On March 29, 2012, the left-wing Respect party's George Galloway was swept into the British parliament in a by-election few expected him to win. He was elected with an absolute majority of the votes cast, in a multiracial working-class seat. Below, Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal publishes a number of reactions to this important victory from British left.
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Born again! George Galloway stuns Labor Party, shakes up Britain
"Respect ... puts forward a left social-democratic
program that challenges the status quo and is loud in its condemnation
of imperial misdeeds. In other words it is not frightened by politics.
Its triumph in Bradford should force some to rethink their passivity and
others to realise that there are ways in which the Occupiers of
yesteryear can help break the political impasse."
By Tariq Ali, London
March 30, 2012 -- Counterpunch -- George Galloway’s stunning electoral triumph in the Bradford by-election on Thursday, March 29, 2012, has shaken the petrified world of English politics. It was
unexpected and for that reason the Respect [party] campaign was treated by much
of the media (Helen Pidd of the Guardian an honourable exception) as a
loony fringe show...
The Bradford seat, a Labour Party fiefdom since 1973, was considered safe
and the Labour leader, Ed Miliband, had been planning a celebratory
visit to the city untill the news seeped through at 2 am. He is now once
again focused on his own future. Labour has paid the price for its
failure to act as an opposition, imagining that all it had to do was
wait and the prize would come its way. Scottish politics should have
forced a rethink. Perhaps the latest development in English politics now
will, though I doubt it. Galloway has effectively urinated on all
three parties. The Liberal Democrats and Tories [Conservative Party] explaining their decline by the
fact that too many people voted!
Thousands of young people infected with apathy, contempt, despair and
a disgust with mainstream politics were dynamised by the Respect
campaign. Galloway is tireless on these occasions. Nobody else in the
political fields comes even close to competing with him. Not simply
because he is an effective orator, though this skill should not be
underestimated. It comes almost as a shock these days to a generation
used to the bland untruths that are mouthed every day by government and
opposition politicians. It was the political content of the campaign
that galvanised the youth: Respect campaigners and their candidate
stressed the disasters of Iraq and Afghanistan.
Galloway demanded that former British Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair be tried as a war criminal, that British
troops be withdrawn from Afghanistan without further delay. He
lambasted the government and the Labour Party for the "austerity
measures"targeting the less well off, the poor, the infirm and the new
privatisations of education, health and the post office. It was all
this that gave him a majority of 10,000.
How did we get here? Following the collapse of communism in 1991,
Edmund Burke’s notion that “in all societies, consisting of different
classes, certain classes must necessarily be uppermost” and that “the
apostles of equality only change and pervert the natural order of
things”, became the commonsense wisdom of the age. Money corrupted
politics, big money corrupted absolutely. Throughout the heartlands of
capital we witnessed the emergence of effective coalitions: as ever, the
Republicans and Democrats in the United States; New Labour and Tories
in the vassal state of Britain; the Socialist Party and conservatives in France;
the German coalitions of one variety or another with the Green’s
differentiating themselves largely as ultra-Atlanticists, the
Scandinavian centre-right and centre-left with few differences,
competing in cravenness before the Empire.
In virtually each case the two/three-party system morphed into an
effective national government. A new market extremism came into play.
The entry of capital in the most hallowed domains of social provision
was regarded as a necessary “reform”. Private finance initiatives that
punished the public sector became the norm and countries (such as France
and Germany) that were seen as not proceeding fast enough in the
direction of the neoliberal paradise were regularly denounced in the Economist and the Financial Times.
To question this turn, to defend the public sector, to argue in
favour of state ownership of utilities, to challenge the fire sale of
public housing, was to be regarded as a dinosaur.
British politics has been governed by the consensus established by
Conservative Party Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher during the locust decades of the 1980s and 1990s. Once New
Labour accepted the basic tenets of Thatcherism (their model was the New
Democrats embrace of Reaganism). These were the roots of the extreme
centre that encompasses both centre-left and centre-right exercises
in power, promoting austerity measures that privilege the wealthy and
backing wars and occupations abroad. US President Barack Obama is far from
isolated within the Euro-American political sphere. New movements are
now springing up at home, challenging political orthodoxies without
offering one of their own. Little more than a scream for help.
