Galloway and Bradford West

As disappointing as it may be to some long-time blogofriends, who really despise him, I am resolutely indifferent to George Galloway. This might be seen as some political lapse on my part. After all, only the other week I was expressing my sympathy for Peter Cruddas, the Tory apparatchik caught trying to sell access to our dearly beloved PM.

Even so, when reading the headlines over my cornflakes today, I did laugh very hard indeed at Galloway’s absolutely massive victory in Bradford West. I laughed harder still at the lightning speed responses from Labour people on Twitter, which amounted to “Bloody [insert ethnic or religious minority]”. I’m not joking there. That’s really what it came down to.

Let me clarify. A lot of people are talking about the “machine politics” practised by some Asian communities, and suggesting that Galloway has appeased the powers that be there, to win the votes they can command – a little like Tammany Hall. It is entirely possible that Galloway benefitted here (and I make no claim to authority in the matter) but it is rather hypocritical for Labour to attack it, as if it is true that Galloway benefits from it, then in many areas Labour also benefits from it. Or the whole conception might be a vaguely racist appraisal by people who stand outside those communities.

In any case, an 18,000 strong vote, based on slogans like “Real Labour not New Labour”, “Stop this Cuts Madness” and “Stop the Break Up of the NHS” (as well as the expected “Bring Our Boys Home” tropes), is not easily dismissed.

I am not a Respect supporter; I think they are a dead-end, and I think Galloway is an unaccountable, uncontrollable celebrity personality, rather than the sort of local campaigner I’d be more comfortable voting for (see TUSC for further details). But in the Bradford West by-election there was no one else to vote for, if deciding purely on the basis of what the candidates said in their electoral material, which is presumably the only contact most people had with the matter.

The key question is, having won this by-election, what is Galloway going to do now? Those who enjoy ridiculing him have made much of  his Celebrity Big Brother shenanigans, as being “disrespectful” to his constituents etc etc. Again I’m seized by indifference over the matter – though it might give a tell-tale indication as to what sort of MP Galloway might be. It bears saying, however, that as with the “machine politics” stuff, Labour people voicing their discontent are somewhat hypocritical. I’m sure Ed Miliband would jump on any TV show going if he thought he would win the election as a result – only he’d probably have to call in at Hackett’s for a bespoke personality and not just his usual custom-made suits.

Is Galloway, on the other hand, being the darling of the media because he seems immune to embarrassment, going to run a media-luvvy orientated campaign henceforth, or is he going to be in Bradford High St, manning the anti-cuts stalls? He should be. Such a high profile victory, allied to the right campaigning strategy, could galvanise the whole working class of Bradford to come out and fight the cuts. There are practical tasks at stake; the coordination of local union action, the preparation of anti-cuts candidates for council, on a “needs-budget” slate, and the extension of cooperative efforts to other nearby areas, such as Leeds, where the cuts are biting just as hard.

A high profile figure can lend weight to that strategy, which is really the only strategy.

Is that to be George Galloway’s role? We don’t yet know, so we don’t yet know what the significance of this by-election will be. We know it shows discontent – but whether or not that discontent can be turned from a passive kind, that results in one-off by election votes, into an active kind that will defeat the cuts…therein lies the real question mark over Bradford. Everywhere on the Left can be felt Labour’s ebb, particularly from those unions which move into struggle whilst Ed Miliband talks about “resolution at any cost” (which means “at any cost to workers”, as we know from experience).

What force will replace it is still up for debate – and replace it something will. Bradford notwithstanding, Labour are still the main repository for the votes of the passive resistance. As workplaces move into active struggle, Labour people find themselves standing by the wayside. People don’t forget that the pickets of the last year or so were not that long ago pickets erected against the policies of a Labour government. Moreover, that active struggle demands answers which Labour cannot supply. The election of a Labour government is only the end of Round One in the battle against the cuts – the battle against capitalism.

Round two will be the creation, through the struggle against that Labour government and its equally repugnant cuts, of the organs of an alternative, unifying and representative seat of working class power.

In Bradford, the local paper reported in 2009 that 41% percent of the areas in the district are among the most deprived in the country. Labour people can do all the whinging they want about machine politics – but there are very good reasons for the people in this area not to vote Labour; a Labour council, tarred by Galloway with the same cuts-loving brush as the Tories, could not save a Labour candidate from being absolutely annihilated. That is telling enough as to the continuing abysmal state of the Labour Party.

Lastly, the Lib-Dems apparently lost their deposit. May there be heaps more of that, thank you very much.

