Election 2010: Can George Galloway repeat 2005 success?

By Brian Wheeler, Political reporter, BBC News

George Galloway’s victory in Bethnal Green and Bow was one of the big stories of the 2005 general election campaign.

But the Iraq war is not the issue it was and as the maverick former Labour MP tries to pull off a similar coup in neighbouring Poplar and Limehouse he is embroiled in one of the toughest and most complex fights of the 2010 general election.

Not that you would think that, to meet him.

Lounging on the top deck of his open-topped battle bus in a black pin stripe suit and shades he alternates between enjoying a “99” brought to him by one of his young campaign team (“Thanks, babe”) and puffing on his cigar.

“I love elections. I will fight elections until the day I die,” he says.

His campaign pitch is to be a “big voice for the East End. A voice that cannot be ignored”.

It is certainly hard to ignore his Respect battlebus, as it weaves its way through the quiet back streets, with its PA set at ear-splitting volume.

‘Amy Winehouse’

Voters wave and toot their car horns, or gaze in bemusement, as Mr Galloway barks out his campaign slogans to a soundtrack of Aretha Franklin (R.E.S.P.E.C.T) and Edwin Starr (“War what is it good for?”)

At one point, he hands the microphone to a shy, barefoot young women, who treats passers-by to a soulful version of “Valerie”.

“Why don’t you come and vote for Galloway,” she croons as her mentor beams in admiration.

“She is better than Amy Winehouse,” he says, planting a kiss on her forehead.

The bookmakers say this is a three-way marginal, with Mr Galloway trailing in third place behind Labour and the Conservatives. Needless to say, he does not see it that way.

“We are going to win this seat. This is easier than beating Oona King last time. She was a much more substantial figure.”

The Iraq war is still an issue on the doorstep, he insists, “because I bring it up”.

On the day I catch up with the campaign, a local Conservative activist is arrested after a scuffle outside Labour candidate Jim Fitzpatrick’s campaign office.

The target of the Tory protest is visiting Labour luminary John Prescott, who manages to resist the urge to land a right hook in the melee.

“I was on his leadership election team,” muses Mr Galloway, of his former Labour colleague Mr Prescott. “He had dinner at my house.”

Are they still on friendly terms?

“There are no pals in politics,” he grins.

‘Four-way marginal’

Poplar and Limehouse was once rock solid Labour territory. There has not been an MP round here from another party for more than a century, but the area is changing fast and Respect grabbed a large chunk of its support in 2005.

It is a dizzying mix of rich and poor, different faith groups and rapidly shifting political allegiances. Wealthy young professionals who work at Canary Wharf live side-by-side with some of London’s poorest families, including a large population of Bangladeshi Muslims and white families who have lived in the East End of London for generations. There are about 14,000 people on the council house waiting list.

“It is the only seat in England like it. It is unique,” says Liberal Democrat candidate Jonathan Freyer, who claims that since the advent of “Cleggmania” it is now a “four-way marginal”.

“It is extraordinary. The Labour vote has collapsed. How much of it is coming to us, how much to Respect or the Tories is hard to say but we are getting some incredible canvassing returns in areas where we have not done very much for some time.”

Religion is also a factor.

Mr Galloway, who is banking on the votes of Bangladeshi Muslims, was harassed by alleged Islamic extremists at a campaign event, who he said “objected to people voting in general, especially Muslims”. Three men were arrested.

Jim Fitzpatrick, who is defending a slender 3,000 majority for Labour, caused controversy when he walked out of a Muslim wedding at London Muslim Centre, Whitechapel, in August, in protest at the segregation of men and women.

He has been shocked and angered to find himself accused of “racism and Islamophobia” in the aftermath of the incident, despite what he says is a 13-year record of working with the community in the area.

Wedding ‘row’

He said he had no argument with the couple getting married, who had requested the segregation, but was taking a stand against the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE) – an organisation that calls for Sharia law – which is based in the same building.

