Why can Respect send a man to Parliament, but not UKIP?
George Galloway, by the grace of God, has made by-election history in Bradford West. His party, Respect, was wallowing in fifth place at the 2010 general election. Last night, it secured 18,341 votes on a colossal swing against Labour of 36.59 per cent. Labour was left with a humiliating 8,201 votes which, after a dreadful week for the Coalition, is damning for Ed Miliband. Mr Galloway said his victory was 'the most sensational result in British by-election history bar none'. And he’s not wrong.
But it isn’t only Respect that has managed to do this: the Greens sent their first MP to Westminster in 2010 when Caroline Lucas snatched Brighton Pavilion from Labour. Certainly, these may be one-off singularities, but they are crucially symbolic for small ‘fringe’ parties. They allow justifiable expressions of glorious ecstasy as the elected takes his or her ‘rightful place’ in the legislature. The Green win was a breakthrough for the party after more than 20 years of campaigning in the UK. Respect was formed in 2004 and immediately secured its first MP the following year when George Galloway overturned a large Labour majority in Bethnal Green and Bow. UKIP has existed for as long as the Green Party, and yet consistently fails to break through to Westminster, and even fails in the elections to the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, despite these being held under PR.
It is notoriously difficult to found a new political party in a FPTP bipolar system dominated by Labour and the Conservatives. Yes, there is the Liberal/Social Democrat/SDP/SDLP/Liberal Democrat tradition. But, like the karma chameleon, it comes and goes in various shades of red, gold and green. The Referendum Party and Veritas both died an inevitable death, despite the attraction of big names and the pouring in of millions of pounds. And the less we say about Sir Paul Judge’s ‘Jury Team’ and Stuart Wheeler’s Trust Party, the better.
George Galloway won Bradford West for a few very simple reasons: he is a political animal of immense conviction who thinks strategically. He identifies his natural constituency, and shamelessly presses home a consistent message day after day after day. And, most importantly, he does so with passion and commanding oratorical skill. Consider the YouTube clip in yesterday’s post (and there are many more on the Respect website). His appeal is spontaneous, without notes, and still his words are skilfully crafted and honed. He is eloquent, persuasive and authentic. He is, in short, gifted with the political virtue and ancient art of rhetoric.
Nigel Farage does not think strategically at all: his decision to stand in Buckingham in the 2010 general election was disastrous. To lose in a constituency in which all the main parties had absented themselves was bad enough. But to be beaten even by a Europhile independent Conservative was just humiliating. He can talk, certainly: indeed, his orations can be inspirational. But compare Galloway’s dour, earnest appeal with Farage’s sparkle and levity. Galloway is positively Churchillian: every speech he gives feels like a live re-enactment of Lincoln's Gettysburg address. His words have rhythm and life, and he speaks the wisdom and weight of Demosthenes. His grammar is joined by impeccable logic, and both are suspended in a mesmerizing cradle of rhetoric. It is music to the ear: a symphony of tones and notation which simultaneously thrills and captivates, even as the message offends and repels.
Nigel Farage, by comparison, is a Music Hall act. His gags are cheap, and his wisdom gleaned from the back of a fag packet. His media performances are often memorable – but more for his easy manner and affability than the weight or wisdom of his cause. It is more pop karaoke than epic symphony; more powerpoint presentation than reasoned political philosophy. Hazlitt once said that the business of oratory is ‘not to inform but to rouse the mind... to add feeling to prejudice and prejudice to feeling’. Galloway’s prejudice arouses very strong feelings indeed: Farage’s prejudice merely informs.
Even while our fishing fleets were being decimated by the gross offence of the EU's Common Fisheries Policy, UKIP failed to win even in a fishing constituency. While our economy is pulled down by the inescapable gravity of the black hole that is the euro, UKIP fails to be more than a superficial protest party. Perhaps, just perhaps, with all this pasty palaver, if they start to beaver away and build up support in a Cornish fishing town, they might just secure a breakthrough in 2015. But only if they field a well-known candidate of gravitas, conviction, passion and consistency. The people are crying out for authenticity, integrity and principle; they are sick to death of clones and compromise and centralised control. Political parties favour the mediocre, bland and monochrome: the people want vibrancy, variety and colour.
Many will dismiss George Galloway’s victory as a one-off political coup by a political one-off. Indeed, those are Nick Robinson’s precise words. But let us not pretend that there isn’t a far deeper message here. And if the main parties fail to address it, we may well yet see the BNP’s Nick Griffin in Parliament.
And he is likely to get there way before UKIP’s Nigel Farage.