Many Bradford Wests?

Submitted by Matthew on 28 November, 2012 - 7:28

Lee Jasper is running as the Respect candidate in Croydon North. Meanwhile, the redoubtable Yvonne Ridley is running on the same ticket in Rotherham, and from what I am hearing, it is squeaky bum time in two places that should be donkey with a red rosette territory.

Only the voters, and not the bookmakers, will decide the outcomes of these contests, of course. But the shortening odds on the two Respect parliamentary hopefuls indicates that George Galloway’s party may do better than many commentators, myself included, had been expecting.

Last time I checked, William Hill was giving 8-1 on Ridley, while Jasper was in from 25-1 to 10-1 with Ladbrokes. Their Labour rivals — Steve Reed in the London suburb and Sarah Champion in South Yorkshire — remain very much the odds-on favourites, of course.

Normal caveats apply. Political betting markets can be manipulated by savvy campaigners willing to make a relatively small investment in losing stakes, in exchange for the bragging rights that ensue.

Moreover, our turf accountant friends will be mindful of the caning they took in Bradford West earlier this year, when the early punters could have lumped on Galloway at 33-1. The prices on Ridley and Jasper will have been adjusted accordingly.

But for the sake of argument, what are the implications for the left of Respect saving its deposit — or getting a double figures percentage, or just, just maybe even winning — in two of the three seats up for grabs this Thursday?

For Labour, the complacency implicit in the decision taken at the start of the Blair era to ignore a core vote that supposedly had “nowhere else to go” will stand exposed.

While immediate alarmist response would be overdoing things somewhat, the dangers of not repairing the first crack in the dam should be apparent even to the Labour leadership.

If Respect confirms an ability to transcend a predominantly Muslim base and bolt on disgruntled Old Labour diehards and the bien pensant middle class, it becomes a potential threat to Labour in several dozen constituencies nationwide.

Not that it would take victory to instantiate that threat, you understand; the split vote alone would benefit parties from the Lib Dems rightwards.

In particular, Labour will need to rethink its methods of choosing candidates in high-profile by-elections, as underlined by the shortlisting fiasco in Rotherham in particular.

Parachuting in Progress supporters and imposing two-person shortlists of white women chief executives and RAF officers on activists in a former steel town seem to have bitten Labour on the bum this time round. Come back locally-grounded rightwing trade union apparatchiks, all is forgiven.

Meanwhile, the far left will desperately attempt to present any Respect success as their success too, as an illustration of widespread desire for an alternative to One Nation Labourism.

What the central committees won’t mention is that a strong showing by Respect will be in stark contrast to the poor performance of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition. The failure to create an audience for socialism has left the field open to Respect’s brand of amorphous religiously-centred populism.

Finally, what of Respect itself? Well, Galloway, Jasper and Ridley are all colourful individuals and would make a most entertaining trio of MPs.

Jasper would have to be on his best behaviour if he is to avoid alienating the socially-conservative elements in the Muslim community. I put it no more strongly than that.

Ridley’s sometimes loose-cannon pronouncements on many topics would also inevitably attract both scrutiny and ridicule. The risks of further incidents akin to Galloway’s “bad sexual etiquette” outburst would be very real.

But whether they win or lose, a strong showing by Respect in four days’ time will necessitate tactical reassessment all round.

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