Bradford West was lost by the two main parties because young people and women’s votes were ignored, claims the new director of the Bradford Women’s Muslim Council.
Selina Ullah, who was appointed last month, has responded to the massive swing in support to George Galloway and his Respect Party at last month’s by-election.
Mr Galloway overturned a Labour majority of nearly 6,000 to win by more than 10,000 votes, after the election was called due to the ill health of retiring MP Marsha Singh. The seat had been Labour’s for 30 years.
Bradford West’s new MP has described his success as an uprising – a “Bradford Spring” – and spoken of the large numbers of young and first-time voters his vocal campaign was able to mobilise.
Mrs Ullah, who was the first Muslim assistant director at Bradford Council where she was responsible for safer and stronger communities, said: “The parallels between the Arab Spring and Bradford will resonate when considering those two groups who played the critical role in both events: namely, the young people and the women.
“For too long these voices have been ignored – at best, this was because of a paternalistic approach, at worst, they were not deemed worthy of having opinions relevant to the issues in hand.
“Both viewpoints suggest a laziness to engage and listen and a gross underestimation of the power that these two groups held.”
Mrs Ullah, who was involved in organising a husting at the University of Bradford, criticised both the Labour and Conservative candidates, Imran Hussain and Jackie Whiteley, for not taking part.
She added that 300 attended the husting, many of whom were young people voting for the first time and women who had not traditionally had an opportunity to engage with politics.
“It will be interesting to see whether the lessons will be learned and if there is a recognition that local politics need to change drastically – less of the paternalistic platitudes, more inclusion of diverse voices and engagement on the real issues that concern people,” she added.
A Bradford Labour spokesman said: “The Labour Party has already begun an investigation following the disappointing Bradford West by-election result.
“It is clear that large sections of the electorate decided none of the main three parties were speaking for them – that is something we have to address.
"There will be many lessons to learn for us – most importantly that we have to be more deeply engaged in the communities we seek to represent."
Mr Galloway congratulated Mrs Ullah on her appointment as director of the Bradford Muslim Women's Council, and added: “The BMWC played an important role in the Bradford West by-election, putting on a superb hustings meeting, pointing up the contempt the Labour and Conservative parties held for such an important event. The two empty chairs were a telling comment on their attitude both to women and to the young people who thronged the meeting.
“Women and young people, many for the first time, turned out in droves not just to vote but to play a crucial part in campaigning to get me elected. I won't forget that and I promise I will not let them down.”
A Lib Dem spokesman said: “Labour lost Bradford West not just because they ran a complacent campaign over the past month but because they have let this city down over decades. George Galloway has been entrusted with guardianship of this constituency until 2015. The Liberal Democrats will put pressure on him to fulfil his promises and fight for Bradford, just like David Ward – the city’s hardest-working MP – is doing in Bradford East.”