Sunday, 1 April 2012

George Galloway's victory is not actually all that surprising

Right, then. George Galloway (above). George. Galloway. George GALLOWAY. Galloway. George. Excuse me while I go and push my eyes out with a spoon. It'll be less painful than contemplating the idea that such a man is a Member of Parliament again.

Returning to my desk to have a think about this 'remarkable turnaround' (for such it is), having howled at the moon, shaken my fists and clawed the air in horror for a day or so, I see it like this.

Knee-jerk reactions won't do. Seeing this as just a paroxysm of rage at our 'out of touch elites' (whatever that means), an attack on Labour and its 'failure' to oppose the Coalition, or a plague-on-all-your-houses fit of anti-politics... Well, that's all just a bit one-dimensional, isn't it? No-one saw this coming - even bookmakers. Now commentators are scrambling, far too fast, to put a load of unlikely spins on a single result.

All our politicians are, to be sure, not exactly flavour of the month right now. Even the Prime Minister, a man who's built a career on smooth popularity and its maintenance, has always had much worse numbers than his image would suggest. At the moment, the combined party leadership score of the three main parties is a shocking minus 121. You can't get much more disillusionment or detachment than that.

But consider. Lots of by-elections shocks have been delivered since the 1940s. From the wartime Common Wealth party taking seats during the Churchill Coalition's electoral truce, to The Liberals taking Orpington in 1962, through to Dick Taverne's 1970s upset at Lincoln, and then on to the SDP's apparent breakthrough at Crosby in 1981, history is littered with such moments. Common Wealth? The Liberals (rather than their successor Liberal Democrats)? Taverne's Democratic Labour? The SDP? All blasts from the past, but no more - and all phenomena that we don't just lazily explain away by saying that other politicians weren't much liked.

Sorry, guys, but you're going to have to do better than just pointing to politicians' unpopularity. Politicians have often been unpopular. Mr Heath and Mr Wilson, at their nadirs, were ridiculed by a majority of the population, despite winning General Elections. Something else must be going on - located in poverty-stricken post-industrial towns, sited within Galloway's Respect Party and its cunning play on legitimate grievances, and due to the very divided and fractured country - in terms of both geography and income - that we have become.

What is it? I'm not sure. But I know where we need to search for answers. Something that many over-hasty writers do not.

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