Respect is different. It puts forward a left social-democratic
program that challenges the status quo and is loud in its condemnation
of imperial misdeeds. In other words it is not frightened by politics.
Its triumph in Bradford should force some to rethink their passivity and
others to realise that there are ways in which the Occupiers of
yesteryear can help break the political impasse.
George Galloway's victory speech.
Richard Seymour: Galloway wins
"I would now say there is space for a political organisation which is
more cohesive and ambitious in its objective; not a re-make of past
models, nor a revamp of existing ones, but a new formation which quite
deliberately sets out to organise and reconstitute those segments of the
working class that are now well to the left of official Labourism."
By Richard Seymour
March 30, 2012 -- Lenin's Tomb -- I won't pretend. I never believed for a second that George Galloway would win the Bradford West by-election for the Respect party, much less that he would win with more than 50% of the vote and a majority of more than 10,000 votes, that the [candidates of the ruling Liberal government] coalition vote would simultaneously collapse (the Liberals lost their deposit) and that all this would happen on a turnout of over 50% (very high for a by-election).
For me it opens up many strategic questions for the left. Because Galloway seemingly didn't have a huge amount in his favour. He didn't have a lot of money or a powerful local machine. He didn't have a sympathetic media establishment. He didn't have the support of the mosques in Muslim areas, who overwhelmingly backed the Labour Party. The Respect party for which he stood is not a well-oiled national organisation, able to mobilise activists at short notice.
One thing he did have in his favour was his renown, but that has obvious drawbacks, and there were many, many Labour Party big hitters flooding the constituency -- including the Labour leader himself. So, this result is extraordinary and demands explanation. Both Labour and Tory pundits have colluded in a set of bilious talking points: here comes George Galloway "stirring up tensions" again, he's going to divide the left vote and let the Conservative Party in, Big Brother cat impersonator, vain cigar-chomper, doesn't care about the real issues that affect this community, meow, go back to Talksport, indefatigability, fundamentalism, demagogue, Armani suit-wearing attention-scrounger, oil-dealing reprobate, hilarious, sinister, Pat Mustard, etc. etc. Even Patrick Wintour of the Guardian participated in some of the worst of this, in a frazzled early morning report which repellently suggested that Galloway won by mobilising the "Muslim immigrant" population around a "fundamentalist call" to withdraw troops from Afghanistan and fight job losses. I gather that the offending statements were removed from the article this morning.
We can dispense with these morality tales at once. Anyone trivial enough to be obsessed with them can find many blogs that cater to that particular fancy. There are even blogs who supported the Labour candidate who will have the cheek to talk about "communalism", which (if you accept this highly problematic terminology) is arguably one of the things that was defeated in Bradford yesterday. We can also do without the liberal lament ("how dare George Galloway win an election" and "he's ruining it!"). The most laughable retort came from a Labour politician who suggested that Galloway had won because of his Big Brother celebrity. If he'd lost, that hardly luminous moment in his career would probably have been cited as a cause. We can drop that stupidity as well.
Nor do I want to argue the toss with those on the left who have allowed otherwise sensible disagreements with Galloway to obscure what is most important about this campaign -- which is that its victory is a step forward for the left, and particularly for the working-class constituencies in Bradford West affected by racism, unemployment and cuts. I simply take it as read that anyone on the left with a sense of proportion will welcome this result, and move on.
The major strategic question that the result raises is how the left relates to Labour in this period. If it was wrong to underestimate the ability of social democracy to revive itself in opposition, it is evidently just as mistaken to underestimate the real weakness of Labour. The fact that [Labour Party leader] Ed Miliband has been aware of the secular degeneration of Labour's base, and seemed to have some vague idea of addressing the problem, doesn't mean that that he has been empowered to do anything. Nor does it mean that his solutions have been anything but feeble.
Miliband's solutions appear to be predicated on the idea that Labour's problems in its previously formidable working-class strongholds are mainly organisational. That is, they can be resolved by incorporating a passive membership base, further reducing union influence and somehow "reconnecting" with the "grassroots". Either that, or they require better "communication". Ideologically, his leadership is weak and prevaricating. The thematic of the "squeezed middle" interests few and excites no one, while the moronic Blue Labour guff turned out to be deeply damaging.
Politically, his leadership has worked to dampen and contain resistance to the cuts within the labour movement. This is in some ways just the classic mediating function of social democracy -- don't struggle, just vote for us and we will bargain a better deal for you. But when this mediating function is captive to the logic of neoliberalism, the practical difference that Labour can offer is woefully inadequate.
Harriet Harman, who is far from the worst in Labour's leadership, showed the paucity of Labour's analysis when she insisted that 1) this result in Bradford was a purely regional phenomenon, with no wider ramifications, and 2) this has nothing to do with Labour's failure to oppose, since "We've had a completely different argument from the Tories, arguing that they are cutting too far, too fast." The latter, of course, is not "a completely different argument". It is an argument which accepts the principle of austerity; which is to say, it is an argument which accepts that working-class people have to put up with a generation being lost to joblessness, with tuition fees, privatisation, service cuts, benefit cuts and the evisceration of local infrastructure.
The real problem is that Labour has no sense of how to oppose the coalition, because it has preemptively conceded most of the territory. This is because Labour's leadership knows that if the party wins a general election, it has no intention whatever of adopting a fundamentally different course or of significantly reversing anything the Tories now implement.
And of course, it isn't just Bradford West. There were regionally specific factors assisting Galloway's victory, above all the local hatred for the managerial, machine politics of the Labour establishment. But that machine has been in place for a long time. Nor is it just a question of Muslim voters being disaffected with Labour. The fact that some of the poorest and most oppressed workers in the UK have also been most willing to vote for left-wing candidates shouldn't even raise an eyebrow. It is obvious, or at least it should be to Marxists.
If it was only Muslims who could be reached on such an agenda, that might be a cause for concern, but Galloway gained more than 50% of the vote by mobilising a multiracial coalition. This was a working-class vote for a left-wing mandate. It reflects not just polarisation over austerity, a generational transfer of wealth from the working class to the rich, but also Labour's thus-far hapless response.
The landslide for the Scottish National Party and Scottish Labour's ongoing problems, particularly in Glasgow, discloses essentially the same dynamic. It has yet to be tested, but I think Plaid Cymru's new left-wing leadership could seriously strain the Labour Party's presence in Wales. And the Greens' Brighton victory in 2010 shows that wherever there is a serious left-of-Labour challenger, Labour has something to worry about. Galloway had it right in his victory speech: "[Labour] must stop imagining that working people and poor people have no option but to support them if they hate the Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition partners."
Of course this opens a space, no more than that, for some sort of left-of-Labour formation. We should not be thinking purely or even mainly in electoral terms. Labour's crisis is part of an organic crisis which is engulfing all the parties, and which is changing the relationship between those parties and their social base. It is not just a question of masses fleeing from old banners and flocking under new banners. Those parties which temporarily gain from social democracy's paralysis and breakdown only to emulate the social democrats in their basic mode of organisation, often find themselves implicated in the same processes of breakdown.
What this crisis is doing is raising the question of new modes of organisation, new ways in which masses relate to parties. We know, for example, that there are going to be intense social struggles in the next few years, and orienting properly to those is even more important than exploiting electoral openings. A formation of the militant, anti-cuts left is surely a reasonable goal in these circumstances.
There's another reason why it is important to recognise and act on this opportunity now. The question of austerity was never going to be resolved solely at the level of industrial conflict. The lesson of austerity is precisely that it is at the level of politics that "that the contradictions of the economy are concentrated and that their ultimate resolution is decided". In fact, even industrial struggles aren't won or lost purely at the level of industrial conflict. Their success is partially contingent on the political "line" that is won in those struggles, which depends on having a wider network of militants and activists plugged into every form of resistance, drawing and sharing lessons across the different fields of struggle, helping to overcome weakness and unevenness and resist the tendency of the union bureaucracy, particularly its Labour Party-affiliated right-wing, to retreat.
That requires a degree of coordination and unity on the militant left that has thus far been lacking. More generally, the struggle against the cuts requires some degree of coordination between different levels and types of activity, and some form of organisation that can negotiate a shift from one locus of struggle to another, as events progress.
We have already seen that things can look very bleak in the trade unions, then a student protest comes along and changes the whole calculus. Likewise, a string of occupations can be winding down, only for a mass Trade Uunion Congress-led anti-cuts protest to re-ignite the whole question. Or, the situation can suddenly be radically re-polarised by a series of riots, and the presence or absence of a left with some weight can make all the difference. And so on, and so on.
The fact is that "austerity" is so comprehensive in its targets that its effects are likely to appear in unpredictable ways at various points of antagonism. Negotiating between and unifying these struggles is a strategic imperative, which is why I previously argued that the competing anti-cuts vessels of the left should merge into a single flotilla.
I would now say there is space for a political organisation which is more cohesive and ambitious in its objective; not a re-make of past models, nor a revamp of existing ones, but a new formation which quite deliberately sets out to organise and reconstitute those segments of the working class that are now well to the left of official Labourism.
The main obstacle to achieving something here is not the tenacity of Labourism so much as the weakness of the organised left at this stage. But unlike the former, we can do something about the latter. We can certainly solve any problems of organisation that have dogged us in the past, provided we acknowledge them. That's why the ostrich-like response of the monomaniacs who can only see Galloway's flaws, and only see the result as a victory for a vanity campaign, is particularly irresponsible. It is a moralistic abdication of the duty to engage in a concrete analysis of concrete situations, to think through the strategic possibilities, to calculate the relative gains and risks of the courses that are now open to us. As I see it, the onus is on the left to act on this opportunity.
Bob Crow calls for new working-class party
April 3, 2012 -- Socialist Resistance -- Speaking on March 31 at a conference organised by the Morning Star on the
theme “For a People’s Britain – not a Bankers’ Britain”, RMT [transport union] leader Bob
Crow called for a new working-class party and chided the organisers for
refusing to move in that direction. You complain about what is going on
he said “but when it comes to an election you all go and vote Labour”.
The event had originally called around the issue of working-class
representation but this issue seemed to have vanished from the agenda.
About 250 people, predominantly members and supporters of the
Communist Party of Britain, heard Crow point out that George Galloway’s
triumph two days previously in Bradford once again put the question of
the political representation of working people back on the agenda. They
had just heard Labour MP Michael Meacher say that the result showed
Labour to be rudderless, ambivalent on the cuts and with no commanding
While there was much to agree on in the description of the ruling-class offensive some of the speakers were soft on the sell-out of the
pensions dispute with no reference to the role of Unison’s Dave Prentis’
betrayal or the TUC. In fact one speaker even suggested that there was a
risk of people burning out due to industrial action.
It was left to Bob Crow, however, as the last speaker of the day, to
point out that Bradford West was a much wider phenomenon and that it was
based heavily on young people. Such young people needed to be given a
serious alternative now, whilst they were engaging with politics, since
they will not wait around forever. This view did not command a lot of
support among those present. Yet as Crow pointed out with anything else
if it does not work you get a new one. The voters of Bradford West have
done just that with the party they used to vote for.
Socialist Resistance: Galloway victory is rejection of austerity and war
March 30, 2012 -- Socialist Resistance -- Socialist Resistance strongly welcomes the stunning victory of George
Galloway and the Respect party in the Bradford West by election. His
majority of 10,000 is a remarkable achievement (see results below). It
was, as George Galloway said in his acceptance speech, the most
sensational result in by-election history. Only four out of 10 voters voted
for the establishment parties. It is a rejection not only of the Con
Dems and their policies of cuts and war but of Labour’s timidity in
fighting them. It was a rejection, in a highly multicultural society,
of nearly 10 years of war drive, the occupation of other people’s
countries, scapegoating of the poor and Islamophobia.
The result recalls the huge potential and electoral resonance which
Respect enjoyed after it was launched in January 2004 following George
Galloway’s expulsion from the Labour Party for calling on British troops
not to fight in Iraq.
It is also another major opportunity for Respect to build something
serious to the left of the Labour Party, something it failed to do after George
Galloway defeated Oona King in Bethnal Green and Bow in the general
election of June 2005, and despite the mass support Salma Yaqoob won in
south Birmingham. The need for such a party to tackle the problem of
working-class representation is as strong today as it was in 2004, yet
every opportunity has come to very little.