“I apologised for the clumsy way it was handled,” he tells me, but admitted it remains a “background issue” in the campaign.

“My row is with the IFE,” he adds, saying he wants to “detach religion from politics in the East End of London”.

A recent Channel 4 documentary alleged IFE members helped get Mr Galloway elected in 2005 in neighbouring Bethnal Green and Bow, something firmly denied by the Respect candidate, who said: “”I don’t know who is or isn’t a member of the IFE, and I have only the haziest knowledge of what they stand for, but the organisation has never approached me for help or attempted to influence me.”

Mr Fitzpatrick speaks of his fellow Glaswegian George Galloway warily, describing him as an “international grandstander” and a “completely different type of politician” to the sort local people need.

“The smart money would say it is between us and the Tories but you underestimate George Galloway at your peril,” he adds.

Tim Archer, a former Canary Wharf worker and local councillor, could be on the verge of an historic breakthrough in this seat, by becoming the first Conservative MP in the East End in decades.

The party has poured in a lot of resources, after boundary changes brought thousands of owner-occupiers into the seat, in upscale Dockland developments in St Katherine’s and Wapping.

“The boundary change has helped no end,” concedes Mr Archer.

‘Galloway myth’

But what has helped more, he says, is that fact that the Conservatives are now the official opposition on the local council.

“People have got a feel for what it is like to have Conservative representation. Previously, when I lost in 2005, there had never been a Conservative on the council.”

The other factor that is helping his campaign is George Galloway “splitting the left vote”, he says.

As a former banker, he has found himself on the receiving end of Galloway invective at hustings events.

“To listen to him speak, you would think the whole financial crisis is down to me,” even though, he says, he was a retail banker and not involved in credit default swaps or derivates.

“Captain Mainwaring would not have been unfamiliar with my type of banking,” he protests, but he insists the seat is a straight fight between himself and Jim Fitzpatrick: “People are starting to see through the Galloway myth.”

“What I am getting a sense of on the doorstep is that people who put their trust in Galloway in Bethnal Green and Bow feel let down because he has not done anything for local people.”

Mr Galloway himself hotly disputes the suggestion that he has been a less-than-diligent constituency MP, claiming to have helped “thousands” of local people and to have paid for extra constituency office staff “out of my own pocket”.

Outside Mile End tube station, close to the boundary between the two constituencies, opinion on him is divided.

Paula Williams, one of his former constituents, describes him as a “total opportunist” who has done little for the area: “He is not a nice character. I am not a fan of his approach to politics.”

Others are impressed by his straight talking approach.

“I like him. He is an outspoken fellow,” says William Gardiner, a dapper 80-year-old, who says he will be in Russia with his wife on polling day so unlikely to vote for anyone.

The general election may be too close to call, but it has nothing on this constituency, which could well be the scene of a few re-counts on Thursday night, as at least four parties battle to get enough votes to take it.

“You’re guess is as good as mine as to how it is going to pan out,” says Jim Fitzpatrick.

Also standing in Poplar and Limehouse: Jim Thornton (Independent), Kabir Mahmud (Independent), Andrew Osborne (English Democrats), Wayne Lochner (UKIP), Chris Smith (Green).

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List of Salaam Candidates

Following on from the earlier list of recommended candidates pushed by the British Muslim Institute, here is another list compiled by the Salaam portal which can be found here.

It is interesting to note the differences in a few of the seats and what seems more concentrated focus on fewer constituencies, unlike BMI and certainly unlike Get Out & Vote! who covered more seats with respect to political analysis but do not believe in it within their remit to endorse any particular candidate over another.

List of BMI recommended Candidates

The UK General of 2010 has been notable for the number of Muslim organisations working to educate British Muslims on the need to vote and increase in political participation.

Whilst Get Out & Vote! has focused on providing a service to all voters who would like to know more about their Prospective Parliamentary Candidates in order for voters to make their own individual decisions, it has been noticed that some groups are catering for a common need of the British Muslim community in doing all the work for them and suggesting candidates in specific seats up and down the country.

One such organisation, the British Muslim Initiative, has produced an interesting list which seems to have been formulated after much study. Although we cannot endorse such lists, it makes for thoughtful reading.

See the full list here.

Three Electoral Commitments Every Muslim Should Make

By Shaykh Muhammad Saleem Dhorat hafizahullah

Like the rest of the country, the UK’s Muslim community is gearing up to vote on May 6th. The political parties have been campaigning in earnest for some time, outlining their policies and stressing their commitments to the nation. During the days preceding polling day, Britain’s Muslims should be asking themselves what commitments they have made when it comes to casting their votes.

Here follows a summary of a speech delivered by Shaykh Muhammad Saleem Dhorat hafizahullah, containing valuable advice for the Muslim voter.

The Secret of Success

Allah ta‘aalaa has placed the desire for progress, and the spirit of mutual competitiveness that accompanies it, into the very nature of man. It is natural for individuals and communities to strive to better themselves and achieve progress. As Muslims, we should open the pages of history and discover and adopt those factors which make a nation prosperous, as long as they fall within the bounds of the Sharee‘ah, so that we too can reap the Deeni and worldly benefits of progress.

Our study should commence with trying to ascertain the secret behind the success of the noble Sahaabah radhiyallahu anhum, for they are ideal role models of a community that attracted success in its every endeavour. A thoughtful investigation will reveal three prominent qualities which can be attributed to their success. In this election season every Muslim, no matter what his/her preferred party, should commit him/herself to observing these three principles in order to secure success and achievement, both on a personal and a communal level.

The First Commitment – Taqwaa

The Sahaabah radhiyallahu anhum hated all disobedience to Allah ta‘aalaa, they neither had a habit of sinning nor were they fond of any sins. Abstention from sins is the essence of taqwaa, and through it Allah ta‘aalaa has promised relief from every difficulty.

In dealing with the election issue, we must not say or do anything that displeases Allahta‘aalaa. Of all the sins to beware of, backbiting and slander are major sins which are a particular threat at such times. One inclined towards a particular party should not backbite or slander a supporter of another party, for in doing so the requirements of taqwaa will be compromised; and Divine assistance and blessings can not be expected in the absence of taqwaa.

The Second Commitment – Ikhlaas

Every decision taken by the Sahaabah radhiyallahu anhum was for the Pleasure of Allahta‘aalaa, keeping in mind the life hereafter and the good of the community. They would be ready to sacrifice everything for the sake of Allah ta‘aalaa. Whether standing for election, supporting a party or voting, a Muslim must be pure in his intentions. This intention should be to elect the candidate who will best serve the Muslim community in common and humanity in general. If a Muslim has sincerity then his vote will go to the right candidate, for he will consider that he is voting to please Allah ta‘aalaa and therefore he will expend his energies in finding out who the best candidate is.

The Third Commitment – Unity

Unity is a key factor for the success of any nation; a truly united community can withstand any competition. Individuals should have the courtesy of mutual respect despite their political rivalries. Sadly, the Muslim community is a divided one. Every individual has the right to his own opinion and his own preference, within Shar‘ee boundaries, but our mutual differences transform into malice and enmity towards each other. Not even our masaajid are free from our feuding. We can only hang our heads in shame when matters reach a head and TV and press reports announce that political wrangling amongst Muslims has spilled over into fights outside a masjid after Friday prayers.

We go to the extremes; if we like something in a particular person, we praise him to the extreme, whereas if we disagree with someone on one issue, we become blind to all the good qualities he possesses. Our dealings are but a faint shadow of the Islamic concept of brotherhood our beloved Prophet sallallahu alayhi wasallam taught. True brotherhood demands that whatever our political stripe, we should be able to sit at a table and sacrifice our political allegiances for the sake of Allah ta‘aalaa and agree to support the candidate who is best for the Muslims in common and the country in general. We should be willing to marginalize our differences in order to progress in a common direction.

