Many on the left in the UK and elsewhere are celebrating George Galloway's resounding victory in the last Thursday's Bradford West by-election. With a turnout of just over 50%, the former labour stronghold saw a massive swing away from New Labour and the other mainstream parties to the left-leaning Respect coalition. Just ten years ago I would have been over the moon about such a spectacular win for the superficially radical left. Yet beyond his firebrand rhetoric, can Gorgeous George really offer a viable alternative or would his populist policies, if ever implemented, dig our proverbial hole even deeper.
In recent parliamentary elections Respect candidates seldom muster more than 2% of the popular vote. Considering the level of public disillusionment with the big three parties (Labour, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives), their mendacity and their indistinguishable policies once in power, protest votes on a scale seen in Bradford should surprise nobody. Bradford has more than its fair share of social problems, high rates of welfare dependency and a very large Pakistani community with a very high birth rate. To Galloway, such constituents represent an opportunity to rant and rave about the evils of imperialism and proposed cutbacks in the Welfare state. Such demagoguery has its appeals. A leaflet exclaims Bring back our boys from Afghanistan, and urges us Bring back industry to Bradford, and Stop government cutbacks. Indeed Galloway would like to spend more on child benefit and healthcare, while letting more immigrants join the labour force and claim benefits. Galloway is a latter-day cornucopian. He genuinely believes that by redistributing wealth from the grotesquely rich there will be plenty to go around and we can continue to go forth and multiply without a worry in the world. Yet Bradford's social problems are caused largely by the side effects of unsustainable global corporatism that Galloway wants to milk even more.
The stark reality on the ground in Bradford is one of little hope for a large section of the city's youth population, divided into three main groups: Muslims (mainly of Pakistani descent), offspring of single parents wholly dependent on benefits and a shrinking traditional white working class. To these groups we can add a recent influx of Eastern Europeans who have miraculously taken many of the jobs shunned by the local population. While Mr Galloway may bemoan child labour, sweatshops, temporary contracts, payday loans and betting shops, his constituents depend on them for their shopping and lifestyle. In so many inner city streets across the UK we see betting shops next door to pawnbrokers, remarketed as Cash Converters. A quick perusal of available vacancies in the West Yorkshire reveals some unsettling truths. Most are in care. While superficially this may seem like progress, as all good societies care for their citizens, why is demand so high and why do so many young citizens suffer from mental health problems and learning disabilities ? Yet many refuse to admit the bleeding obvious, a mix of benefits dependency, alcoholism, fatherlessness, divided communities and inbreeding combined to produce a new generation that lacked a sense of purpose other than to enjoy themselves or breed the next generation of welfare dependents. Bradford's distinct communities suffer different sets of social problems. In the white section, the two biggest problems are clearly dysfunction families and lack of initiative, while in the Asian community a high birth rate, inbreeding and sectarianism place huge demands on the rest of the wider national community.
To the likes of Galloway such observations are both xenophobic or misanthropic, for he would like us to believe more public investment can bring back industry to the North of England. Such a shift would dramatically increase production costs and would, based on recent experience, merely provided more jobs for newcomers willing to get out of bed in the morning. Does Respect plan to quit the European Union and World Trade Organisation so it can impose tough import controls? Does it propose to limit per capita consumption through huge price hikes in consumer goods as we pay workers decent wages? How would Bradford's gadget-addicted youth survive without affordable mobile phones and game consoles?
Of course, countries can be much more self-sufficient and guarantee their people food and job security at a price. Cuba miraculously coped in the 1990s, but its citizens have to make do with ageing infrastructure and its birth rate is stable. More important, Cuba can feed itself, even with horse-drawn ploughs, while the UK, with one of the world's most highly mechanised farming industries, only produces just over half of what it consumes and if Scotland were to declare independence England would rely even more on imports.
True radicals would champion self-empowerment through hard work, community cohesion and economic policies fit for our grandchildren. Instead Mr Galloway offers only rhetoric, while expecting a morally corrupt system to continue to subsidise idleness and irresponsibility.