Will George Galloway's Bradford Spring ever blossom?

  • 14 June 2012
  • From the section England
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George Galloway
George Galloway declares the 'Bradford Spring' earlier this year

There must be a mixture of elation and disappointment as Respect party members gather for their first conference since the election of George Galloway to the Bradford West seat earlier this year.

The master orator blew Labour away in a West Yorkshire heartland it had held for 40 years to win by an astonishing 10,000 votes.

There was not much false modesty on display as he stood on his open-topped bus at the victory rally and announced it was the "most sensational by-election victory in political history" and it would herald a "Bradford Spring".

But his promises that the city would be swamped by Respect councillors in the May local elections resulted in just five joining the 90-strong council chamber.

Labour control

By any standards it was a good performance from candidates who had never stood for election before.

One even took the scalp of the veteran Labour leader of the council, Ian Greenwood.

But they failed to achieve their ambition of holding the balance of power.

What few of the headline writers seemed to notice was that Labour was also making gains away from the inner city wards where Respect has its strongholds.

New Respect Councillor Ruqayyah Collector
Respect councillor Ruqayyah Collector admits she is disappointed her party did not secure more councillors

Labour finished up with 45 of the council's 90 seats and the party picked up where it left off by governing with the support of the three Greens in the city.

It has had to find a new leader in former Cabinet member for regeneration, David Green, but it is clear that as far as he is concerned it is business as usual.

"Respect is like all the other smaller parties, including the Liberal Democrats who now have just a few more councillors," he told me when I interviewed him for the BBC's Daily Politics programme.

"We will be listening to what they say but we will be running this city based on the Labour manifesto on which we fought the election."

Ruqayyah Collector, who took the city's Central ward for Respect admits she is "disappointed" that her party did not finish up with more councillors.

"We will be the awkward squad," she told me.

"Our role will be to ask the questions that out constituents feel need answers."

Maintaining momentum

This isn't the first time George Galloway has made the headlines with Respect.

After 22 years as a firebrand left wing Labour MP in Scotland he was famously kicked out of the party for denouncing its policies on Iraq.

He founded Respect and in 2005 he squeaked home in London's Bethnal Green and Bow seat with his now familiar anti-war campaign.

George Galloway
On the face of it Bradford has been a 're-run' of Bethnal Green and Bow

He was in the news again a couple of years later by making what many thought was a somewhat misjudged appearance on Channel 4's Celebrity Big Brother.

George Galloway himself had a completely different view of the value of his time in the Big Brother house.

On the face of it Bradford has been a re-run of Bethnal Green and Bow because Respect also won seats on the local Tower Hamlets Council.

George Galloway's hope is that it will not end in the same way.

In 2010 he abandoned his paper-thin majority and switched to the neighbouring Poplar and Limehouse seat. He came in a humiliating third.

Respect now has just two councillors left in the 51 member chamber at Tower Hamlets Council.