In fact, if the Muslims of a particular constituency were to unite on a single platform and form a committee, responsible for recommending the best candidate to Muslim voters, every party would turn to the committee and seriously consider its demands on behalf of the Muslim community. They would realise the importance of securing the Muslim vote. All that is needed to achieve unity is a little sacrifice and the willingness to swallow one’s pride. May Allah ta‘aalaa grant us all the longing to strive for taqwaa, ikhlaas and unity. Aameen.

Using Your Vote

  1. The vote is very important. It is a means of electing the person most beneficial for the community and our country.
  2. Voting is a big responsibility. Not voting or voting incorrectly will bring power to the wrong person.
  3. The best candidate deserves our vote.
  4. We should become politically aware.
  5. We should read every party’s manifesto.
  6. We should study party policies via the internet, radio, newspapers and knowledgeable people in our communities, who possess political acumen.
  7. We should find out which party offers us the best in all spheres of life; education, housing, health, social issues, international policy etc. Deciding on a party by just looking at one issue does not constitute farsightedness.
  8. We should think rationally, not make judgements based on emotions.
  9. Finally, we should make du‘aa to Allah ta‘aalaa, asking Him to enable us to make the right choice and that may He grant success to those who will serve the country and its citizens without any prejudice or wrong.

How tactical voting will decide this election

Renard Sexton, guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 28 April 2010 12.37

A ‘uniform national swing’ won’t happen and three factors may turn many more races than expected into tactical exercises

At FiveThirtyEight.com, we have been working on several electoral projection models intended to improve on the main deficiencies of the “uniform national swing” (UNS) technique.

One key area where UNS falls down is on the subject of tactical voting – an issue that is likely to determine the winner of this election, and set the stage for elections down the road.

In order to properly calibrate the projection, we have worked through a significant amount of demographic data, running regression analysis of key constituency characteristics against the results of the elections from 1992 to 2005.

Tactical voting can be easily seen in this context when you compare the actual results of an election against the predicted values that come from the demographic model. For example, in the Labour-Liberal Democrat marginals of Liverpool Wavertree and Rochdale, demographic modelling would have expected a Conservative share of the vote 15 to 20 points higher in 2005, while the Liberal Democrat share should have been about 13 points less in each case.

In this election, three factors are likely to turn many more races than expected into tactical voting exercises. First, the emerging national strength of the Liberal Democrats will provide anti-incumbent and opposition voters a “plausible” alternative, and second, the significant number of constituencies in England with boundary changes will complicate matters for voters. Lastly, there are about 150 MPs retiring, more than any election in recent history, at least 100 of them from Labour, which will make defections from incumbent party candidates even easier in tactical voting situations.

New tactical voting is likely to centre in a set of 66 marginal three-way seats, 39 of them held by Labour and 27 held by the Conservatives. In each of these seats, all three major parties won at least 20% of the vote in 2005.

At the margins there are seats like Aldershot and Devon Southwest, both held by the Conservatives, or Bristol South or Preston, held by Labour, where tactical voting is likely to increase but not make much of a dent in the incumbent party’s lead.

However, in places where the Liberal Democrats have a stronger base to build from, like Somerset North or Bournemouth West, a decisive movement towards the Lib Dem candidate by Labour voters could put it over the top. Similarly, a significant tactical move by Tory voters in Norwich South, Lewisham West and Penge, or Holborn and St Pancras, etc., would bring these in the Lib Dem column.

Increased tactical voting from the Tories is likely to be seen in seats like Edinburgh South, but this will only serve to extend the Liberal lead into the safe zone.

In the truly three-way seats, such as Watford, Ealing Central and Acton, Hampstead and Kilburn, and Filton and Bradley Stoke, the decision of whether to vote tactically may not be made until just before election day, depending on the polls at that point. If the Liberal Democrats are looking strong, a number of Labour supporters – particularly younger voters – will move to the Lib Dems. Tory voters are likely to stick with their candidate, even retreating from previous Lib Dem tactical votes, meaning that the Lib Dem share may not rise as much as expected.

All told, seats with incumbents retiring and particularly compelling Lib Dem candidates will see more pro-Lib Dem tactical voting. In addition, increased turnout among young people, which has been falling each election since 1997, may add strength to a tactical turn towards the Liberals.

Nonetheless, it will be a tough row to hoe for the Liberals. Of the 66 three-way competitive seats, our current estimates have the Lib Dems picking up just 10 seats: 5 from Labour and 5 from the Conservatives.

• More election comment from Cif at the polls

Jack Straw Apologises for Niqab Controversy at Blackburn Husting

Reported by Asian Image – 2:46pm Monday 26th April 2010

This was the chance for the Blackburn candidates to impress a selected audience of Muslim representatives.

Organised by the Engage Team who are encouraging Muslim voters to become more politically active the event at first seemed at first not to live-up to expectation.

After all Blackburn has been constantly in the headlines over the past few years for a whole host of issues and this was supposed to be one of the most livelier of the debates.

It featured Jack Straw (Labour), Michael –Law Riding (Conservatives), Paul English (Liberal Democrats) and Bushra Irfan (Independent).

But the discussion soon picked-up and brought to the fore the wide range of opinions on matters such as Islamaphobia and Gaza.

The event proved to be popular with those and the questions posed to the candidates in the short time given gave an insight into their opinions.

Michael Law Riding for all his endeavours seemed a little out of his depth when it came to international issues. And he even admitted it several times. But was also keen to point out how only Mr Straw had any experience of foreign affairs and the two people sat to his left could boast little about international issues.

But those who had briefed Mr Law-Riding for this event should have done more to ensure he was aware of the issues discussed.

There was also the uncomfortable moment when Michael Law Riding was asked whether he would open talks with Hamas – an elected party. After several pointers he did feel obliged to say he would open dialogue with any elected party – without saying it would indeed be Hamas.

But he did make one valuable point that the non-Muslim community also needed to be educated for Islamaphobia to be defeated.

He did agree there was a level of double standards when it came to the issue of Israel. He pointed out that faith schools were important for Integration and there needed to be an over-haul of anti-terrorism laws. And said it was not up to him to tell people how to dress when asked about the veil.

Paul English came across as the most Muslim friendly candidate amongst the four.

He was quick to point out how the media was in a large way responsible for encouraging Islamaphobia and there needed to be curbs on sensationalist headlines and reporting.

He also said how the Lib Dems had always been against the war and how in his home of Skipton how he had helped the local mosque. He even encouraged people to ring up the imam of Skipton mosque if they wanted a reference about his work with Muslims.

But what made Paul English stand out was how there were few negative points raised that could be linked back to his party. There was several moments when the Conservative and Labour candidates points of view were challenged by the host and the audience with regards to the record of their actual parties.

And in this case Mr English seemed to escape the most critical questions.

But what made him stand out was his apparent affiliation with some members of the audience. At one stage he went as far to say that ‘one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter’ and how there were reasons for terrorism.

He had a knowledge of the issues affecting Muslims and in particular was aware of the deep affects of the double standards imposed on Palestinians.

Despite being the only Muslim candidate on the panel Independent Bushra Irfan seemed very subdued and at times looked out of her depth.

She was quick to attack Mr Straw on his record but did not have many answers or solutions for many of the issues faced by Muslims.

For much of the debate she seemed to simply agree with the other candidates.

She showed her inexperience when she suggested out the Ewood and Mill Hill areas of Blackburn were ‘BNP areas’. Mr Law-Riding was quick to correct her error.

For someone who has campaigned hard in many Muslim areas and has claimed to represent the voice of the Muslim community Mrs Irfan strangely lacked any coherence and repeated information many in the audience would already have heard.

This would have been her chance to shine but apart from a few points where she said Mr Straw should have listened to his constituents at the time of the invasion of Iraq and how Islamaphobia was like anti-Semitism, Mrs Irfan came across as less intriguing that many were expecting.

