Link to this page: https://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/391/4429
Galloway election victory shocks Blair
The high-profile victory of George Galloway, standing for Respect in Bethnal Green and Bow, will be welcomed by many around the country – as an antidote to an election campaign which, at national level, has been completely dominated by the free-market policies of the three parties of big business – Tory, New Labour and Liberal.
George Galloway’s campaign has undoubtedly tapped into the mood of radicalisation and anger at New Labour – in particular amongst the Muslim community (around 40% of the electorate in the constituency) many of whom have entirely broken with New Labour as a result of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, and the increased repression suffered by Muslims here in Britain.
The Socialist Party welcomes this victory and called for a vote for Respect – a party that stands to the left of the big three – and that demands bringing the privatised utilities back into public ownership, an £8 an hour minimum wage, and the ending of occupation of Iraq.
However, we would have preferred Respect to have been launched as a more inclusive and democratic party that aimed to build a base amongst all sections of the working class.
New Labour’s third term – whether Blair or Brown is in the driving seat - is going to see a massive escalation in privatisation and attacks on the working class.
In facing this onslaught the working class will have a burning need for a new mass party that represents its interests.
Regrettably, George Galloway has not, at this stage, clearly drawn the conclusion that a new party is needed and has mistakenly raised the prospect of Respect possibly playing a part in a process of "reclaiming" the Labour Party.
This is utopian, as Bob Crow, general secretary of the RMT (railway workers’ union) recently declared,
"the Labour Party can’t be changed. We need a new party to represent working men and women."
Whether George Galloway and Respect play a positive role in the process towards forming such a party will depend on the approach they adopt in coming struggles.
Unfortunately in this general election, unlike the Socialist Party, Respect did not stand on a clearly socialist ticket. Respect hoped that, by not being explicitly socialist, they would broaden their appeal. And it certainly true that, in addition to George Galloway’s victory, Respect achieved some good results in other areas including over 8000 votes in East Ham and over 6000 votes in West Ham.
However, in areas without large Muslim communities their votes appear comparable to those previously achieved by the explicitly socialist Socialist Alliance and to those achieved the Socialist Party in this election.
To give one example of the negative consequences of not standing on a clear socialist programme: during the Rover crisis, while the Socialist Party called for the trade unions to lead a struggle for the nationalisation of the plant under democratic workers’ control, Respect’s leaflet limited itself to demanding that the government hand over the £100 million loan that the asset-strippers Phoenix had demanded – effectively calling for the corrupt bosses to be further subsidised.
Of course socialists should work together with, and attempt to win the support of, Muslim workers, who are among the most oppressed sections of society in Britain. At the same time we must actively oppose Islamaphobia against all Muslims, regardless of their class background.
However, a new workers’ party will not be built be appealing overwhelmingly to one section of the working class.
Nor does that mean putting forward policies which run contrary to interests of the working class as a whole in order to gain the support of a section of Muslims.
Unfortunately, a number of leading Respect candidates, including George Galloway, have done so by supporting expanding faith schools and opposing abortion.
While George Galloway and others are, of course, entitled to a personal opinion on these issues, given the lack of any other point of view coming from the Respect leadership, it appears to be Respect policy, and could alienate broad sections of workers and youth who are looking for an alternative.
A new party of the working class will be built primarily as result of important sections of the working class entering struggle and seeing the necessity of building a political alternative to the capitalist parties.
To be successful a new party will need to bring together forces such as socialists, trade unionists and the anti-war movement in an open, democratic structure.
We hope the election of George Galloway as Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow will mark a positive step on the road to such a party – but to do so Respect will need to change the approach it has taken up until now.
In The Socialist 6 May 2005: