Canceling George Galloway ignores his dangerous appeal to the far left and right | Michael Chessum

gEorge Galloway’s victory in the Rochdale by-election was greeted with a complacent shrug by most commentators. After all, Galloway has a history of pulling off surprise victories in by-elections only to quickly disappear, and his success this time around was largely down to chance. Perhaps if Labor had not been forced to suspend its candidate after he was recorded at a public meeting claiming that Israel planned the October 7 attacks, Galloway would not have won. Perhaps the whole episode tells us little about the outcome of the next general election, and even less about the future of British politics. Then again, maybe not.

Things would be simpler if we could take Galloway and the British Workers’ Party (WPB) he leads at face value. They claim to be a left-wing group which won Rochdale following a surge in pro-Palestinian sentiment following Israel’s brutal attack on Gaza. But the truth is murkier. During this campaign, Galloway’s team sent more than one correspondence. One, addressed to Muslims in the constituency, urged voters to “use their vote to send a message to Keir Starmer and the Labor Party: stop supporting genocide, stop supporting Israeli aggression and support Palestine.”

His other campaign speech, targeting a different demographic, tells a different story. It highlights Galloway’s support for Brexit, his opposition to Scottish independence and his support for family values. An entire paragraph is devoted to laying out his opposition to transgender rights and his belief that “God creates everything in pairs.” “I believe in law and order,” the letter read. “There will be no grooming gangs in Rochdale. Even if I have to stop them myself. It ends with a deliberate nod to Donald Trump, promising to “make Rochdale great again”. Alienated white voters played a key role in Galloway’s winning coalition.

The WPB is as interested in social conservatism as it is in left-wing economic policies. He promises decent housing, better-funded public services and workers’ rights. But he also promises to combat the “ridiculous intersectional ideology of radical liberals” and end net zero emissions. Perhaps this is why Nick Griffin, Britain’s most famous far-right leader, called for a vote for Galloway in Rochdale, saying that Galloway “understands the position of white, working-class Britons on the immigration “. Chris Williamson, a former Labor MP and now deputy leader of the WPB, was interviewed on the BBC show. Today program if he wants to move the party away from Griffin’s support. He refused to do so.

Galloway’s political change can be measured in organizational terms. When he was expelled from the Labor Party in 2003, he joined Respect, a left-wing party that emerged from the movement against the Iraq war. Galloway last defended Respect in 2015, when he lost Bradford West to Labor. In 2020, he had completely shifted gears by founding All for Unity, an unsuccessful attempt to bring together Scottish unionists, including Conservative and UKIP figures, ahead of the 2021 Scottish parliamentary elections. Today, Galloway leads the WPB, which campaign, in his own words, “for the workers and not for the workers”. While Respect often relied on the militant work ethic of the Socialist Workers’ Party (SWP), the WPB was until recently supported by the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), an explicitly Stalinist organization. The authoritarian and socially conservative group were excellent bag bearers for Galloway’s long march away from the left.

Everywhere in Europe, the figures are playing with the same strategy. Sahra Wagenknecht was until recently a prominent spokesperson for Germany’s left party. She broke away last year to found her own project and now has around 7% of the vote ahead of May’s European elections. Like Galloway, she takes an explicitly conservative agenda on culture war issues and opposes environmentalism. She has long called for a rollback of Germany’s reception of refugees, once warning that “there should be no neighborhood where natives are in the minority.” Like Galloway, she criticized Covid lockdowns, playing to an audience otherwise courted by the far right. And, like Galloway, Wagenknecht spoke of Putin’s right to resist “NATO aggression.”

There are many reservations about Galloway’s success at Rochdale. The demographic coalition he is trying to unite — Muslim voters angry about Gaza and socially conservative, working-class white voters — are not obvious partners. It is more than possible that Labor will regain its seat in the general election. But there’s more to politics than election results, and after a decade of upheaval, it’s unwise to overlook what Galloway represents. Received wisdom considers him a marginal figure on the left whose moment in the sun will pass. It’s the opposite: Galloway is no longer bound by the left, and freed from it, he is dangerous.

Michael Chessum is a freelance writer and socialist activist.

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