“Galloway is the threat. Labour is f*****. No doubt about it, I think Galloway has destroyed the Labour party in this seat.” (Daily Mail)
In just four weeks of campaigning this June, George Galloway and the Workers Party of Britain dealt a serious blow to the Labour party and exposed its opportunist, racist and anti-working-class character to hundreds of thousands of people both inside and outside the labour movement.
Breaking the stranglehold of Labour on the working class
If the working class is to make any progress on its own account, it must first undermine, weaken and destroy the influence of the Labour party in the labour movement, which has for so long and in so many ways hampered all efforts at independent action.
For this break to happen, it is necessary to carry out broad exposures of the Labour party’s policies, its leading personalities and its history. A correct appraisal of the party’s history can most easily be obtained by a study of Harpal Brar’s comprehensive book Social Democracy, the Enemy Within. Once we appreciate Labour’s origins – the social and political background to its formation – it is easier to make sense of the party’s subsequent history and trajectory.
That history is one of service to the imperialist ruling class, whether before or after the blood-soaked premiership of Tony Blair. Although hundreds of thousands of well-meaning workers flocked to Labour’s banner during the period of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, the party’s overall trajectory remained the same. Despite the best intentions of Corbyn and these new members, they were unable to change Labour’s essential character, just as a leopard cannot change its spots.
Students of Marxism who had made a serious analysis of social democracy were aware that this was bound to be the case. But sitting smugly on the sidelines will not help us to bring this essential understanding to our fellow workers. Our party has instead made a point of learning to move flexibly and with unity of purpose, with one question always uppermost in mind: how can we move the struggle for socialism forward and help the working class come to its rightful place as master of society?
Our unity is not based upon family ties, jobs in the movement or grandiose conceptions of our size and strength; it is based upon a mutual confidence amongst revolutionaries who apply VI Lenin’s maxim “without revolutionary theory, there can be no revolutionary movement” to all their work. (What is To Be Done?, Chapter 1, 1901)
Once socialists have understood the history of the Labour party and drawn the correct political lessons, is it enough to carry out propaganda via small, isolated study groups devoted to the reading of pamphlets on this question? Can we satisfy ourselves with preaching revolutionary sermons to a labour movement that is wedded by a thousand ties to social democracy and the British ruling class? Not if we wish to succeed in our ultimate aims.
Only broad exposures in front of the largest possible numbers of working people can undermine over a century of habit and collaboration – and at the same time bring out from the ranks of the workers those who are capable of joining in with the current phase of our work.
And the time is ripe for the building of a mass socialist movement, a number of factors having come together to make it possible. This period now negates the previous one, during which only a thoroughgoing, principled exposure of opportunism in the labour movement could have held fast the positions of revolutionary socialism, preserved the vitality of our ideological weapons and mustered up the forces for a fresh assault.
The labour movement in recent decades was simply not under enough pressure from its membership or from the wider working class to force it to reconsider its cosy relationship with Labour party social democracy. Despite all the crimes and insults committed against their movement and their class, the leaders of this movement repeatedly demonstrated a total inability to break their links with Labour – to the detriment of workers and their industries, which have been gutted while Labour enthusiastically assisted in the export of capital, in attacks on working-class pay and conditions, and in the destruction of the essential services on which they rely.
These attacks eventually led to a passive political backlash and the inglorious end of the Labour party’s hold on its former parliamentary ‘heartlands’ – the so-called ‘red wall’. The failure of the unions to make an organisational break with Labour was matched by their failure to undertake a political break. In fact, if anyone was going to make the break it looked as though the party itself, well-funded by big business, might finally cut itself free of the labour movement.
Only now, in the aftermath of the collapse of Project Corbyn and with the skilful exploitation of the political situation, is pressure being brought to bear on a labour movement that is finally waking up to its utter impotence.
During the recent by-election campaign in Batley and Spen, all the contradictions between the mass of disenfranchised workers and the political and economic system under which they live were on stark display.
The widespread anger and cynicism of poor workers throughout Britain has led to them turning resolutely away from the Labour party, which has proved itself utterly worthless to them over the last 40 years of rising unemployment and poverty. Meanwhile, that party’s imperialist character, exemplified by its unqualified support for every zionist atrocity against the Palestinian people, is being exposed on such a scale and in such a way as to teach hundreds of thousands of workers a lesson in imperialism and class collaboration.