She did repeat the notion that Muslims themselves needed to be united and she was the woman who could do it.

For Mr Straw this was always going to be a rough ride. And it became extremely so at several parts of the events. The first few questions were all aimed at Jack Straw who was asked about his role as Foreign Secretary and the Iraq War and his decisions as Home Secretary. And for a while it seemed the audience had come specifically to target Mr Straw.

He was keen to point out again and again how the Labour Party had been the only one encourage ‘equality and fairness for all’.

As someone who has had to deal with several Muslim related questions Mr Straw was unsurprisingly comfortable fielding answers to most of the questions. In the end it took a woman with a veil on to really put Mr Straw on the back foot.

At the event were seven veiled women, an unusually large number in proportion to the number compared to the percentage who actually wear the veil.

Two of those women got the chance to tell sitting MP Jack Straw how their lives had been affected by his comments and they had become to be seen as outsiders in their own country.

One asked after the comments he had made ‘give a one good reason why should vote for him?’ It was blunt and to the point and caught Mr Straw by surprise.

Mr Straw was apologetic and looked to have some regrets about the comments but said he had made the comments elsewhere at an MCB (Muslim Council of Britain) event but not got so much attention.

He stated that with hindsight he had known that the matter taken the way it was he would not have made the comments.

On the issue of Iraq it was again a matter of ‘If we had known what we know now…’

He would not out rightly condemn the actions of Israel but pointed out his record his record calling for Palestinian state.

Mr Straw pointed out what he had done rather than he would do.

Muslim row Labour candidate, John Cowan, suspended

A Labour candidate has been suspended after allegedly saying on an internet forum that he would not want any children of his to marry a Muslim.

John Cowan, who is said to have admitted paying cash to a cleaner claiming benefits, called the row a “storm in a tea cup”.

His suspension comes too late for him to be replaced on the ballot paper for South East Cambridgeshire.

A party spokesman said he hoped voters may “hold their noses” but vote Labour.

Mr Cowan told the BBC it was all “really a storm in a tea cup” adding that “one or two things… were misquoted and taken out of context”.

“There were one or two comments that with hindsight could have been made a bit clearer,” he said.

‘Clearer’

Mr Cowan said he would consider his position after the election.

He was expelled from the Liberal Democrats in 2004 over allegations he sent inappropriate emails to female political figures.

Labour’s election co-ordinator Douglas Alexander told a press conference in central London that the party was looking into how a man who had been expelled from the Liberal Democrats came to be selected as a parliamentary candidate.

The latest controversy includes an accusation that he stated on a message board he would not like any children of his to marry a Muslim.

In a further forum post attributed to him, Mr Cowan is alleged to have admitted paying a cleaner cash in hand because she and her partner were on benefits.

Labour said Mr Cowan’s actions were “totally unacceptable and well below what the party expects”.

A decision will now be made whether to expel him from the party.

A Labour Party spokesman said: “Everybody in the Labour Party is extremely angry about this.

“There is a feeling of anger in the party. They feel he has let down not just the party but ordinary party members.

“We will seek to make sure he is never a Labour Party candidate again.”

The Labour Party said it had checked the comments attributed to Mr Cowan before suspending him and, when confronted with the allegations, he did not deny them.

The South East Cambridgeshire constituency issued a statement saying members were “shocked by press revelations regarding John Cowan”.

“We believe he has let down all those Labour members and voters he sought to represent and welcome the swift action taken by the general secretary of the Labour Party to suspend John Cowan from office or representation of the party.”

Mr Cowan, who lives in Barnham Broom, near Norwich, Norfolk, was unavailable for comment on Monday.

The declared candidates for the South East Cambridgeshire seat are: Christian Peoples Alliance: Daniel Bell; Liberal Democrat: Jonathan Chatfield; Labour: John Cowan; UKIP: Andy Monk; Conservative: James Paice; Green: Simon Sedgwick-Jell; Independent: Geoffrey Woollard.