The departure of Salma Yaqoob and the withdrawal as a candidate by Kate Hudson may well mark the end of Respect. The Galloway hate-mongers seem to think the story is all about George Galloway. Galloway is “a sham”, Liberal Conspiracy has it, and Respect is a Galloway “ego-proxy” says Labour Uncut. George Galloway, warts and all, has played a big part in Respect’s ups and downs, but I’d argue that making him the story obscures the truth about the future of Respect as it did about the attack on Wikileaks and how to respond to the rape accusations against Julian Assange.
It is true that George has had much to answer for, of late. Not only what he said about rape but his failure to to acknowledge any error afterwards, in spite of the difficulties he had clearly caused his party. His intervention has made it harder for Julian Assange to have a fair hearing — for the British public, rape has now become the paramount issue. Of course, Assange must answer the rape charges but, even if he is guilty of those charges, he is entitled to protection from the wrath of the United States. As Seumas Milne put it:
The question is how to achieve justice for the women involved while protecting Assange (and other whistleblowers) from punitive extradition to a legal system that could potentially land him in a US prison cell for decades.”
However foolish and wrong Galloway was, I do think that the atmosphere of a witch-hunt contributed to the wrong done to Assange. Unfortunately, Galloway compounded the dis-service he did Assange by adding (about a person he believes is falsely accused of any sexual offence):
Julian Assange’s personal sexual behaviour is sordid…. disgusting. I condemn it.”
That’s why I certainly couldn’t agree with Andy Newman last week that it was “time for the Left to stand up for Galloway“. Galloway may have had some valid points to make both about the threat to Assange over Wikileaks and about possible circumstances in which “consent”, or the lack of it, is not entirely clear. The media lynch mob, the witch-hunting of Galloway, Galloway becoming the story (in which he was complicit), obscured those valid points and did Assange an injustice.
The discussion of political strategy and the future of Respect as a political party does not raise the same issues of human rights. But making George Galloway the centre of that story is just as great a distortion. Respect has no future simply because Respect lacks a strategy for achieving its objectives and a justification for its existence as a separate party to the Left of Labour.
The right place in Britain now to challenge both the politics of austerity and the politics of imperialism for those who espouse social democratic politics (which includes most members of Respect) is within the Labour Party. This has actually been evident for some time to those who’ve really thought about it and George Galloway’s real contribution was to postpone the consequences by winning Bradford West.
The forces that once constituted Respect were able to mount a serious challenge to New Labour and the war on Iraq from the outside. Respect grew out of the coalition that won the backing of up to two million people on the streets of London in 2003. It was able to win seats in council chambers and in Parliament, and to appeal to disaffected Labour voters far more successfully than any other party to the Left of Labour (in England at any rate). Because they challenged New Labour on territory it had vacated, but which most of its members had not.
The victory of Ed Miliband changed the context. He distanced himself from New Labour, from its war in Iraq, and from the politics of austerity. He ended the control freakery of the New Labour years. Even if this has not followed through to the reintroduction of democratic process, and even if Labour’s collective leadership remains divided over a genuine break with austerity, the trade unions have shown that they have had enough of Progress and the politics of New Labour. The Left has not won – far from it – but the fight now needs to be conducted within the party, in conjunction with the trade unions, in an alliance that seeks to take with it the majority of Labour members.
Even two weeks ago, it was suggested by one left commentator that “Respect is currently best placed to take advantage of” the current situation:
Respect can express the aspiration of the working class for the type of Labour government it would like to see that breaks with austerity and cuts, as opposed to the one it will actually get. Pursuing this approach will mean Respect can remain well-placed for the situation that will confront the working class at and after the next election – and accumulate some advances on the road to that. That is, Respect, by advancing clear left alternative policies can not only gather forces that break to the left of Labour but also to prepare to link up with those inside the Labour Party who would oppose the policies of a right wing government.
I think that was just as wrong two weeks ago as it is now, but surely no-one can deny it is wrong now.