George Galloway: would-be Populist Leader
On the day the results of the recent Batley and Spen by-election were announced a Labour Party supporter responded to a comment about the meagre majority achieved. He was insistent that the 323-vote margin would have been 8,000+ higher had it not been for the appearance of George Galloway for the Workers Party of Britain.
From a purely psephological point of view the Galloway performance was remarkable for a representative of a small, leftish party. Nearly 22 percent of the vote secured a comfortable third place, a good 7,000 votes ahead of the Liberal Democrat, 5,000 or so behind the winner.
So perhaps the disgruntled Labour supporter had a point, except, of course, there is a large presumption involved. There is no way of determining whether an absence of Galloway and his new party would have resulted in in his 8,000 votes defaulting to Labour. Indeed, the experience of the previous by-election in Hartlepool suggests the Conservative candidate might have been a beneficiary too, especially given Galloway’s pro-Brexit stance.
There is a strong suggestion that Galloway profited from an alienated Muslim vote who may have perceived themselves as being tainted by Labour’s broad brush anti-Semitism accusations levelled at almost any anti-Zionist or pro-Palestinian. It must be galling for a community more often the target of racism to feel themselves viewed as racists by the party they traditionally supported.
There is surely little doubt that the impressive vote was for Galloway personally rather than being an ideological breakthrough by the Workers Party of Britain. He has a background of championing anti-Zionism and favouring Islamic causes. There have even been suggestions that he converted from Roman Catholicism to Islam, although he has denied this.
The Workers Party of Britain appears to be a left-wing manifestation of that recent political phenomenon, populism. On its website the Party states it is a response to a need following the defeat of Corbynism. It believes:
- The importance of a planned economy directing the role of the state.
- Free-market fundamentalism has gutted British industry, castrated society and destabilised the working class.
- The state should guide economic life.
- The working class needs to be united on shared class interests to struggle for socialism.
- Countries that have tried to build the socialist new world include the USSR, China, Cuba et al.
- Brexit is a positive move to secure Britain’s independence to pursue fiscal and monetary policies and take key utilities and transport into public ownership.
There is ‘A ten-point programme for workers’ promoted on the Party’s website that sits easily with left-Labour aspirations. It has garnered the support of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), which situates itself in the tradition of Stalinism and Maoism. Indeed, Galloway’s deputy leader Joti Brar is from a family closely associated with the CPGB (ML). For the Workers Party of Britain the problem is free-market capitalism, the solution… state capitalism.
Galloway has been here before of course. In 2005 he did even better, winning the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency for Respect, a political grouping backed on that occasion by the Socialist Workers Party. A parting of the ways quickly followed and it would seem he has moved from the neo-Trotskyist camp to the neo-Stalinist one. Either way, the prospects for democracy would be dim should such a grouping ever succeed.
Is it a party at all, or a Galloway supporters’ club? It seems highly unlikely that some John or Joan Smith standing for the Workers Party of Britain in Batley and Spen would have garnered anything close to 8,000 votes and their performances elsewhere have been derisory.
Personality politics blurs the line between those who’d style themselves left or right wing. Thus George Galloway was quite sanguine about sharing a platform at a Brexit rally with Nigel Farage. The public moment being far more crucial than principles.
The charismatic leader, or a leader who thinks himself charismatic, becomes all important. A previous attempt to displace Labour as the party of the working class in Yorkshire was the now less than marginal Socialist Labour Party led by Arthur Scargill who tried to politically exploit the prominence he gained from the 1984/85 miners’ strike. Indeed, the CPGB (M-L) was a split from it.
What these parties have in common is being political cul-de-sacs. Setting aside implications of serious democratic deficit in its politics, should the Workers Party actually succeed in displacing the Labour Party nothing much would change for the working class.
With Galloway as prime minister implementing his 10-point plan the workers would still be working for wages that represent only a portion of the value their labour power creates. After all, ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’ has successfully created numerous billionaires while the working masses most definitely do not have control of the means of production and distribution.
In other words, the Workers Party in power would replace capitalism with capitalism, and a less successful version of capitalism if some the models quoted on the Party’s website are anything to go by.
The Batley and Spen by-election is a demonstration that there are no answers to the problems created by capitalism for the working class in any of the parties on offer, major or minor, left wing or right wing.
Kim Leadbeater MP made the usual platitudinous vague promises to serve all the community, bring people together and further local interests. Had the Tory won he would have spouted an almost identical speech. Similarly, the LibDem. Galloway would undoubtedly have been more vocally belligerent, but it would have amounted to the same.
This is because community divisions, Brexit, economic decline and the plethora of other problems are rooted in capitalism. The dreadful murder of Kim Leadbeater’s sister Jo Cox, the then sitting MP, was an extreme example of politics under capitalism. It is a system wasteful of human lives that is immune to political point scoring.
The Labour Party supporter decrying George Galloway for undermining the Leadbeater vote remains politically blind, as presently all too many are. There are no short cuts, no inspired leaders, no previous models to draw on. Only a majority recognition of the need for a system of common ownership of economic means, moneyless and cooperative – socialism – can address those problems people have in common, even as they seem to be divided.
Until popular delusions can be effectively dispersed the people of Batley and Spen and everywhere else in the world will continue to labour for the pecuniary benefit of the capitalist few.