Bradford's peaceful democratic uprising that elected me comes from the wellspring of discontent that swept Britain last summer, writes George Galloway MP in the Guardian
The Bradford spring. No matter how seemingly powerful, no corrupted, out-of-touch elite can last forever. The people of Bradford West have spoken, and politics in the city and in this country will never be the same again. Anyone who took part in this historic campaign, or who observed it dispassionately, knew by last weekend that something spectacular was going to take place.
A 5,000 Labour majority was transformed into a 10,000 majority for Respect – the same total vote for me as the outgoing MP had in a general election – winning across every ward in the constituency. It was the most spectacular byelection result in British political history.
The word revolution was on many lips in this deprived and hitherto disenfranchised city well before Friday morning's result. And, like the Arab revolutions, this is a movement, above all, of the young. Bradford has a young population. By 2020 half the population will be under 25. They have grown up in the years when Tony Blair and his successors murdered the real Labour tradition, taking for granted the loyalty of working people – nowhere more so than in this city, where the precursor to the Labour party, the Independent Labour party, was founded in 1893.
A rotten combination of complacency, incompetence, opportunism and rule by clique has presided over Bradford's decline. It was going down even during the 13 years of New Labour government, which included the richest decade in British history. Now it is in danger of sinking under the sado-monetarist austerity of the Con-Dem coalition.
Labour's opposition in parliament is feeble to the point of paralysis, because so many share so much of the grim orthodoxy that has plunged the world into the great recession.
This, and the continuing support of all three old parties for war and occupation abroad, has created a chasm between the political class and so many working people, especially the generation that faces a future of extortionate tuition fees, a privatised NHS, mass unemployment – and, for those who find work, an ever diminishing pension and a rising retirement age. So, while support came from all quarters in this election, it was young people who moved first and created a critical mass, which drew around it ever wider layers until it became unstoppable.
Many had never voted before, including in their 40s. As hundreds of them threw themselves into the campaign, those who remembered what a real party of labour should look like could see it forming before their eyes and they too moved. Among them were activists who had held the labour movement together through the dog years of Thatcherism.
Mass face-to-face campaigning was combined with the tools of this century – Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, mass texting, bespoke apps – all run by the generation for which they are as familiar as a printed political leaflet once was. Every night, and late into the night, hundreds gathered at our headquarters provided by Chambers solicitors to rally, plan and organise on and offline.
This peaceful, democratic uprising comes from the same wellspring of discontent and alienation that fuelled disturbances in British cities last summer. But it is a positive counterpoint – bringing forth a new generation of political leaders, not another cohort trapped in the criminal justice system. Every politician should take notice, as they did not last summer.
Labour, above all, should learn this rude lesson. It cannot continue on the disastrous path set by Tony Blair, of war and occupation abroad and inequality at home. That's what lay behind the loss of a "safe seat", held for 38 years, just as the party lost London's East End in 2005.
The real Labour values I stood for in this election swept the Tories and Lib Dems away, and swept into every part of the constituency – including those areas where some voters, only a few years ago, had succumbed to the siren calls of the racists and fascists.
The media, especially the London media, should also smell the coffee. Something is happening in this country outside of the echo chamber. The council elections take place in May in many parts of the country: prepare for more shocks to come as people find their voices at the ballot box and in mass, democratic opposition to an elite that is failing them.