worried the traditional Asian voters they have relied on for decades may be about to defect?
The question is being asked amid signs some Labour-supporting Asians are starting to switch their allegiance to Mr Galloway's Respect Party, which stood - among other things - on an anti-war platform.
A senior Labour party activist in Bradford who did not want to be identified has told the BBC he is personally aware that up to four councillors are in talks over defecting to Respect.
The revelation has sparked fears if that others may want to follow - which could leave the local Labour party in disarray.
Officially Respect says it cannot comment on whether it is in talks with sitting councillors who want to switch before the forthcoming local elections.
However it did confirm that former councillors in Bradford had been in touch, with some already having left their parties.
Meanwhile the politician at the centre of the story is being greeted by hugs and kisses from men of all ages within the city's large Pakistani community as he tours his new constituency.
It is the traditional warm greeting they use among themselves - but it has now become an integral part of the Galloway walkabout.
One former Labour supporter, Shamsuddin Ahmed, says: "Let's get one thing straight. Mr Galloway's not going to make all the difference in this world, but what he is going to do is empower people to get up and take an active part in the political process and you can see that has now started in Bradford".
Traditionally, like many major towns and cities in England with large Asian populations, most ethnic voters have voted for the Labour Party.
But that support all but collapsed when Mr Galloway came to Bradford.
During his short campaign Mr Galloway said: "You don't have to put up with the political class that you've got, you can stand up and rise up and peacefully democratically change it."
I spent some time at Respect Party's makeshift headquarters in the centre of Bradford before the election and personally observed a number of prominent Labour activists and councillors from all three main parties mingling with the crowds of young Asian first-time voters.
One Labour councillor told me the mood of the city was changing: "Look at all these young people who've never been near a ballot box before. They came out in huge numbers to support George Galloway.
"That has made me question who I represent and why.
"In this climate it will be hard to beat Respect in the inner city areas where Asian people make up most of the electorate, because they now seem to have so much support," he said.
Mr Galloway says Respect are clearly a left-of-centre political party but not so left-of-centre that they cannot accommodate "people of goodwill" who are considering defecting from their own parties.
"The Labour Party will be the pool in which we will fish most intensively because we consider ourselves to be a labour party," he said.
Mr Galloway and Respect say they will be fielding candidates in every single seat in Bradford in next month's council elections.
And the MP claims support for his party is spreading beyond Bradford's borders.
Mr Galloway said: "As you can see I have people here to see me from Oldham, Rochdale, Dewsbury, Halifax and even Manchester who want to be candidates for us."
A Labour source said that he had heard of "a few other cases in nearby Halifax and Huddersfield" where Labour councillor were talking about defecting to Respect.
However an official Labour spokesperson said the party was unaware of any sitting councillor wanting to leave the party and join any other either in Bradford or any on part of the country.
Respect say they are getting more hits per hour on the party's website than they did for the whole of last year and membership is increasing at a rate which they are struggling to keep up with.
Respect leader Salma Yaqoob, said: "In this election young Asian people and Asian women who've never connected with the current politics that we have, came out and supported us in large numbers.
"We are seeing a sea-change in attitudes from Asian voters and are hearing how deep down they were unhappy with Labour and the Conservatives, they want us to represent them and we will," she says.
A lot of youngsters who have grown up out of touch needed something different, something special and as you can see by the result they came and out and have effected change and who knows where else this will happen”
For the last three general elections Naveed Hussain worked for outgoing Bradford West Labour MP Marsha Singh's campaign team. However he defected and became Mr Galloway's campaign manager.
"The Labour Party have taken the Asian vote for granted and it's about time we stood up as a community and said no more. We want a party that represents our needs and not just those of a handful of people who make all the decisions," he says.
Mr Hussain says: "If you are a Labour supporter and belong to the wrong caste or come from the wrong part of Pakistan you will not get anywhere, they only give key party positions and seats to certain individuals and I had had enough".
"If you want an equal chance to progress in politics at any level I don't think that's available today in the Labour Party," he says.
That disillusionment with Labour was predicted back in 1999 in a confidential report was written for Tony Blair on the subject of clan politics called "The disenchantment of Muslims in the Labour Party".
Report author Mohammed Ajeeb said: "I warned that Asians would one day leave the party because they were fed up with the way it was being run where there was a large Asian membership".
"My conclusions were that Asian clan politics which is still very evident today in the Labour party would lead to the exclusion of articulate people entering politics and that is just what has happened".
Respect say they are confident of taking a number of seats from all three main parties in May's local elections but they also have their eye set on the Mayor of Bradford, if that is what the people of the city vote for in a referendum next month.
Harvard CitationBBC News, 2012. What happened to Labour's Asian votes?. [Online] (Updated 02 Apr 2012)
Available at: http://www.manchesterwired.co.uk/news.php/1420214-What-happened-to-Labours-Asian-votes [Accessed 19th June 2013]
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