The social base and political character of the Labour party – for many years the ruling class’s chief representative amongst working people – is on show as never before.
Bringing the lessons home
Such lessons cannot be taught from books and single-issue campaign groups alone; they must also be demonstrated from workers’ own experience – brought out in such a way as to teach them something and to have some practical, positive result.
Thanks to the establishment of the Workers Party of Britain in December 2019, this is precisely what has been happening for the last 18 months. The consolidation and organisation of the party, though still new and far from strong, has enabled leader George Galloway to conduct a thorough and extremely effective political campaign against the ruling class.
Reaching huge numbers of workers, this agitation has also had the effect of exacerbating and deepening the crisis in the camp of Labour party social democracy, and of simultaneously replenishing and expanding the ranks of the Workers party.
In the course of carrying out this work, the political blows landed on the Labour party are instructive not only to the mass of apolitical and cynical workers, but also to those still active inside what remains of the wider labour movement. The political annihilation of Labour is a guarantee that the labour movement will be forced to think for itself, to look after the interests of its members without recourse to the political fortunes of a ship that is now scuttled.
Such a situation, if coupled with militant and honest economism (trade unionism), can lead to a growth and reinvigoration of Britain’s labour movement, free of the ties that have for so long shackled it to imperialism and prevented its taking any meaningful action in defence of workers’ interests.
Once again, it will be the job of revolutionary socialists to struggle to put the working-class movement onto the firm foundations of scientific leadership – and this time we must not fail.
Batley and Spen
For many years a Tory seat, the West Yorkshire parliamentary constituency of Batley and Spen has been in Labour hands since 1997. Work in the area was historically provided by the woollen industry, but its main visible industry now is bed-making.
The area has a strong radical history, with associations from Robin Hood to the Luddites. The Shears public house still stands on the Halifax Road, in whose upstairs rooms the first Luddite croppers took their oaths after they had been put out of work by new machinery. Here, the working class first grappled with a problem that was not to be solved until the Great October Socialist Revolution swept the working class to power in Russia and finally put society’s great technological advances at the service of workers, rather than at the service of capital.
From May 2015, the Batley and Spen constituency was represented by Jo Cox, until her murder by a right-wing extremist just 13 months later. Justifiably daunted by the prospect of contesting the WPB’s George Galloway, Labour turned to Ms Cox’s sister, Kim Leadbeater, to try to salvage its position.
Ms Leadbeater, who had never previously been involved in party politics, was selected against the party’s own rules and despite not actually being a Labour member. The cynical calculation was that she could play both the sympathy and the ‘local’ cards in an attempt to hold the seat.
In so deciding, however, the party rode roughshod over a number of long-serving local Labour councillors, several of whom had expected to be given an opportunity for selection – thus adding to the growing mood of disaffection in the party’s grassroots and amongst its wider support base.
A vigorous and inspirational campaign
The Batley by-election made national headlines as soon as George Galloway announced that he would stand, promising to be the mother of all political battles. A public fundraiser by the Workers party finally hit its £10,000 target on the eve of the election. With such a meagre budget, it was astonishing to see the vigorous campaign that the party’s members and supporters were able to put together.
Posters lined the area’s trunk roads; a ‘battle bus’ rattled down the streets; leaflets on a variety of local and national issues were posted through letterboxes; and every single day for nearly a month a core group of activists canvassed in all corners of the constituency.
At weekends, this core group was swelled by dozens more workers, trade unionists, socialists and communists, who came from near and far to help knock on doors and spread the word. Large groups of enthusiastic supporters accompanied Comrade Galloway around some of the area’s most neglected estates as he spoke to residents, held impromptu meetings and delivered rousing addresses from the middle of the street.
A vividly-expressed blog piece by Workers party activist Tess Delaney described the atmosphere of these canvassing sessions, and the way that George’s straightforward manner in discussing their issues and putting forward his suggestions for tackling them won respect and support from many individuals whose initial attitude had been suspicious or even hostile. (Batley and Spin, Postcards from the Hedge, 28 June 2021)
Videos on the Workers party’s YouTube channel also reflect the energy and variety of the campaigning, as well as demonstrating Mr Galloway’s excellent performance at various hustings and press interviews. Numerous attacks by Leadbeater at the hustings accusing George of “playing politics” and of “bringing politics into a campaign that should be about bringing people together” brought this response:
“We’ve only got a by-election because the Labour MP opportunistically went on to what she imagined was a better job, on double the wages! For Labour to be complaining that people are bringing politics into a parliamentary by-election is at best terribly naive …
“I will go on ‘bringing politics into it’, and as for bringing people together … the best way to do that is to get jobs and public services in shape.”
‘Never again’: increasing numbers of workers have turned their backs on Labour
What was particularly noticeable for those campaigning on the ground was the extent to which the poorest constituents had abandoned the Labour party. The anger at the party’s many betrayals was palpable, Brexit being, for many, the straw that broke the camel’s back, coming on top of decades of slow abandonment. Like anyone emerging from an abusive relationship, after years of ill-treatment, neglect and being taken for granted, once they had broken free of Labour’s suffocating embrace, they were unanimous in their cries of “never again”.
It is usual for Britain’s corporate media to describe those who do not vote as ‘apathetic’, but apathy was not a word that came to the minds of those knocking doors in the neglected council estates of the Spen valley. After all, given the perfectly correct conclusion that so many workers have come to that career politicians are ‘all the same’, ‘only out for themselves’, etc, what options are there for them at election times other than a protest vote for some equally useless party or not to vote at all?
Certainly, the residents in these estates have by and large given up waiting for their Labour councillors and Labour MPs to provide anything they need. From repairing homes, weeding communal spaces, fixing potholes and providing safe spaces where children can play to investing in youth and community facilities and ensuring that local industries are able to provide jobs, nobody now expects the Labour party at any level to deliver – or even to feign an interest in the things that matter to them.
Some residents who remember their estates in better times are still struggling valiantly to stem the tide of decay – carrying out repairs that the council has neglected, weeding and tidying the streets outside their gates, putting up lights in dark alleyways. Others have simply given up, stepping over piles of rubbish in the gutter and shrugging resignedly at the state of potholes “so large you could lie down in them”, as Comrade George so memorably put it.
One of the issues that came up again and again on the doorstep arose out of the combined effect of these failures with austerity cuts and unemployment: bored young people were making trouble in the streets that ranged from reckless moped riding at one end of the scale to violent crime at the other. Mothers of young children and old people alike complained that they felt unsafe even in broad daylight and cited the lack of even a modicum of community policing to deter these behaviours, along with the absence of any alternative opportunities for work or play for the youth in question.
Another common complaint was the lack of parks where children could play, leaving parents with the choice of letting their kids wander streets they felt were unsafe or keeping them cooped up inside. George’s simple suggestion that the Workers party would campaign to bring back park keepers touched on something fundamental to British working-class life: the destruction of community and of safe communal spaces; a lack of real care for the environment in which workers are trying to raise their families.
Is it any wonder that so many parents struggle to instil a sense of social responsibility in their children when everything in their kids’ surroundings is teaching them that their society has no interest in their wellbeing?
Many of the issues that were bothering Batley and Spen’s residents were, strictly speaking, council matters, not parliamentary ones, and yet they are concerns that are mirrored in estates up and down the country. The Labour party, which has run the councils in most of these deprived areas for decades, and often since their creation, wants to blame ‘Tory cuts’ for the devastation wrought by austerity and unemployment, but Labour in power not only did not reverse this direction, but actually accelerated it – assisting in the export of capital and jobs on the one hand and endorsing privatisation and cuts on the other.
Where, since 1997, has a Labour council or Labour MP led any meaningful opposition to the closure of a single library or community centre, never mind to the destruction of industries and jobs in their areas? No sit-ins, no fight-backs have been organised by these worthies; their only ‘contribution’ has been the constant demobilising exhortation that working-class campaigners should pin their hopes for salvation on the possibility of a new Labour government.
If a door-knocker took the first response of many workers at face value, they might well come away with the impression that the residents of Batley were indeed ‘not interested in politics’. But a little perseverance in starting a conversation soon revealed a different picture. Time after time, behind the ‘not interested’ knee-jerk reaction, a deep-seated anxiety over the fate of local communities and facilities was revealed.
