Friday, 6 April 2012

Bradford Respect offers real change

I am proud of the list of Respect candidates. I believe they are a much needed breath of fresh air in Bradford local politics.

We were inundated with hundreds of applications following George Galloway's stunning victory in Bradford West. There were many from the 'old guard', including existing and ex councillors who were keen to jump ship in the face of the huge support for Respect. There were many who came offering what they consider to be bank votes due to their 'biraderi' links. All these were rejected. Some took to facebook to express resentment following them not being accepted.

But the voters of Bradford West were clear: no more stitch ups, no more stifling of talented young people and women, and no more so called representatives who had no passion for the issues that matter to local people.

Laughably they tried to spread rumours that our selection process was 'biraderi' based or that the hard working volunteers in the office had disproportionate influence. The truth is that George Galloway and myself were directly involved in the decision making process, and this was solely due to the lack of structures on the ground and the extreme time pressure we were under.

A small group of volunteers were asked to dedicate time to being available to give out nomination forms at our temporary base in Chambers Solicitors for whoever wanted to come forward and to process online enquiries. The office was inundated with hundreds of enquiries at all hours of the day and night. The volunteers gave their time selflessly and, despite possessing great talent and commitment, were excluded from standing themselves. They were not a final decision making selection panel but an administration group. Every one of us has been working through to the early hours for a number of days, as we tried to deal with the victory rally, the huge media interest, and manage the whole process of nominations. It is an extraordinary achievement to have got this far, and I am deeply grateful to all who dedicated themselves to helping us through this very challenging time.

Due to the shortage of time, there were some nominations that we accepted but who were not able to make the Wednesday 12 o clock deadline. It was a challenge to have to complete papers, with 10 endorsements from local residents in a few hours. In the case of Bingley and Bingley Rural our two selected potential candidates, the fantastic Marta and Winston Williams could not make it to City Hall as they did not have a car and taxis were not coming out in the unexpected snow that morning.

Some of our potential candidates were also subject to pressure from Labour activists and councillors to not hand in their nomination papers, including in Toller Ward. I know people are particularly concerned about Toller ward, but we were placed in a very difficult position. We had a candidate selected and ready to go. But at midnight he withdrew, citing a sudden death in the family. I had to quickly review the applications, and find a strong candidate. He was woken at 1.30 am and asked to get to work on his nomination papers there and then. Our candidate made it to the council offices at 11.30am with his papers, which he duly handed in, completing some required amendments before 12pm but was then refused by Council officials claiming he was too late. Yet, another candidate, who had also handed in their paperwork before 12 pm, was given feedback and asked to make amendments after 12.20pm, which were accepted. Sadly, there has been a pattern of a questionable commitment by the Council to meeting reasonable requests, and a perception of bias aimed at 'blocking' of Respect during the election period. We are challenging the decision to not accept our nomination for Toller ward, where it so happens the Labour councillor is being sued by George Galloway for defamatory comments during the campaign.

We are determined to resist these pressures and fulfil our promise to residents that our candidates will reflect the diversity of Bradford. These are individuals who have already shown their commitment to selflessly battling for Bradford as opposed to those who engage in local politics out of self interest.

I believe that through this list we have immediately fulfilled one of George Galloway's promises to bring change to Bradford. For too long the mainstream parties have stitched up Bradford politics, with a suffocating political consensus that rests on the corrupting effects of birarderi/clan politics. It will be a tough fight for us to overcome those people who want things to continue in the same old way. They will resist us at every opportunity, and use every dirty trick, but we are determined to offer something new to Bradford.

Now it is up to the people. They must choose whether they want real change - a change that many thousands of people have called for - or whether it’s back to (no) business as usual in Bradford.