Socialist Resistance members were members of Respect for several
years. We sought to develop the support it had won in some of the most
deprived communities in Britain into a broad-based and democratic party
of the left. We argued that it had to function as a party all year round
and not just during the run up to elections. We encouraged it to
develop a program that addressed the needs of working people. Our
experience convinced us that this cannot be achieved on the basis of
loose networks and preemptive top-down decision making processes but
only on the basis of a fully democratic and broad-based political party.
We urge Respect to set a new course in that direction.
George Galloway’s extraordinary victory in the Bradford West
by-election is a political earthquake. To secure 56 per cent of the vote,
and to win more than double the Labour vote when the Tories are in
office is truly remarkable.
It shows above all that there is massive anger against the Tories and
the Lib Dems – and that Labour is utterly failing to channel it. As
Galloway said after the count, Labour “must stop imagining that working
people and poor people have no option but to support them if they hate
the Tory and Liberal Democrat coalition partners”.
When Labour abandons working people by backing pay freezes,
condemning mass strikes and meekly implementing cuts then it should not
be surprised when those people vote for an alternative.
Humiliated Labour Party figures are peddling the myth that Galloway won because of a sectarian, ethnically based appeal.
George Galloway did mobilise the feeling against Islamophobia and the
imperialist war drive. And he was right to do so. But he did far more
than that. He campaigned clearly against cuts, unemployment and the
blighted lives of young people. And he won support from non-Muslims as
well as Muslims. Respect had a vibrant campaign that involved many
people new to political activity.
Galloway pulled together a vote overwhelmingly of working-class people and enthused big numbers of young people.
The SWP congratulates George Galloway on his success and hopes he
will take a lead in the continuing battle against austerity, racism and
The Bradford West by-election should encourage all of us fighting
[Conservative Paty British Prime Minister David Cameron’s government of millionaires by strikes, protests and
demonstrations – as well as those campaigning for the Trade Unionist and
Socialist Coalition at the May 3 [local government] elections.
'Morning Star': A stunning and political win
March 30, 2012 -- Morning Star -- George Galloway's stunning by-election victory in Bradford West, with a
massive 55.9 per cent of the poll, is unprecedented in its magnitude.
For a representative of one of the three main parliamentary parties to poll over 50 per cent is unusual.
For someone outside the mainstream to haul in so many votes is unique.
Galloway's success has met the usual tidal wave of trivialisation by the
media and spokespeople for the parties whose candidates he trounced.
Voices that ascribed his defeat in the 2010 general election to an
appearance in a red catsuit on Big Brother suggest now that voter
recognition based on that TV show made him a shoo-in in Bradford.
Politicians pass off the Bradford by-election as a "one-off." Every
by-election is a one-off, but none has ever delivered such a tsunami of
Much has been made of Galloway's supposed use of the "race card" or the propensity for Muslim voters to back him.
But how can a "blue-eyed white man", as he describes himself, play the
race card against his principal opponent who is of Pakistani Kashmiri
origin, the grandson of Azad Kashmiri Assembly former deputy speaker
Chaudhry Azam Pothi and nephew of Pakistani People's Party president
Mirpur Zulfikar Azam?
An ethnic breakdown of Bradford West shows 38 per cent of voters as of
Pakistani Muslim background, so even if every single person matching
this description ticked Galloway -- which clearly they didn't -- he piled
up another 18 percentage points plus from elsewhere.
What neither the establishment media nor the Westminster villagers can
admit is that the working-class electorate of this constituency, from
whatever ethnic or religious background, voted politically.
They voted in four successive general elections for Marsha Singh, from a
Punjabi Sikh background, who distinguished himself as part of the
principled minority of Labour MPs to campaign and vote against Tony
Blair's illegal invasion of Iraq.
Far from Galloway's campaign playing identity cards, it was his Labour
opponent's team that was reduced, once earlier complacency was punctured
on the doorstep, to raising such matters in a desperate scrabble for
Labour hopeful Imran Hussain was not best served by the cards dealt by
his party minders, who ensured that he was on message in backing the
military "mission" in Afghanistan and prevented him from speaking at
hustings, confirming their lack of confidence in his ability.
