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Miliband wants less Respect.

Byline: NEILELKES

The shock Bradford West byelection victory for Respect's George Galloway has prompted fears among Labour activists that a similar comeback could be on the cards for the party in Birmingham.

But Labour leader Ed Miliband, following his visit to Birmingham this week, is adamant that the lessons of Bradford will be learned and that his party will be better placed to deal with Respect and respond to disaffected working class and Muslim voters.

The Labour leader was in Kings Heath to launch his party's campaign for the May 3 local council elections with a focus on crime and the impact of the budget on living standards.

Despite a resurgence in the polls on the back of pension and pasty taxes, the fuel panic and cash-for-access scandal, Labour members are still nervous after seeing Galloway romp back into Parliament on the back of what he ridiculously called the 'Bradford Spring'.

A month ago the last Respect councillor in Birmingham, Shoukat Ali, crossed to Labour and that, it seemed, was that.

But with Respect leader Salma Yaqoob, who resigned from Birmingham City Council due to serious illness last year, also coming to the fore in Bradford, Labour supporters in inner city areas are perhaps right to be nervous.

Respect claims it is not only Muslims outraged at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that support them, but working class voters who feel all three mainstream parties, with promises of cuts and varying degrees of austerity, offer little hope and no alternatives.

Ms Yaqoob described the mainstream parties' policies as "austerity" from the Coalition Government and "austerity lite" from Labour and believes people want an alternative to cuts.

This theory could be tested later this year, with Hodge Hill MP Liam Byrne launching his mayoral bid. If selected as Labour candidate he would have to resign his seat, prompting a by-election in a seat with similar demographics to Bradford.

Respect, after seeing the charismatic Mr Galloway take 55 per cent of a vote may also fancy its chances in '' the mayoral race and, even if it doesn't mount a significant challenge, still damage Labour's chances of securing the job.

Ms Yaqoob, who proved a popular candidate during the 2005 general election when she secured more than 10,000 votes in Sparkbrook and Small Heath to finish a close runner up to Roger Godsiff, has not ruled out making a comeback later this year - but says her health remains her priority.

She is, however, supporting the "Yes to a mayor" campaign and backing Ken Livingstone for Mayor of London.

George Galloway, who hammered Labour in Bradford last week She said: "It is too early to speculate about what Respect will be doing about the mayor. The priority at this stage is to get a 'yes' vote. I support a mayor, it would be democratic, accessible and accountable to the people."

It also offers an opportunity for a minority party without a party machine generating scores of candidates and councillors to take the top job in the city.

But Miliband insists his party will not be complacent about the threat from Respect, as it was in Bradford. "Bradford was a deeply disappointing result. There were local factors at play and we've got to learn the lessons.

"I will personally go back to Bradford West talk to people there and find out why they voted for George Galloway.

"Politics and mainstream politics in some places are not the things people are voting for. We need to show people we can win back their trust. I'm determined we do that."

He said that he has always been clear, from the moment he started his Labour leadership challenge two years ago, that the Iraq war lost Labour a lot of trust among its traditional supporters, not just Muslims. But it seems, he still has yet to earn that trust.

Liam Byrne's decision to stand for mayor has concentrated a few minds in the Birmingham Labour Party, not least Sir Albert Bore who gave up his dream of being mayor to back the former Cabinet minister.

Most now assume that having a political big hitter attached to the job will not only help the "yes" campaign in the referendum but make him a shoe in for the Labour candidacy.

There is an incentive for party members to support him as, if Byrne is selected, it would open up a vacancy for a Hodge Hill MP. The seat is due to be scrapped in 2015 but even the prospect of two years in Parliament would be attractive to ambitious councillors like Ansar Ali Khan and Shafique Shah.

Sion Simon's supporters have come out fighting, pointing out that the Labour selection depends entirely on the support of 3,600 rank and file party members, most of whom have had a visit from Simon in the two years since he resigned as Erdington MP.

He has worked on the large numbers of Pakistani and Sikh members in inner city wards and flirted with key groups such as teachers and public sector workers.

His supporters also say he appeals more to older, more left wing, members than Byrne.

With Labour's primacy in the city, whoever these 3,600 people pick is going to be favourite to win any mayoral contest.

So they must choose between the former minister most famous for his "no money left" note, or the former MP most famous for his David Cameron impression on You Tube.

Following my piece a couple of weeks ago it appears there is more to the 'No' campaign than just Messrs Hemming, Godsiff and Hutchings.

A number of politicians from all parties are now making anti-mayor noises, giving the debate a fresh injection.

One senior politician told me this week: "I am very sceptical of the mayor. I just don't really want to be associated with those three."

CAPTION(S):

George Galloway, who hammered Labour in Bradford last week Labour leader Ed Miliband in Kings Heath this week. Could the 'Bradford Spring' spread to Birmingham?
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Apr 5, 2012
Words:1003
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