George Galloway, the media, and the end of Respect

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.

  1. I don’t think most of the people attacking Galloway could care less about rape. They’re just glad to get a chance to red bait.

  2. Two Million on the streets of London in 1973 – really – what was that about then?

    I know I was in Liverpool then but I don’t remember hearing about it?

    Maybe it is a case of too eager to publish to proof-read?

    I cannot see The Labour Party being the answer to the UKs problems until they become democratic, one member one vote – no electoral college stuff – plus a serious campaign to reform UK voting system and the House of Lords based on integrity not political expediency.

  3. “I think that was just as wrong two weeks ago as it is now, but surely no-one can deny it now.”

    Eh? I might be reading this wrong but I don’t get what it is trying to articulate. Sorry comrades!

    Also, 1973? Really? When 1973?

    • Not 1973. Quite right. I meant 2003 – now corrected.

      “I think that was just as wrong two weeks ago as it is now, but surely no-one can deny it now.”

      What I meant was that no one can deny it is wrong now that it is self-evident that Respect has lost buckets of credibility.
      Again I have amended the text to clarify.

  4. I,m not going to re-run my long post below about what Respect was in Tower Hamlets as I see that no-one has bothered to try and contradict me.

    One of the main mistakes that the left in this country have made in assessing Respect is that they viewed it from afar, understandable as it was an East London show now in Bradford, and were able to look at it through the rose tinted spectacles that they always use when trying to deal with at anything that smacks of revolutionary change.

    Living in amongst the process in Tower Hamlets I read with amazement at a revolutionary movement that was supposed to be taking place around me described on the internet by people who had never set foot in the borough.

    The left has an unprecedented capacity for self delusion that seems to survive every disaster and I have no doubt that the next green shoots of the revolution will be seen in an isolated strike or occupation.

    I have assessed Respect in Tower Hamlets as Syhleti village power brokers who could turn out the votes but also turn them off. An internationally known demagogue, political huckster and all round self promoting charlatan in the shape of Galloway and the useful idiots of the SWP who could mobilise the wider left and who thought they could control the whole process by their well practised methods of vote rigging and the packing of meetings. The Bangladeshis ran rings around them.

    Outside of the authoritarian left and two South Asian communities in a couple of inner city areas Respect never existed. The wider electorate shunned it because of Galloway, who is roundly hated by most people in this country, and because of the glaringly obvious, except to the left that is, fact that Respect was always a Muslim project.

    In Tower Hamlets its lasting effect is that the white community is now even more hostile to the Bangladeshi than it was before. While it existed Respect was a farce, its long lasting effects will be tragic.

  5. This is certainly not the end of Respect. What you don’t factor in is that it is the relationship between hard-pressed Muslim communities and the Labour party that is collapsing. It was strained before the illegal and murderous Iraq war that bought great fear to these communities of a coming crusade but following the invasion it began to unravel completely. As with the Scottish working classes the relationship with the labour party is being severed because of years of piss taking. Respect by taking a radical stand against the war has been able to make sure that the disillusionment does not either end in political apathy or worse feelings of violent sectarianism amongst Muslim youth and give their righteous grievances a socialist and labour movement expression. Respect is not going away and we all better hope that it does not. By contrast far from reverting to principled socialist politics to win back the various different groupings of workers it has lost probably forever Labour has sought out some of the most opportunist elements in these communities to represent them which is the opposite policy needed to win these groupings back. Labour’s representatives and CLPs in minority communities are now amongst the most opportunist and one look at Scottish Labour today will tell you that they are almost entirely degenerate.

    I certainly do not agree with the witch hunters that Galloway is in anyway some kind of rape apologist. His comments about that specific aspect were measured enough but I do think you are right that he has done Assange no favours however both will recover as the issues are sorted out and the Islamaphobes, zionists, pro-imperialists of all kinds that infest the labour movement continue to over-reach themselves and undermine their own case like Jimmy Glesga above now hil-ar-i-ous-ly calling himself the madmullahofbricklane.

  6. I personally am sad to see Respect unravel. They were a lone voice of change and in the form of George Galloway could command media attention. He made a slip when he commented on rape which the media who in general hate what he represents and the threat that it poses to the class that they represent, castigated him unmercifully, mainly by misquoting him. Well, as for working inside the LP, how many times have we heard that, I just wish there was some tangible results to show that this can and has ever worked and produced any step forward. We need more Galloway’s !

  7. Well they won’t be calling you clever Trevor, will they Trev? Not only is your post ridiculous the possessive wasn’t required in the last sentence.

  8. I do love the idea of the left, I’m sill looking to find more then a handful of people within Respect, or Labour who is the Left.

  9. The second comment from themad one is rather ironic as he starts his own first comment with I,m. Come again?

  10. George Galloway is no doubt in many ways a great politician, certainly an electric orator. However, he does have the habit of going over the top with his comments. To a certain extent he knows this eg he profusely regretted his infamous comments to Saddam. By the way, a good comment, Respect was a reaction to Blairism that has failed to develop as a strong independent force. Now Blairism is on the back foot, Respect has an even smaller chance of developing.

  11. Just checking Matty, I’m making just making sure you’re a real person. Anything to say about the main menu?

  12. “I’m making just making sure you’re a real person.”

    Are you writing this one-handed or something?