Galloway victory in Bradford is not a victory for the left

The landslide victory of George Galloway in Bradford West has been hailed by many on the left as a “victory” for our side.

Tony Mulhearn of the Socialist Party — and Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) candidate for mayor of Liverpool — writes “I applaud George Galloway's victory”. Anindya Bhattacharyya writes on the Socialist Worker website that “his win is a boost for the left in Britain”.

Meanwhile the Labour Party leadership has thrown itself into a fake “soul searching” exercise, promising to reflect on the defeat and learn the lessons. Such a tactic dodges the need for real accountability, but will it generate positive reassessments?

Not if Yvette Coopers' comments are anything to go by. When interviewed by Andrew Marr on the BBC after Galloway's victory, Cooper announced Labour's major theme for upcoming local elections: “We're going to be campaigning on crime and anti-social behaviour because that is the sort of thing people are very concerned about in streets and communities across the country.”
No serious assessment there then!

So how did Galloway manage to turn a 5000 majority for Labour into a 10000 majority for himself in the space of just three weeks? One argument is that he out-did Labour's communalist approach.

We know from previous experience that Galloway and Respect run communal campaigns, cynically harnessing the power and prestige of local imams and mosques to mobilise support. We know that Galloway and his campaigns push aside class approachs to politics and focus on his record as a “fighter for Muslims”. We already know that during the Bradford West campaign, Galloway supporters distributed a letter which contains the following:

“God KNOWS who is a Muslim. And he KNOWS who is not. Instinctively, so do you. Let me point out to all the Muslim brothers and sisters what I stand for:

I, George Galloway, do not drink alcohol and never have. Ask yourself if you believe the other candidate in this election can say that truthfully.
I, George Galloway, have fought for the Muslims at home and abroad, all my life. And paid a price for it. I believe the other candidate in this election cannot say so truthfully”

So a determined communalist slant from the Galloway camp definitely played a part in the victory. However, Labour's candidate, Imran Hussein, is a Muslim of Pakistani heritage and for the past five elections Bradford West has returned a Sikh man to Westminster. So while we should criticise Galloway's antics and note that communalism played a role, let's not paint a complex picture in just one shade as some right-wing critics have done.

The election in Bradford West was a by-election and in such circumstances, strange voting patterns can occur. By some accounts, although Galloway had the support of Labour's former election agent and, one assumes, a number of former Labour activists, his campaign team was not substantial. It's doubtful if the campaign managed to visit many houses in the constituency and win an argument on the doorstep.

It is claimed that the Respect campaign focussed on mobilising people who wouldn't have otherwise voted – the young, students etc... Even then, can such a swing be explained by such tactics?

The facts of the current political situation must have fed into Galloway's victory. These are:

• a Tory government determinedly seeing through an austerity campaign;
• a massively unpopular traditional "third party", the Liberal Democrats, who look on the brink of electoral collapse;
• a Labour Party that seems to have learned nothing from the experience of Blairism and New Labour. Galloway's "headline" campaign message – against war and cuts – will have chimed with a great many people.
So the victory for Galloway and Respect in Bradford is a victory for the left? Not at all.

The factors leading to Galloway's victory are a complex mix of communalism, anti-government sentiment, the "celebrity" status of the candidate and the political ineptitude of Labour. The overriding feature of Galloway's victory is the fact that Galloway has been returned to national politics and the fact that many on the left have fallen behind "Galloway the personality". This is most definitely a bad thing.

In parliament, Galloway never acted as a tribune of the working class, trade unionism and socialist ideas. He is best remembered for using the back-benches as a platform to promote himself and his allegedly anti-imperialist credentials. For Galloway, anti-imperialism amounts to siding with Saddam Hussein against the Iraqi people, siding with the Iranian regime against the Iranian people and lauding the murderer Assad for being the “last Arab leader”. Galloway even informed the people of Syria that they are a “free people”! The story of Galloway's anti-imperialism is a book-length catalogue of demagogic lovemaking to some of the foulest characters on the planet.

The result in Bradford West will no doubt breathe new life into the idea that there is a short-cut to dealing with the political problems our movement faces. It will boost the idea in unions and among leftists to back initiatives like TUSC and characters like Galloway. And that we do not need to organise for a fight inside Labour against the remnants of Blair and New Labour.

Such false conclusions will generate a false political outlook for our class and our movement. The left – even those who've been at the receiving end of Galloway's politics in the recent past – have learned nothing because they seem to care nothing for consistent working class politics. We say: learn the lessons, get a grip on reality, call Galloway out for what he is and build a serious working class politics.


Pressure on the Labour Party

We shouldn't be too hasty - "No serious assessment there then!" - to attempt to judge the effect Galloway's victory on the Labour Party. While I appreciate that his election is in many ways not a positive result for the left, given his track record and position on several fundamental issues, the event itself does put pressure on the Labour leadership, albeit in the form of longer-term strategy. Realistically Yvette Cooper was never going to reposition her party live on a talk show, but that does not mean to say that Galloway's election could not comprise another nail in the coffin of New Labour, and the taking for granted of traditional Labour voting constituencies.
Galloway's victory, as such, is perhaps not something to be entirely, lamented; in retrospect it may prove to have been a useful pressure point from which we must encourage the Labour Party to reassert itself at the grassroots.

At last an organisation that

At last an organisation that doesn't joing the Galloway adoration society. Galloways Bradford victory doesn't mean that there has been a leftward shift in the working class which will be reflected in an increase in votes. The shift we saw last year with the public sector strikes hasn't meant that the rest of the class has followed. Job losses and pay cuts are still being imposed in the private sector without any significant fightback.

Todays task is to rebuild the socialist tradition within the working class that has been badly effected over the last thrirty years. While this will be a difficult task I don't know whether this will be done by fighting within the LP as the article argues or whether it's better to build a united front campaign which includes left organisations against the austerity attacks.

Respect victory in Bradford West

The AWL is right to be sceptical about George Galloway but is wrong to imply that the Respect victory is of no significance. Equally again whilst not a TUSC supporter it is incorrect to say that TUSC is the same as Respect. Galloway is a shameless self-publicist who uses his undoubted talents to good effect. Galloway is a self-professed Catholic so whether he actually has sympathy for Islam or whether he simply just plays the card is difficult to determine. He is anti-abortion and his views on homosexuality seem to be unclear. His marital arrangements seem to be enabled by using both religions to good effect although explaining all of that away by understanding that "Gorgeous George" is a womaniser probably covers all the bases. However it is not for me or others to criticise his personal arrangements except if he were to be hypocritical, and nor can Respect's victory in Bradford be explained away by Galloway's charisma or political maneuvring. Lets be clear, Galloway wasn't just voted in by a cabal of Pakistani Bradford elders. He was voted in by young Pakistanis many of whom had never voted before and received considerable support from white working class people. In the article above you explain why Respect was successful. How else do you explain the massive swing? If anything it is the Labour Party that has and did rely on traditional communalist politics that was caught napping. I think Galloway himself was taken by surprise by the vote in his favour. Also in fairness to Galloway he has always described himself as "traditional" or "old" Labour. He is no revolutionary but then he has never claimed to be. If Milliband were to ring him up tomorrow who knows? Remember Ken? The fact is that Galloway is probably preferable to the miserable New Labour candidate who refused to have a single debate with Galloway. But more importantly the vote for Respect in Bradford (ignoring Galloway's idyosyncrosies) does reflect a protest and a temporary move to the left in Bradford. Whether this will last is a different question. Vote the social democrats in and put them on the spot seems to fit with Respect.

Time will tell

Hi John,

I think the article is fairly clear in stating that a number of factors were at play in Galloway's victory. For example:
"• a Tory government determinedly seeing through an austerity campaign;
• a massively unpopular traditional "third party", the Liberal Democrats, who look on the brink of electoral collapse;
• a Labour Party that seems to have learned nothing from the experience of Blairism and New Labour. Galloway's "headline" campaign message – against war and cuts – will have chimed with a great many people."

Neither does the article say that Respect and TUSC are the same thing.

What the article does attack is the notion that the left should read from Galloway's victory a generally 'rosy' picture for left of Labour electoral efforts and that in the pursuit of 'easy winnings' they jettison consistent working class politics. I think recent experience indicates that these are real dangers.

Also dangerous for the political health of the left is the idea - one you clearly reject - that Galloway is a genuine part of our movement. The fact that the SWP has 'forgotten' how Galloway dealt with them a couple of years ago and has invited him to address their 'Marxism' event shows just how dangerous this prospect is.

One big test for the left will be the success or otherwise of TUSC and Respect candidates in the upcoming local elections. If I had money to bet, I'd place it on there being no 'big wave' of socialist councillors across the country. But if events in Bradford really do speak of a more general political shift, then time will soon tell.