LABOUR’S top councillor in Huddersfield last night vowed to “comprehensively defeat” Respect despite a stunning by-election beating.
George Galloway sensationally took the safe Labour seat of Bradford West in the early hours of yesterday morning.
The Respect leader won an extraordinary majority of 10,000 in Thursday’s by-election.
Mr Galloway, who took 18,341 votes, spoke of a “Bradford Spring” after the stunning upset.
Labour’s Imran Hussain came a distant second in Thursday’s poll, winning just 8,201 votes.
But Kirklees Council leader Clr Mehboob Khan vowed yesterday to “comprehensively defeat” Respect if the party stood in May’s council elections.
“In Huddersfield we have candidates and councillors who are wellconnected to the local communities and provide a strong voice for local residents,” said the Greenhead Labour man.
“The May 3 elections will be about local issues like unemployment and the local environment. The Labour Party has a very good record in Huddersfield.”
Twenty-three of the 69 seats on Kirklees are up for grabs on May 3. Nominations close on Wednesday.
“If there are any Respect candidates for the election then we will comprehensively defeat them,” said Clr Khan.
“They stood in the Greenhead by-election in 2006 and they were utterly defeated while we won 63% of the vote.”
Clr Khan, who canvassed in Bradford West on polling day, said Mr Galloway’s “celebrity status” had been the key factor.
“I didn’t sense a backlash against Labour, it was just that people felt they had another choice that they didn’t previously have,” said the Labour leader.
“Celebrity status greatly enhanced George Galloway’s campaign.”
Clr Khan believes his party should have been more aggressive towards the Respect leader.
“The Labour Party should have reminded people of George Galloway’s performance on Celebrity Big Brother, dressed in a leotard and meowing like a cat,” he said.
“The Labour campaign should have directly challenged Mr Galloway in his claims to be able, as a single voice in Parliament, to have more influence for Bradford.
“Clearly, we failed to do that and the result was that George Galloway’s personal appeal, his cult following, followed through at the ballot box.”
Clr Khan believes his party needs a clearer message – but he does not blame Labour leader Ed Miliband for yesterday’s defeat.
“Our alternative options need to be shared with voters so they are aware that Labour has a plan on the economy and public services,” he said.
“This was certainly not a vote of no-confidence in Ed Miliband.”
University of Huddersfield politics lecturer Dr Pete Woodcock agreed yesterday.
“The result is pretty embarrassing for Ed Miliband and Labour,” he said.
“But I’m not convinced you can put this down to being a commentary on Ed Miliband. The result was really about George Galloway.
“In the end he didn’t just win, he absolutely wiped the floor with everybody. Love him or loathe him, he’s a political force of nature.”
Dr Woodcock believes the result will make Labour candidates work harder in the upcoming local election campaign.
“I bet there are a few worried Labour councillors in Kirklees who will be printing off a few more leaflets and knocking on a few more doors between now and May,” he said.
Thursday’s by-election in Bradford West took place after Labour MP Marsha Singh stood down on health grounds. He had a majority of 5,763 at the last General Election in 2010.