Most people on the political Left of Labour are welcoming the stunning victory of George Galloway and the Respect Party in the Bradford West bye-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 bye-election history.
Only 4 out of 10 voters voted for the establishment parties. The result reflects a rejection not only of the Con Dems and their policies of cuts and war, but of Labour’s timidity in fighting them. It is a rejection, in a highly multi-cultural 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 electoral resonance which Respect previously 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 also presents Respect with the another opportunity to play a potentially significant role in building a serious political alternative to Labour, 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 an alternative 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.
George Galloway, Respect: 18,341 (55.9%)
Imran Hussain, Labour: 8,201 (25%)
Jackie Whiteley, Conservative: 2,746 (8.4%)
Jeanette Sunderland, Lib Dem: 1,505 (4.6%)
Other: 2,021 (6.2%)
OUR EXPERIENCE IN THE RESPECT PARTY
Some of the members of Wigan Borough Green Socialists 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 programme that addressed the needs of the working class and the mass of ordinary people.
In the Wigan area, as members of Respect, we further promoted the idea of an alliance of all the progressive forces in the Borough including from the Green Party, Community Action Party, Socialist Workers’ Party, and Socialist Party and anyone else who might be supportive of the idea, around the TUC supported ‘People’s Charter’ – in the shape of a ‘Wigan, Leigh & Makerfield ‘People’s Alliance‘. Sadly, for one reason or another this project crashed not long after it had got off the ground.
This outcome was not at all assisted by George Galloway’s non-appearance at its launch meeting, which he had previously agreed to speak at (on the grounds he had urgent constituency business) at which ex-Labour MP Dave Nellist from the Socialist Party, and members of all the parties mentioned spoke. Also, subsequent anonymous comments made by an apparent Galloway acolyte from the Greater Manchester area on the Socialist Unity Blog later on the same evening of the launch meeting, saying Galloway had been misled about the nature of the meeting, and how such an alliance ‘might be a good idea in Wigan, but was not going to happen in Manchester’, and by implication, anywhere else.
These, and a number of other abusive comments were made, even though the Manchester Branch, and Respect nationally hadn’t discussed the issue, let alone decided anything concrete one way or the other. This lack of desire and intention to work with others on anything less than George’s own terms, was reinforced at the next Respect Conference, at which Galloway rounded on organisations such a TUSC and said Respect, more or less, should have nothing at all to do with them.
Our experience in Respect convinced us that George Galloway and the Respect Party were not only not serious about forging broader alliances and united fronts with others on the political Left, but even about seriously building Respect as a broad, democratic, and pluralist nationwide party representative of the working class and mass of ordinary people. It also showed us, that it had top down decision making processes and wasn’t going to get us anywhere.
George Galloway’s and Respect’s victory in Bradford provides the possibility for Respect to set a new course in the direction those of us who were once in it, consistently fought for, and to refute our criticism of it. Will it do so? Whilst we live in hope, our previous experiences are to say the least, not a good indicator.