George Galloway won because his politics are truly popular
And unlike their parents, young (jobless) voters have no lingering loyalty to the Big Three parties
HE WON because he shamelessly pandered to Muslim voters' "religious passions" and "prejudices about conflicts abroad". He won because there were outstanding local issues and widespread dissatisfaction with Bradford City Council. He won because... well, he's a showman and a good public speaker.
Britain's political and journalistic elite have come up with a variety of reasons to account for George Galloway's stunning by-election win in Bradford West last Thursday, but the majority agree that his win was both (a) a terrible day for democracy and (b) a one-off that thankfully won't be replicated in a general election.
But are they right – or could the political elite be in for the biggest shock of their lives?
What those within the Westminster 'bubble' have yet to understand is that ordinary people, regardless of whether they are Muslim or non-Muslim, have fallen spectacularly out of love with British 'democracy' as it is currently constituted. Galloway's victory was actually a great day for genuine democracy and we shouldn't bet against the 'Bradford Spring' spreading to other parts of the UK.
A YouGov survey for the Daily Mail revealed that a whopping 17 per cent of Britons are now expressing their support for parties other than the 'Big Three', while the main party leaders "are collectively the least popular in the history of polling".
David Cameron's rating stands at minus 27. Ed Miliband, who yesterday announced the launch of Labour's local election campaign, is at minus 41. While Nick Clegg, who, lest we forget, was rivalling Winston Churchill in the popularity stakes during the 2010 general election campaign, is down to minus 53.
"I stand to be corrected, but I cannot find a period in modern UK political history when all three leaders have registered such poor numbers at the same time", says Mike Smithson of Political Betting.
The disillusion is not just with our political leaders, but also with the parties they front. In a separate internet poll being run by the Daily Mail, 86 per cent of respondents have answered 'Yes' to the question 'Do you want new political parties to replace the ones we're disillusioned with'.
What's going on?
The basic problem is that the political elite's enthusiasm for economic and social liberalism - and what is euphemistically described as a 'liberal interventionist' foreign policy, ie military intervention against other sovereign states - is not shared by most ordinary people.
While the elite seem to think that the most pressing issues facing Britain today are selling off the Royal Mail, relaxing the Sunday trading laws, taking an ever more threatening line towards Iran, and backing anti-government rebels in Syria, the general public's main concerns are jobs, sky-high utility bills, rip-off train fares and record petrol prices - and not getting Britain involved in any more costly Middle East wars in which their children do the dying.
So when an outspoken 'outsider' politician comes along who rejects the phoney elite consensus - as George Galloway did in Bradford West - he/she can expect to reap the rewards.
Yes, it's true that Galloway is a persuasive public speaker and, yes, it's true he is a man of charisma. But the main reason he is successful is very simple: he puts forward policies which appeal to the majority of the electorate.
Far from being an 'extremist', as he's been labeled by his critics within the Westminster bubble, Galloway's political outlook, which combines a moderate social conservatism, rooted in his Roman Catholic beliefs, with a rejection of the policies of war, privatisation and free market excess, is in fact far closer to the centre of public opinion than those of his detractors.
As the comedian Mark Steel commented on Twitter: "Someone tells me Galloway only appeals to one part of the community. Yes, the part against cuts and wars and banker's bonuses. How divisive".
While the elite accuse Galloway of playing the politics of sectarianism, the reality is that the one-time Labour MP actually fought Bradford West on a classic Old Labour manifesto - social justice at home and peace abroad. Most members of the old, pre-Blairite Labour party would have been happy to endorse this.
It's not Galloway whose political positions have changed down the years, but Labour: the party that once stood unequivocally for social justice, public ownership and a pacific foreign policy, presided when last in office over growing social inequality, further privatisation and wars against Yugoslavia, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Galloway's victory is a sign that the electorate have had enough of the pro-privatisation, pro-austerity, pro-war consensus and that they want something radically different.
It's also worth noting that while Galloway received votes from all sections of the community - and all ages - he seems to have struck a particular chord with young voters. These young voters, many of whom are struggling to find jobs, will, unlike their parents, have no lingering loyalty towards any of the three main parties - and will instead look for new, anti-establishment parties who can do something about their everyday concerns.
In short, the future lies with those who can break free from the failed policies of the past and offer policies which ordinary people - and not wealthy party donors or special interest groups - are calling for. In the years to come, George Galloway could well be remembered not as "a dangerous enemy" of British democracy, but as the man who helped save it.