As the whole establishment supports apartheid Israel and churns out Islamophobia, George Galloway’s victory is hugely significant, writes Colin Wilson – but Galloway’s politics do not represent a principled left alternative.

National march for Palestine 17 February 2024 – photo by Steve Eason.

Voters in the Rochdale by-election have delivered a stinging rebuke to the establishment’s support for the ongoing genocide in Gaza. George Galloway won nearly 40 percent of the vote  after a campaign in which he presented himself as a champion for Palestine. The poll follows five months of Israeli attacks in Palestine and over 30,000 Palestinians dead, while the British government is still granting export licences to arms manufacturers and abstaining on UN ceasefire votes. Voters went to the polls having heard that Israeli troops had just opened fire on Gazans waiting for food aid and killed over a hundred.

The Tories support Israeli mass murder, and have turned to promoting Islamophobia. Tory MP Lee Anderson claimed last week that Sadiq Khan, London’s Muslim mayor, had ‘given our capital city away to his mates’. Suella Braverman wrote in the Telegraph that ‘the Islamists, the extremists and the anti-Semites are in charge now’. Rishi Sunak claimed that democracy was threatened by ‘mobs’. The Tories are whipping up racist scapegoating in a frantic attempt to divert attention from their position on Palestine and to ward off annihilation at the polls.

In this context, it is hugely significant that the crisis in Gaza has created a political earthquake in this by-election. If Sunak thought that Islamophobia and crackdowns on Palestine solidarity would dissuade voters from turning out for someone who was seen as the ceasefire candidate, he was gravely mistaken.

The movement for Palestine is already on a huge scale and growing every day as new groups are established and protests take place. The huge marches continue, as do the local protests, the lobbies of MPs, the die-ins in train stations and so many other activities. YouGov polling shows that 66 percent of people now want a ceasefire, while only 13 percent support continued Israeli military action.

Yet the Labour leadership does nothing to support the movement – it fails to condemn Israel and even promotes Islamophobia. Last week in the Commons chaos broke out after Labour wrote its own motion on Palestine so as to avoid supporting an SNP resolution which accused Israel of war crimes.

Palestine isn’t the only issue where Labour falls horribly short. It was in Rochdale that toddler Awaab Ishak died in 2020 after being exposed to hazardous mould in his home. Over one in four children in the borough live in poverty, and in the most deprived areas, over half do. Majority-Asian areas in the centre of the town are some of the most deprived – though there are also deprived white-majority areas further out. And, as everywhere, people face the cost of living crisis and a collapsing NHS  –  yet all Starmer promises is neoliberal business as usual. No wonder that a local businessman promising in effect ‘local politics for local people’ could come second to Galloway.

Many people will have been glad to hear Chris Williamson, of Galloway’s Workers Party, saying on BBC radio on Friday morning that ‘the government and the official opposition are effectively facilitating the genocide in Gaza’. But, while much of the media associates the Workers Party with the left, a lot of their political positions are right-populist rather than left-wing. Back in 2021, Galloway summed up its stance with the words ‘We are the working-class patriotic alternative to fake woke anti-British “Labour.”’

The organisation supports Palestine, state pensions for all at 60 and an end to creeping privatisation in the NHS. But concern about the climate emergency is dismissed on its website as ‘apocalyptic green hysteria’; they claim that the Workers Party will ‘oppose all attempts to impose identity politics’, will ‘not be soft on crime’, regards the family as ‘the bedrock of society’ and ‘is proud of our armed forces and its traditions’. They also ‘oppose ULEZ initiatives because of the costs they impose on working households and small businesses.’ As regards immigration, ‘the Workers Party of Britain offers a migration policy that reflects the anxiety felt among the working class about an influx of migrants which appears to be out of control.’

Williamson was also asked, ‘Did you welcome the endorsement of Nick Griffin?’ All he had to do was say no, he had nothing in common with Britain’s best-known fascist. Instead, he replied that ‘You can’t spurn an endorsement’ – this, when his party had just won an election with the support of many Muslim voters.

Millions are taking action for Palestine. Millions are horrified by the cost of living, the housing crisis, the climate emergency, the state of the NHS. The real crisis for democracy isn’t a protest outside parliament – it’s the absence of a credible alternative to the neoliberals and racists, to the establishment consensus in support of apartheid Israel. That crisis has got Galloway elected – but we need to build a radical socialist alternative to establishment politics in Britain. The movement for Palestine provides one strong basis to do just that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *