Bradford by-election challenge

Marsha Singh, MP for Bradford West 1997-2012

Marsha Singh, MP for Bradford West 1997-2012

Marsha Singh, the Labour MP for Bradford West, has triggered a parliamentary by-election by announcing his resignation due to ill-health.  This turns the spotlight on the most Asian-dominated city in England, and poses a challenge to the BNP and the various factions seeking to replace it.

Bradford West is a very diverse constituency, stretching from the city centre with large numbers of students (more than 10% of the electorate), through some of Bradford’s main Asian ghettos (now more than half of the electorate), out into the semi-rural hinterland where most voters are White and there is potential nationalist support.

Local millionaire Paul Cromie tapped some of this support as BNP candidate for Bradford West in 2005, saving his deposit with 6.9%.  By the time of the 2010 election (when the BNP candidate was Jenny Sampson) this support had halved to 3.4%, partly due to unfavourable boundary changes but also affected by splits within Bradford BNP.  The then newly formed Democratic Nationalists put up Neil Craig, who polled 1.1%, while UKIP also fought Bradford West for the first time, polling 2.0%.

Since 2010 the BNP has weakened further to the point of virtual collapse, while the Democratic Nationalists have grown – so it will be interesting to see whether local nationalists will now decide to unite behind a DN candidate for the by-election.

Whatever happens it is particularly crucial that there is some sort of nationalist campaign, as the present unfavourable boundaries are scheduled to change again in the near future.  Though the by-election would of course be on the existing boundaries, planned changes for the next general election would see the Queensbury ward brought into Bradford West, as well as White wards from neighbouring Shipley, while the heavily Asian and student wards of City and Manningham would move into a new Bradford Central & East constituency.  Queensbury was once one of the strongest BNP wards in the country, though its two councillors Paul and Lynda Cromie have now left the BNP and sit as independents.

If these changes go through, the new Bradford West will be a prime target for any viable nationalist party at the next general election.

For once Labour might have even more serious problems than nationalists.  Bradford West is one of the top ten most Muslim constituencies in Britain, but it has never had a Muslim MP.  This is no coincidence.  When far left MP Max Madden retired before the 1997 election, amid the usual reports of Muslim “community leaders” trying to fix the selection for one of their own, Labour’s bosses put in their own anti-Muslim fix.  Local councillor Zulficar Ali had been nominated by the two largest wards, but was excluded from the shortlist.  Max Madden attempted to reverse his retirement and make a comeback as a “unity candidate”, alleging that a secret “United Front of Pakistani Muslims” had been formed to ensure a Muslim candidate won, something he described as “fundamentally undemocratic and offensive”.

Another local Labour Party activist said: “It’s got nothing to do with Old and New Labour or party policies; it’s all about clans, castes and religion.”

The selection was eventually won by Marsha Singh – a Sikh!  His community represents only about 1% of the electorate in Bradford West, and there are well known cultural tensions between Sikhs and Muslims, not least the frequent tendency of Sikhs to enjoy more than the occasional drink.  (Mr Singh has retired from Parliament after an unspecified illness, having not appeared in the House since April last year.)

Conservatives tried to exploit Labour’s problems over ethnic politics by fielding a Pakistani businessman, Mohammed Riaz, who later served as adviser on Islamic affairs to the Conservative Party leadership.  Mr Riaz said of Labour:
“The political correctness of the Labour party has totally failed minority communities.  Far from helping them it has made them the target of the indigenous population of this country, making them believe they have received preferential treatment when that is not the case.”

Riaz succeeded in denting Labour’s majority and taking a number of city council seats for the Tories.  Both the major parties have a tough decision: whether to select Pakistani candidates to target voters in the existing Bradford West, or whether to keep half an eye on the future Bradford West and select White candidates.  One very likely Labour candidate is Imran Hussain, who represents Toller ward in the constituency and is currently deputy leader of Bradford City Council.

Either way there is potential for further fragmentation and ethnic independent candidates.

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