Christian campaigners for peace and justice have given a mixed reaction to the election of the Respect Party’s George Galloway in the Bradford West by-election.
Many have welcomed the success of a candidate standing on an anti-war, anti-cuts ticket, but some have stressed that this is an issue that is about more than George Galloway personally.
Galloway was elected in the early hours of yesterday morning (30 March). He took 56 per cent of the vote in the seat, previously held by Labour.
The news was welcomed by a Church of England priest in the constituency, Rev Chris Howson.
Writing on his blog shortly after the result, he said “In Bradford West, we voted [Respect] because of a lack of trust in all of the three major parties”.
He said that one reason for Galloway’s victory was Bradford’s “strong anti-war tradition”. He added that the previous Labour MP Marsha Singh was popular “because he voted against the war in Iraq and against spending on Trident”.
Howson explained, “The first time I was arrested at Faslane Nuclear Base, George Galloway was arrested alongside me. I just don't see many politicians with those sorts of convictions any more.”
Commentators have also drawn attention to the large number of Muslims in the constituency; Respect tend to gain much of their support from Muslims. Galloway is a Roman Catholic but is keen to emphasise his support for Muslim people's rights and needs.
The Labour candidate, Imran Hussein, was Deputy Leader of Bradford City Council, which has been criticised for the way it has implemented cuts initiated by central government.
Not everyone on the Left is happy about George Galloway’s victory. He has been criticised for being a “celebrity politician” and for a tendency to be personally aggressive towards opponents.
Critics also suggest that Galloway is reticent about support for LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) people’s rights. Respect’s national leader, Salma Yaqoob, has been keen to counter this impression by emphasising the party’s commitment in this area.
Rev Dr Keith Hebden, a Church of England priest in Gloucestershire and well-known peace activist, said the result “means that the Labour Party are still being punished for the Iraq War and that's a good thing”.
But he added, “George Galloway has a better track-record for winning elections than he does for serving his constituency”.
He urged Christians to support wide-ranging change to the whole political system. “Voting for Respect is no less a vote for the filthy rotten system than voting for any of the parties,” he insisted.
George Galloway was Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow from 2005-2010. He had an earlier been a Labour MP before being expelled from the party.