New Labour control-freakery remains self-evidently alive and unwell in the party apparatus.
Ed Miliband declared his determination "that we learn the lessons of
what happened," although his subsequent comments about local factors,
being rooted in every community and showing that "Labour politics can
make a difference to people's lives" show no awareness of the scale of
It isn't just the plethora of foreign wars from Iraq to Afghanistan,
with Syria and Iran on the wish list, that turns off traditional Labour
The curse of New Labour lives on in support for the cuts agenda in
response to capitalism's crisis and indifference to working-class calls
for a new direction.
Labour may comfort itself with current opinion polls, but they have
arisen through coalition own-goals not enthusiastic support for Labour
Bradford West should serve as a warning of further one-offs in the
future if Labour fails to heed the clamour for change from a bankers'
agenda to a people's agenda.
Counterfire: Galloway by-election win a rejection of austerity, war
Sunday, April 1, 2012
By James Meadway
George Galloway, running for the anti-war and anti-austerity Respect
party, won a sensational victory in the Bradford West by-election on
The scale of Galloway's win, turning a safe Labour seat into a 10,000
vote majority, is without precedent in modern British politics. All
those who oppose austerity and war should be walking a little taller.
Galloway and Respect fought a campaign on two simple premises: opposition to wars abroad and opposition to austerity at home.
In the absence of a Labour Party and Labour leadership able to
effectively articulate either, a credible and electable campaign could
There are other factors involved, of course. By-elections notoriously
attract protest votes and holding the seat will be a challenge,
although one Galloway has vowed to meet.
The scars of the war on terror have run very deep. The
Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government — and its
neoconservative Cabinet members — has on occasion surpassed even New
Labour’s official Islamophobia.
A principled defence of British Muslims is vital in such conditions and Galloway is rightly respected for this.
But a win on the scale achieved could not have been possible on the
basis of that defence alone. You cannot win 18,341 votes in a Bradford
constituency if only Muslims will vote for you — as if Muslims, in any
case, voted as a bloc.
Opposition to Britain’s wars runs deep across the whole population,
with opinion polls consistently reporting more than 70% wanting the
troops withdrawn from Afghanistan. The Pyrrhic victory in Libya has not
shifted that opinion, and Galloway’s campaign shows the strength of
opposition to war in Iran.
The organised left has, to its discredit, underplayed in recent years
the significance of Britain’s ongoing — if increasingly feeble —
imperialist role. Galloway was absolutely correct to place opposition to
war centre-stage in his campaign, and we should all take note.
Opposition to war has defined the breach with Labour for the past
decade. It was the mass opposition to war in Iraq that set the stage for
Galloway’s win at Bethnal Green and Bow during the 2005 general
In that case, a 10,000 Labour majority was transformed into a slender win for Respect.
That result was the result of a long, hard-fought campaign. Respect
in Tower Hamlets was then a far more substantial force than it is today
in Bradford, and it could draw more easily on an army of volunteers and
The victory in Bradford is all the more remarkable for being achieved so quickly and without that same large party machine.
The result can only be understood as the product of the opening of a
second great breach with Labour: that of opposition to austerity.
The Labour leadership and the parliamentary party — with honourable
exceptions — have fled the field of battle against the cuts, having
never greatly desired the fight in the first place. The gap between
Britain’s corrupt and squalid political class, and those they claim to
represent — already large — yawns wider as a result.
As austerity progresses, it will become a great chasm — and the
well-respected Institute of Fiscal Studies estimates that we still have
88% of the Tories’ scheduled spending cuts to get through.
This is the breach that can be seen across Europe. Traditional
parties of working people — the social democratic parties — have already
spent years imposing neoliberalism: the poisonous cocktail of
privatisation and deregulation that helped drag us into the current
In response to that crisis, they have — with rare exceptions —
accepted austerity as the cure, turning like wild dogs on their own
But where the real left has been able to offer a lead, standing firm
in its opposition to spending cuts, it has been able to create new
This includes in France, where Left Front presidential candidate
Jean-Luc Melenchon is now polling 14% in some opinion polls; or Holland,
where the anti-austerity Socialist Party polls 18%.
