London: It seemed at first like it would be a coronation. Touring Bradford West on an open top bus dressed in his trademark black fedora, dark glasses and triumphant grin, George Galloway was acting on Thursday as though he had already won.

But the picture was different by Friday morning. At the count in Bradford’s Richard Dunn leisure centre, Galloway’s Respect party supporters had evaporated from the hall by midnight when rumours that he might lose his seat to his Labour opponent Naz Shah reached fever pitch.

An early exit poll suggested Galloway had won, but just as Conservatives voters across the country had shown chronic shyness to the pollsters, so it appeared Labour supporters fed up with Galloway but fearful of the Respect machine, may have kept their opinions to themselves.

In what was one of the few good news stories for Labour of 2015, the party’s candidates and campaigners were buoyant at Bradford West, as well as the city’s East and South seats.

After thanking her supporters in her victory speech, Shah made a pointed assessment of Galloway’s conduct on the campaign, saying: “I thank all my opponents, with the exception of one, who all convicted themselves really deeply to, and fought to be elected on, issues and and in the spirit of friendly rivalry. To Mr Galloway I say that your campaign demeaned our democracy but personal attacks on me have not worked. The people of Bradford West have seen through this and you have been sent on your way.”

After admitting she was not “a career politician,” Shah gave special thanks to her Conservative opponent George Grant “for his very public condemnation of the vile attacks against me” and Tory peer, Saeeda Warsi who she said had “spoken up as a Muslim women who is also in politics and that has meant a great deal to me.”

Galloway was the last to reach the stage as the results were announced. His face was taught as the numbers were read out: he won just 8,557 votes to Shah’s 19,977. After winning with a more than 10,000 margin in the by-election, this time he barely beat the Conservative candidate, who had 6,160.

In a bizarre speech after Shah’s, Galloway said “I don’t begrudge the Labour members here their moment of celebration of course. But there will be others who are already celebrating: the venal, the vile, the racists and the zionists will all be celebrating. The hyena can bounce on the lion’s grave but it can never be a lion and in any case, I’m not in my grave. As a matter of fact I’m going off now to plan the next campaign.”

Courtesy The Independent