Most of us know by now whether our MP is standing at the general election. If not, we can pretty easily find out. We also know the identity of his or her main challenger. Chances are we’ve had leaflets from them. We might even have met them on our doorstep.
The voters of Bradford West know none of these things. Nor can they find any of them out. Because despite there being just four-and-a-half months to go until the formal start of the election campaign, their current MP has yet to announce whether or not he is standing. The identity of the person challenging for the seat is also a mystery. The date when one or both of these issues will be resolved is also – yes – a mystery. Virtually the only thing that isn’t a mystery is the date of the election. And that is only getting closer.
Just what is going on here?
The sitting MP is Respect’s George Galloway, who won the constituency from Labour in a by-election in 2012. He has yet to give any indication of whether he will fight to retain the seat.
If he doesn’t, Bradford West ought to be a very easy Labour gain on polling day. And with this in mind, you’d have thought Labour would want to have its candidate in place and already hard at work building a profile in the constituency. But they are not, because there is no Labour candidate for Bradford West.
Even if Galloway does decide to stand again, you’d have thought Labour would want to make a show of exacting revenge for the by-election and run a feisty campaign. But it’s not, because there is no Labour candidate for Bradford West.
Labour took full control of Bradford council at the 2014 local elections after winning seats from the Tories and Lib Dems. Respect didn’t win any. The five councillors elected for Respect in 2012 now sit as independents after quitting the party in 2013. It’s the kind of cocktail of factors that ought to have lubricated the Labour machine and set its campaign apparatus humming. Instead: nothing, because there is no Labour candidate for Bradford West.
The 2015 general election looks like being one of the closest and most unpredictable contests for a generation. The outcome could turn on a handful of seats. Every single gain or loss will matter. Yet Bradford West, which is ripe for Labour’s picking (the website Election Forecast currently gives the party a 99% probability of winning), continues to ring to the sound of a phoney war. Both sides seem childishly reluctant to show their intentions to the other. The field remains open for the likes of Tory candidate George Grant and the Lib Dems’ Alun Griffiths to sound off about their intentions, despite neither having any chance of winning.
Meanwhile the voters of Bradford West lose out all round.