  1. wobsy
    March 30, 2012 at 9:54 am

    I do not consider myself a fan of Gorgeous George but I have respect for his brave anti-war stance.
    The Labour Party needs to heed this result. Having abandoned its natural supporters and failed to suck-up sufficiently to its desired supporters, it languishes in no-man’s land, unelectable. There is a clear fork in the road ahead. EITHER abandon the labour movement altogether, cut the financial ties with the TUC, and be honest about watered down tory policies, OR apologise for cavorting with Republican presidents, waging illegal war alongside (or for) the US, persecuting asylum seekers, appeasing corrupt bankers and re-embrace socialist values.

  2. March 30, 2012 at 10:24 am

    Yes. I see what you mean now Dave. I think I kind of forget the celebrity stuff ‘cos I don’t actually watch it. It’s not on my radar. Galloway is careerist in the sense of everything focussed on making him a star whose bright light he can then take advantage of. The question is really if he’ll use it for the benefit of ordinary people or if he’s simply hijacked convenient discourses in order to lever his own popularity. I’m afraid I’m inclined to believe the latter …

  3. March 30, 2012 at 10:25 am

    Excellent analysis.

  4. paulinlancs
    March 30, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    I’ve not come here for a fight (notwithstanding your jovial tweet inviting me to one) because there is some of this I agree with. I’ll do my own post at some point, partly as a response but for starters:

    1) You say “A lot of people are talking about the “machine politics” practised by some Asian communities, and suggesting that Galloway has appeased the powers that be there, to win the votes they can command.”

    Some people may be saying that, but they’d be very ignorant if they did. This is not to say that biradree (which I know fairly well from Oldham, where the Muslim) community is also largely Kahsmiri didn’t play a part). I suspect it played a significant one, but it wasn’t a question of Galloway in some way cleverly kowtowing to it. Rather, it’s a question of many Kashmiri voters, especially young ones, being sick of the biradree influence, and therefore choosing (quite possibly late on) who would have been seen as a key beneficiary of the system. It’s possible Galloway’s team helped create that dynamic, by talking to young voters on a generational-divide basis about the need to get rid of biradree, but that’s not the same as direct kowtow, and is for me a quite legitimate strategy.

    Now, I don’t know Bradford as well as Oldham (though I did do a lot of work there which I’ll ocver more in my post) but I think what may be getting lost is the extent to which the local and regional Labour hierarchy have themselves kowtowed to biradree over the years, and are now coming a cropper because of it. Anyway more on that later as it’s quite complex (at least for my brain).

    Of course this is only part of Labour’s clearly catastophic election. More immediate and more of a vote loser will have been a) Imran’s reluctance to attend hustings (prob on organiser advice); b) the campaign’s failure to get up to the university and talk to non-voters but a total reliance on Voter ID and a focus on “getting out the (safe) vote”; c) the pretty obvious failure of urban regeneration (the Westflelld Blackhole could not be a more potent symbol) in some of the key wards, which have for decades now felt marginalised (more again in my own post) and in which there has been a recent very big corruption scandal. It looks like Galloway got these failure messages pretty bang on)

    2) You are right that this was not simply a victory for “anti-imperialism”

    3) You say: “What force will replace it is still up for debate – and replace it something will. Bradford notwithstanding, Labour are still the main repository for the votes of the passive resistance.”

    As you might expect, my answer to this is that there is no certainty a) that Labour will finally and irreperably lose its legitimacy as rep of the WC; b) another more legitimate force will replace it.

    On the other side though, Labour can’t always go on assuming it’s default status will continue, and every time something like this happens the chances of it losing that default status sooner rather than later are strengthened. More importantly than this election though, the Refounding Labour process was a real opportunity to get to grips with some of the structural/organisational stuff that connects Labour to the WC, and that opportunity wasl gloriously wasted. If you were to force me to put a time limit on Labour’s legitimacy (and i accept that is a contested term), if it doesn’t change its basic structure (or have it changed for it by the unions), I’d say 10-15 years, but of course much will depend on what, if anything, might replace it. It may, indeed, be nothing.

    4)) Galloway will not lead a grassroots leftwing revival, unless he has learned a lot since 2005 (I accept he may have done).

    Sorry, hurried thoughts. More later. Don’t choke on the schadenfreude in the meantime.

  5. March 30, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    On 1), there have been quite a few. In particular see my tweets with Adam White, LRC bigwig. Like you, I point out that Labour have benefitted from this approach to politics. I am intrigued that you have put your finger on the appeal to the young unlike so many other commentators, which is what a young Guardian writer also pointed to, after spending some time with Galloway.