Outside of electoral politics, the general strike in Spain on March
30, and ongoing strikes and protests in Greece and elsewhere, show the
capacity of traditionally organised labour to become an effective
resistance – echoed in the Britain, in smaller fashion, by strike
threats from truckers and baggage handlers.
It is this possibility of a new left that Galloway’s result heralds.
For Britain, it will combine opposition to wars abroad with opposition
to austerity at home: genuine internationalism, and a radical defence of
the gains working people have won.
This new left may not arrive through the traditional channels,
drawing in alongside militant trade unionists activists from Occupy, the
anti-war movement, and some of the existing far left.
But we can help it arrive, arguing for a radical left politics that
holds to its principles, engages with the mass movements, and does not
stand aloof from the real concerns of the working class.
Alex Callinicos (SWP): The key lessons of Bradford West
By Alex Callinicos
Socialist Worker --The superlatives have fast run out in attempts to sum up George Galloway’s victory for Respect in the Bradford West by-election.
It simply is off the scale of normal electoral measurement.
But what are its political implications? Firstly, it tells us
something about the fragility of Labour’s base. Despite the catastrophic
failure of New Labour, the party has hung on to the loyalty of large
numbers of working class people.
But Bradford West shows that this loyalty is conditional. In refusing
to promise to reverse the cuts and opposing strikes, Ed Miliband has
taken Labour’s so-called “core supporters” for granted. He has now
learned that there is a high price to be paid for this.
Of course, Labour has swung into action to rubbish Galloway’s victory
by claiming that Respect ran an “ethnic campaign”. Take, for example,
this from the Guardian’s Blairite political editor, Patrick Wintour:
“It appeared that the seat’s Muslim immigrant community had decamped
from Labour en masse to Galloway’s fundamentalist call for an immediate
British troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and a fightback against the
job crisis.” This disgraceful passage was rapidly rewritten online.
But in a more considered piece Lanre Bakare wrote of Galloway, also
in the Guardian, “He is a divisive politician whose second tweet after
winning read: ‘Long live Iraq, Long live Palestine, free, Arab,
dignified. George Galloway MP.’”
Now what exactly is “divisive” or “fundamentalist” about opposing the
hugely unpopular war in Afghanistan or the coalition’s austerity
programme? Such comments simply demonstrate yet again the isolation of
the political and media elite from the rest of us.
It is in any case a huge cheek for Labour to accuse anyone else of
“ethnic” politics. For decades the party has relied on deals with
“community leaders” in black and Asian neighbourhoods to deliver the
vote for its candidates.
These alliances have become increasingly important in a period when
the decline in working class organisation and broader social
fragmentation have made the unions less effective in mobilising voters.
During the 1985 Labour Party conference Roy Hattersley, then deputy
party leader, expressed an almost colonial arrogance about “my Asians”,
when he talked about his Birmingham Sparkbrook constituency.
Central to Galloway’s success in Bradford West was his ability to
bypass these clientelistic local structures and mobilise Muslim youth
for his campaign. He has described the politics of this campaign as
This appealed to the widespread feeling that Miliband has continued
Tony Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s policy of detaching Labour from its
historic role of representing the interests and aspirations of ordinary
working class people.
This stance is not without its problems. Most obviously, it casts a
nostalgic glow over the earlier history of the Labour Party. Labour in
office has always acted in the interest of British capitalism, usually
at the expense of its working class supporters.
But the power of Galloway’s appeal is also a sign of the residual
strength of Labourism. Labour and its counterparts have embraced
neoliberalism. So it is quite inevitable that challenges from its left
will often be most effective when couched in the political language of
traditional social democracy.
Galloway’s breakthrough is comparable to the very successful campaign
in the French presidential elections being waged by Jean-Luc Mélenchon,
leader of the Left Party.
Mélenchon served as a minister in the last Socialist Party government in 2000–2, but led a breakaway a few years ago.
A radical and revolutionary left that plans to have a future has to
start by acknowledging the achievement of Galloway and Respect.
They have re-opened an electoral space to the left of Labour.
We now have all to work together to ensure that this great second chance isn’t wasted.