THE election in Bradford West, where George Galloway is trying
to defend the seat he won for the Respect party in a by-election
against the Labour Party, is turning into a perfectly fascinating
Galloway's 2012 victory was originally interpreted as showing
the rise of a Muslim vote, which was more swayed by considerations
of foreign policy and religion than by conventional domestic
politics. The journalists who travelled to Bradford heard a
different and subtler story, however: that it was essentially a
vote against the older generation, and the Kashmiri political
system which has transplanted itself whole to Bradford and some
other cities with large Mirpuri communities.
This clan-based political and social system, known as
biraderi, works underneath and subverts entirely the
British party apparatus.
What that means is that there is no such thing as "the Muslim
vote". Instead, there are contending factions within the Muslim
communities, who put on and discard the cloaks of British party
allegiance. In Bradford, the Labour Party had been captured by a
particular Kashmiri clan network, So the overwhelming vote for
Galloway was in essence a vote against being told what to do by the
elders in Kashmir.
That is certainly one of the ways that Galloway spun his
victory. But in February this year he tweeted a picture of himself
embracing the father of one of the most prominent biraderi
figures in Bradford, who is standing this year for the neighbouring
constituency of Bradford East. This clearly symbolises a
THE Labour Party attempted to get round this by imposing an
all-woman shortlist in Bradford West to stand against Galloway.
There were three candidates, and at a meeting of the
biraderi elders a week before the primary, the decision
was made to support a complete outsider, Amina Ali, a Somali from
This looked from London like a victory for diversity. It looked
from Bradford like a triumph for Galloway, who would beat her
easily and keep the seat warm for a biraderi candidate in
the next General Election. It may have seemed that way to her, too,
for she stood down after three days.
The new candidate is Naz Shah, whose inspiring life was written
up for a local news site, and picked up by The Guardian
and The Daily Mail. To quote Suzanne Moore, in The
Guardian: "Shah has fought against extremely high odds her
entire life, and she is from the area. She grew up in squalor after
her father abandoned her pregnant mother already with two small
children. Shah's mother, then in an abusive relationship, sent Shah
aged 12 to Pakistan to escape the abuse.
"Aged 15 she was forced into marriage. Meanwhile, her mother,
after several suicide attempts, snapped and poisoned Azam, her
abuser. She was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Supported by
groups like the Southall Black Sisters, Shah survived and went on
to care for children with disabilities, worked for the Samaritans,
and went on to commissioning work for the NHS. She is now chair of
the mental-heath charity Sharing Voices."
This omits one really important fact about her, from the point
of view of the Bradford West electorate. She is a Shia, not a
Sunni. So, I'm told, she stands no chance at all of winning the
seat. It's a kind of elementary point of religious literacy without
which you cannot understand politics in some cities today.
THAT wasn't, however, the oddest story of the week, though it is
certainly the most important in the development of religion in
England at the moment. The strangest came from Japan, via
Newsweek. It is the story of funerals for robot dogs.
In 1999, Sony started marketing a robot dog called aibo
- an actual, physical, four-legged robot of limited cognitive
capacities but enough to please frustrated dog-lovers. It had a
microphone and a speaker, and the capacity to modify its behaviour
in response to commands, something some real dogs are less certain
about. Also, the aibo, like an angel, neither ate nor
digested. I don't know whether it needed exercise.
About 150,000 were sold in both Japan and the US. But the market
moved on, and in 2006 Sony stopped making them.
In 2014, the company stopped repairing them as well; so now,
faced with a shortage of spare parts, their grieving owners are
having to come to terms with their death when the originals fail. A
photo essay shows a line of elderly Japanese men holding their
defunct pets outside a temple. Within, each dog is tagged with its
name, and a priest says a prayer to liberate its soul.
The story is actually a horribly poignant reflection on
loneliness and the way in which love can make anything come alive,
and so be capable of death. The Buddhist priests are doing the
right thing there.