    On 2), it’s interesting that painting this as a victory for “anti-imperialism” fits into all sorts of narratives, both right and left.

    3) I am not arguing will lose their legitimacy as representative of the working class; in fact I think it’s fairly clear that it has lost it. it doesn’t represent the working class, at any level – which is neatly proved by this election. Here was the leader of the local council running in his home turf who got absolutely walloped because his council passed on the Tory cuts and were equally to blame for the problems developing in the inner city there. Meanwhile Ed Miliband blames everything on local circumstances – which is true, but these are local circumstances replicated time and again in every former industrial area in the country. So it’s a national question, to which Labour does not have the answer.

    The attitude of a few scattered activists doesn’t speak for Labour. What Labour actually does is what should be counted. Those remaining socialists in Labour are a fig leaf for a Liberal Party Mk II, much like the lefties in the Lib-Dems were, before this last election, a fig leaf for their party – making what they thought were honest arguments while ultimately being proved liars.

    As regards default states, I think Labour will go on being the “default” party – but it’s the default of the unengaged. I think Labour will continue to do alright electorally – but I think time’s already up in Scotland, for good, In England, where there is not “national question” dimension, Labour will remain the default – because by the time a fight workers’ party has grown up to challenge it, formal democracy will have been rendered obsolete through an intensification of open class struggle. I point to this in the article above, with the alternative centre of power thesis, but you didn’t refer to it.

    On 4) I don’t think Galloway will lead a left-wing revival either. I think a left-wing revival is already in progress, with the formation of new fighting layers of our class. March, June and November of last year are evidence of that; and meanwhile the regrouping of trades councils and anti-cuts groups continues apace. There is space for him to play a limited role, but I don’t think he will either – I am just prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    The anti-Islamic rhetoric that objects to his allies or his god bothering pronouncements (about Allah, at the election count, for example) I find particularly telling, because it ignores completely the potential for class rhetoric to develop a correct political consciousness even when clothed til the last minute in honestly-held religious sentiment. And Galloway has a class-based rhetoric which is, if not outright socialist, then certainly to the left of Labour. The man’s a gigantic knob, but he might do some good despite himself. I am not betting on it, but I wanted to try and balance out the outrageous rhetoric from other corners.

  6. skidmarx
    March 31, 2012 at 10:45 am

    I salute your indifference.

    Actually it might be good if more people who consider themselves socialists were happy about a massive vote for socialist politics, but I suppose the sectarianism and communalism of the ‘moderates’ will be with us always.

  7. March 31, 2012 at 11:01 am

    I don’t think a vote for Galloway is necessarily a vote for socialist politics, except insofar as Galloway is and presented himself as a socialist – which is not very far, in my view. That’s not sectarianism; I don’t care what the name of the group involved is, it’s the tactics which matter. Respect have made a good start with their public meetings and campus campaign. I am pleased with the vote of course – and I say so above. I think it opens up opportunities. I merely emphasize the need to use them. If Galloway does that then I’ll get enthusiastic in a hurry – I’m just not sure he will, hence my indifference.

  8. skidmarx
    March 31, 2012 at 12:16 pm

    It’s a lot more so than it’s not.

    I do have similar worries. Between the split with the SWP and the last general election Respect seemed to think it could do everything on its own, and so could demand support from others on the left without promising anything in return, and this result could easily foster that mentality.

  9. Edgar
    March 31, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Not surprised the usual socialists for imperialism are crying over the resurrection of George G.

    Anyone who says Galloway is a careerist is a lying fuckwit. The real careerists are those in the major parties, especially those Oxbridge ones who actually study politics in order to make a career! They usually end up on the front bench. I live in a Labour area and the councillors are a bunch of arses.

    The sacking of Galloway by New Labour was a milestone in its disintegration into neo liberalism and Toryism.

    The defeat of New Labour is the number one task for socialists.

  10. Jacob Richter
    April 9, 2012 at 6:29 am

    “I don’t think Galloway will lead a left-wing revival either. I think a left-wing revival is already in progress, with the formation of new fighting layers of our class. March, June and November of last year are evidence of that; and meanwhile the regrouping of trades councils and anti-cuts groups continues apace. There is space for him to play a limited role, but I don’t think he will either – I am just prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt.”

    It means nothing if Britain doesn’t have the equivalent of Jean-Luc Melenchon and the Front de gauche in France or Oskar Lafontaine and Die Linke in Germany, or the folks of the European United Left in the EU parliament. Trade council “politicking” is pointless.

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