Leading article: Mainstream politicians would do well to take heed

George Galloway’s victory is part of a pattern, as the three main parties struggle to adapt

Share
Related Topics

It has been quite a week in politics, beginning with a scandal over party funding and ending with an astonishing by-election result that should give all three main parties cause for concern. George Galloway's easy victory in Bradford West was most shocking for Labour, which should have had no problem holding the seat. In contrast, the Conservative treasurer caught on camera offering access to David Cameron in return for a large donation to the party coffers was deeply embarrassing for the Tories. Yet both events have implications for all three main parties.

Although Ed Miliband faces the most immediate questions, the by-election offers no comfort for either David Cameron or Nick Clegg. For Mr Cameron, who had aimed to break through in the north, it is a stark reminder of his lack of progress. For Mr Clegg, the result was little better. There was a time when Liberal Democrat opposition to the war in Iraq would have attracted a substantial protest vote in a seat like Bradford West. On Thursday, the party polled so badly it lost its deposit.

In fact, the outcome in Bradford West is part of a wider pattern as all three main parties struggle to adapt to changing times. Neither is it the only symptom of decline. Labour's dramatic fall from dominance in Scotland, and the SNP's concomitant rise, is another indication of public dissatisfaction with its usual options. So too are the Conservatives' failure to win an overall majority in the 2010 general election, the brief eruption of "Cleggmania" during the 2010 campaign, and now Mr Galloway's triumph. All suggest a bewildered, disillusioned electorate seeking inspiration beyond traditional party politics.

There is an important qualification with regards to the result in Bradford West. The constituency is an unusual one, often voting against national trends. Mr Galloway is also unusual, and chooses his battles carefully. He beat Labour's popular Oona King to her east London seat in 2005, for example, despite the fact that Labour won a landslide in the rest of the country.

Unusual or not, however, none of the three main parties can afford to ignore Mr Galloway's most recent success. There is simply too much evidence of distrust of politics in the rest of the country. Indeed, such disillusionment is hardly surprising, given the great insecurities created by the first economic crisis of the modern global economy. Although polls suggest voters blame the previous Labour government for the crisis, they have little faith in the Coalition to put it right. Neither has the past week's alarming amateurism from the Tory wing of the Coalition helped. From ridicule over Cornish pasties to an unnecessary panic over petrol, Mr Cameron and his party have only reinforced the sense that they are out of touch with the concerns of the majority.

Repeated scandals over party funding – of which the behaviour of Peter Cruddas is only the most recent – are part of the same malaise. Funding crises arise because falling membership levels leaves parties dependent on rich patrons or trade unions to survive. If they are to woo supporters back, they must do much more to adapt.

More than anything, the three main parties need to be bolder. In their timid search for the safety of the anodyne, politicians are becoming cautiously technocratic. And with worried voters seeing straight through the inauthentic banalities of the risk-averse party stalwart, there is space for a charismatic orator such as Mr Galloway, speaking with conviction, to sweep all before him.

The Bradford West by-election might have been a one-off, but mainstream politics has much to learn from it.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project and Resource Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This fast growing experience-led technology co...

Recruitment Genius: Production Scientist

£23000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises in the...

Recruitment Genius: Factory Manager - Food

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Environmental Account Manager - Remote Working

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunit...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s Director of Communications  

i Editor's Letter: Poultry excuses from chicken spin doctors

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Women come back from the fields to sell vegetables at a market in Bangui, Central African Republic  

International Women's Day: Africa's women need to believe in themselves and start leading the way

Sylvia Bongo Ondimba
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable