Galloway’s motley crew - Weekly Worker

Date: unknown

Location: weeklyworker.co.uk

06.06.2024

Economic nationalism and anti-war internationalism are combined together with social conservatism. Paul Demarty has a look at the Workers Party and its quirky slate of candidates

The sudden lurch into a general election campaign has occasioned a flurry of slightly hurried campaign launches, and on June 1 it was the turn of George Galloway and his Workers Party of Britain.

Speaking in Ashton-under-Lyne, the Greater Manchester constituency of Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner, Galloway used his launch event - unsurprisingly - to lay into Sir Kier Starmer, denounce his vacillations on the question of Israel’s war in Gaza, and characterise him as a mere twin of the Conservatives: “I don’t know if, asked to choose between this cheek or that cheek of an arse, that I have any preference,” he quipped. Instead, “I want to boot that arse hard on 4 July in the general election.” He was bullish, as any leader should be under the circumstances, asserting that he would be “extremely disappointed” to get anything less than a double-figure parliamentary fraction by the end of it.1

We suspect he is not truly that optimistic. He will do well to keep his own seat, of course; his victory in the recent Rochdale by-election was impressive, but it was, after all, a by-election, and one in which Labour found itself without a candidate after a series of calamitous screw-ups. In the general election, we would normally expect two-party polarisation to reassert itself under Britain’s grotesquely undemocratic electoral system, and votes for Nigel Farage’s Reform outfit to drift back to the Tories (although, now that the Cheshire Cat himself has decided to throw his hat into the ring, maybe less so), and Galloway’s votes to go back to Labour. That is hardly an iron law: one obvious exception is the political fate of Scotland in the last decade, with the Scottish Nationalist Party achieving dominance over the Westminster delegation from Galloway’s homeland. Is the Gaza war a ‘black swan event’ on the order of the 2014 independence referendum? Time will tell, but it seems unlikely.

Raised eyebrows

The WPB has given itself something of a chance by at least getting together hundreds of candidates - something it was able to do in part because it was already furiously soliciting people for the job the moment Galloway got his breakthrough in Rochdale (the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition seems to be having a tougher time). It is difficult, at this point, to get much of a read on who these people are. A few have name recognition: Galloway himself, of course; Chris Williamson, formerly a Labour MP and standing in his old Derby seat; and Craig Murray, former British ambassador to Uzbekistan and anti-war veteran, will be standing in Blackburn. For a time, Monty Panesar, the former England cricketer, was to stand in Ealing Southall, but he dropped out after a week under intense media pressure.

Most of the other names on the list are not well-known, certainly beyond their localities (and perhaps within them too). In my own patch - Plymouth Sutton and Devonport - there is a Dr Guy Hayward, who seems to be a cardiology consultant with basically no political record. (His personal website mentions deforestation as a particular bugbear of his, and he is after all standing in a constituency which has not recently been kind to its trees … )

Some eyebrows were raised in Crewe and Nantwich, where the candidate is Phil Lane, the owner of a local pet supply business by the whimsical name of the Dog’s Dinner. He is very concerned that an out-of-town mall is “suck[ing] customers away” and that a promised car park has yet to open.2 It is not exactly the sort of stuff one would expect from a candidate for a workers’ party, but rather typical of the outlook of the sort of well-meaning petty bourgeois he appears to be.

Assuming that Mr Lane is representative of at least part of this general election slate, it would suggest that George is back up to some of his old tricks. Long-time readers may remember the glory days of Respect - a strange alliance between Galloway, the Socialist Workers Party and some Islamist fragments, which ended up running a lot of council candidates in major cities who were essentially well-connected local businessmen from, mostly, south-Asian Muslim backgrounds. The Weekly Worker’s Peter Manson had a lot of fun in those days interviewing such people on the ostensibly ‘socialist’ politics their party stood for. A certain Harun Miah, who stood for Respect in a council election in Shadwell in 2007, always stands out in the memory. What, comrade Manson asked, was his opinion on trade unions? “I do favour trade unionism. We need all the trade we can get!”3

There are already problems with the WPB from our point of view. For the Weekly Worker, both I and Carla Roberts have already discussed, in varying levels of detail, the lengthy and rather strange hodgepodge the party had already adopted as its electoral platform.4 As with people like Sahra Wagenknecht in Germany, the WPB has positioned itself as ‘socialistic’ or left-social democratic, when it comes to domestic economic policy, and anti-war in international politics, but combined these straightforward leftwing positions with conservative criticisms of progressive social orthodoxies. Galloway has made a point of distancing himself from gay and transgender rights, particularly as they pertain to education.

In doing so, he signals his solidarity with conservative Islamic sentiment in many of his target seats, but then also oddly managed to hoover up campaigners against ‘grooming gangs’, which overlaps with anti-Muslim sentiment in towns like Rochdale, where there have been major scandals on this front. It has also been argued that taking reactionary positions on social issues could be a deliberate effort to scare off the existing left groups from signing up en masse, as often happens when an exciting new initiative pops up. After his bruising encounter with the SWP in Respect, he may want to make sure that he remains firmly in the driver’s seat this time around.

Politics

That is one reason why it is hard to recommend a vote across the board for the WPB. It will matter a great deal what a particular candidate is standing on in some constituency - which of the party’s contradictory emphases they pick up.

The possibility of a whole crew of localist petty-bourgeois candidates of the Phil Lane/Harun Miah type is a particular case of this general problem; socialists should not usually involve themselves in the fate of pet food shops, however quaint. Our orientation is to the working class, which is defined by its reliance on the overall wage fund and therefore includes the unemployed, stay-at-home parents, and a whole bunch of proletarianised white-collar jobs - teachers, for instance - which are typically staffed by the university-educated progressives who will be rightly turned off by ‘Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve’ grousing.

Galloway instead seems to want to revive the politics of ‘official communism’, as it was before the old party became dominated by the Eurocommunists: a programme of quasi-autarkic national development, coupled with formal non-alignment in global politics - a sort of northern European Peronism. (This is, indeed, more or less the historic outlook of Galloway himself, who was long a fellow traveller and caused some controversy in the early 80s, when he proposed the affiliation of the ‘official’ CPGB to Labour.) This is intrinsically a cross-class politics, with ‘good’ productive national capital to be aligned with workers in pursuit of good, stable jobs. Economically speaking, the petty bourgeoisie proper are superfluous here, but as political representatives they can be useful: their intrinsic localism and dependence on the state makes them plausible ideologists for this kind of programme.

What is true for the WPB, of course, is even more true of the spate of ‘pro-Palestine independents’ who have announced candidacies (leaving aside cases where the ‘independent’ tag is simply dishonest, as in the case of Sheffield Brightside and Hillsborough’s Maxine Bowler - in reality an SWP member). It is, of course, admirable on an individual level that people are prepared to run these campaigns and attempt to help Galloway and others boot that arse. It shows some moral fibre. But what are their programmes? Are they also petty bourgeois localists of some type? The WPB at least has a programme - a flawed and odd one, but you can read it and get a sense of your alignment with it. It is at least conceived as a party - so if you are aligned, you can join it, pay dues and maybe stand as a candidate.

Equally, however, none of these should be considered show-stoppers. No doubt some of these independents are supportable, and the same is true of some WPB candidates. The truth is we do not have a great set of options in front of us, and will not until the left starts to take common organisation as communists seriously. Until then, electoral tactics serve only to help us get what purchase we can on the major issues of high politics of the day.

Galloway’s particular reactionary policies are to be fought against politically, not used as excuses for empty abstentionism. We have the policy of critical support available to us for a reason. It is particularly galling to see the SWP reaching for the smelling salts when Galloway offers another diatribe about trans issues, since it was not that long ago that the SWP was using its numbers to ensure Respect did not (for example) support abortion rights, all in the name of keeping George on side. The SWP leadership, as with sect leaderships generally, cannot cope with the idea of unity in spite of disagreements, of fighting issues out. Either you construct an illusion of perfect agreement, or you do the opposite, and treat particular contentious issues as indicative of total disagreement. To relinquish that framework would entail trusting the members to hold two ideas in their heads at once - a trust that has long been absent from the upper ranks of the SWP.

We should be on the lookout for supportable candidates in the WPB slate - people with some meaningful relationship to the working class movement, above all. However, we cannot abandon our critique of its nationalism, its sectionalism and its class collaborationism: ills, alas, to be found well beyond its own ranks.


  1. www.bbc.co.uk/news/articles/cxwwkrykv0zo.↩︎

  2. crewe.nub.news/news/general-election-2024/general-election-2024-meet-the-crewe-and-nantwich-workers-party-candidate-230589.↩︎

  3. ‘Respect - the party for everybody’ Weekly Worker August 1 2007 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/684/respect-the-party-for-everybody).↩︎

  4. P Demarty, ‘Selective memory syndrome’ Weekly Worker April 18 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1487/selective-memory-syndrome); C Roberts, ‘Third-period Bennism’ Weekly Worker May 9 (weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1490/third-period-bennism).↩︎