Yes, Labour’s neglect and betrayals have led working people, the poorest most especially, to turn away from traditional ‘mainstream’ (bourgeois) politics; to give up voting in and engaging with elections. Beneath this alienation is a deep anger – an anger which was exacerbated by the apparent promise and later betrayal of the Corbyn period. But deeper still can be sensed a tiny but still-burning flame of hope: the not-quite-quenched desire that something or someone might come along in whom it would be possible to have some faith.
Having been misled and lied to for so long, workers are wary of believing too quickly in the promises of politicians on the doorstep. But the desire for decent leadership remains. The challenge for a small and new party that honestly wishes to serve the working class is that the trust of Britain’s poor workers will need to be earned. Feelings of cynicism and mistrust towards the entire political class and establishment will not be done away with by one or even several conversations on the doorstep; workers will need to see such a party working for them outside of election times in their daily lives, helping them to make positive changes, no matter how small, to their present conditions of existence.
This requires building a mass nationwide organisation with branches in every part of the country. It also requires steady and consistent work on issues affecting workers, combined with patient explanation and practical demonstration of the key difference between bourgeois and working-class politics and politicians.
Yes, the careerists who populate Britain’s political class are ‘all the same’ in the sense that their differences are mostly irrelevant to the mass of the people, reflecting only shades of opinon amongst the ruling class and differences in strategy over how to con workers of their votes. They all are all alike in serving the rich and they all earn their salaries by working to maintain the capitalist status quo.
Their only interest in working people is as voters at election times; in those who do not vote, they have no interest at all. They gain votes by use of mass media manipulations, by dividing workers against one another, and by making promises that are in general honoured only in the breach.
Working-class politics is something entirely different. True socialist organisations are populated by those who wish to represent the real interests of the working class against the capitalist status quo; who wish to help the workers come together and organise themselves to defend and fight for those interests.
The best working-class politicians are motivated not by fame or money but by a desire to change society for the better, to the benefit of the working-class majority. They can only gain the trust of workers by telling them the truth, and by proving their sincerity and steadfastness over time.
Palestine and war
Another issue that was a determining factor in the huge support George received amongst the sizeable muslim minorities of Batley and Spen (some of Pakistani and some of Indian Gujarati heritage) was that of Palestine – or, more properly, of the endless middle-eastern wars that have been waged by Labour and Tory governments alike over the last 20 years (Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Palestine, Palestine, Palestine, Palestine).
The 11-day war waged by Israel against the resistance forces of Gaza in May had brought these conflicts back into the spotlight, and the abjectly zionist position taken by Sir Keir Starmer in response had served to highlight the vast gulf between the party and its long-time supporters on this as on so many other issues.
This could not but contrast with the principled opposition to zionism and to imperialist war that has characterised Comrade George’s long political life. Not for nothing is he seen as a hero by those who feel that every other parliamentarian has betrayed them. At the cost of a good career in the Labour party, George stuck to his guns in opposing the criminal invasion of Iraq. His support for Palestine, meanwhile, has been consistent and active for decades, bringing him the love and loyalty of people all over the middle east as well as of antiwar activists in the imperialist heartlands.
Of course, muslims in Britain feel these wars most keenly – partly because of identification with their fellow religionists under attack, but also because they bear the brunt of the islamophobic campaign at home that has attempted to justify the wars to British workers and create a sense of an ‘enemy’ that ‘must’ be fought.
Still, imperialist warmongering is not of concern to muslims alone. Many former Labour supporters turned away from the party back in 2003 when Tony Blair was triumphally cheerleading for the invasion of Iraq, contemptuously brushing aside the antiwar sentiments of the mass of British workers. And the lies told to launch that war played a large part in creating the overwhelmingly cynical atmosphere, the total lack of trust that now prevails amongst British workers toward politicians and journalists in particular and the British establishment in general.
Be that as it may, George’s record on Palestine, Iraq and Kashmir in particular led to his being feted as a hero in some parts of the constituency, so that his visits in those areas looked more like street parties than canvassing sessions.
And here was the real danger for the Labour party and for the establishment generally: while they can cope quite happily with ever-larger numbers of workers giving up on voting at all, what they really fear is the emergence of a meaningful alternative to the Tweedledum and Tweedledee of Labour-Tory electoral politics: one that can persuade those still routinely turning out for Labour to switch their allegiance, and to motivate those who have given up on voting to re-engage with British electoral life.
Labour fights the Workers party, not the Tories
All of which would perhaps explain why it was that the Labour party’s campaign, while hardly mentioning the party itself at all and focusing very much on ‘local girl Kim’ was aimed squarely at attacking the Workers party as its main rival rather than taking on the Tories.
Indeed, the Tory candidate, whose name no-one even seemed to know, was conspicuous by his absence, having apparently concluded (probably correctly) that he would do better if no-one actually met him. Content to rely on the national narrative of ‘popular’ Boris’s ‘vaccine bounce’ and a general disgust at Labour, the Tory felt safe to avoid almost all activities in the constituency, including local hustings.
In focusing all her ire on Comrade Galloway, Ms Leadbeater had strong backing from the national media, which bent over backwards to paint George as (don’t laugh) a ‘careerist’ and an interloper, only ‘out for himself’ and intent on ‘stealing Labour’s votes’ through an ‘intimidating’ and ‘bullying’ campaign.
Such was the success of George’s campaign in propaganda terms – waged, by parliamentary by-election standards, on a shoestring – that it attracted an avalanche of vituperative attacks from the national press. While bookies slashed their odds on George winning the seat (from 100/1 to 10/1), journalists flooded into town to ‘interview’ him as a cover for attacking him.
It is not the purpose of this article to go into all the ins and outs of the deluge of lies that were aimed at swamping the Workers party’s campaign. One lie in particular was spread far and wide by an unquestioning media: that Mr Galloway had endorsed and supported a ‘bullying’ and ‘homophobic’ attack on Ms Leadbeater outside a mosque. This allegation, although totally untrue in all particulars, was repeated endlessly by national media and Labour campaigners alike, and used to support the assertion that Galloway was somehow beyond the pale.
Two interviews conducted by the attack-dogs of Channel 4 and the BBC News channel are particularly worth watching for the way in which Comrade George skilfully exposed the agendas of his ‘nice lady’ interviewers, demonstrating not only the hostility and bias behind their politely expressed accusations, but also their absolute insistence on sticking to Labour party talking points.
Indeed, the BBC interview in particular was such a car crash for interviewer Martine Croxall that the footage quickly went viral. Meanwhile, Channel 4’s Liz Bates (already infamous for smearing Chris Williamson as an ‘antisemite’) accused George’s campaign of being “thuggish” and “intimidating”, and complained that his posters were “dictatorial”.
Much more in this vein filled the election coverage of the national media. Labour lefties, meanwhile, were equally facing the very real prospect of a damaging defeat for Labour. Both Owen Jones (the Guardian, himself) and Aaron Bastani (Novara Media) visited Batley to try to explain away the popularity of the Workers party’s programme and the evident success of its campaign. While Bastani’s piece did attempt meaningfully to examine the factors in play, Jones’s was the usual mishmash of puerile ultraleft liberalism, essentially presenting any attempt to oppose Labour as tantamount to fascism.
Further invaluable assistance came to Ms Leadbeater from her colleagues in Labour-run Kirklees council (responsible for overseeing the electoral process and for counting the votes, let it not be forgotten). Comrade Galloway has written and spoken about the dodgy dealings of Leadbeater’s campaign and of the council, and a court case is being brought on the basis of these many irregularities.
To name but a few: Kirklees councillors were caught on film ripping down George’s election posters and destroying his supporters’ loudspeaker equipment. Photoshopped pictures of him holding weapons in one hand and his young children in the other appeared on social media (to absolutely no condemnation by the platforms or the wider presstitute fraternity).
Moreover, council workers were employed (at public expense) to pull down thousands of his posters from main roads just days before the election – an illegal action that coincided with the distribution of yet another Labour leaflet (itself a sign of a major overspend by the Labour campaign) which alleged that Galloway’s campaign was “running out of steam”.
And yet, even with such a heavy finger on the scales, Labour was running scared. An excellent documentary by former Labour MP Chris Williamson documented both the energy and enthusiasm in the Galloway campaign and the reasons for the mass desertion of Labour by so many workers. Leadbeater’s remaining activists could not but know from their meagre attempts at canvassing (only with their registered voters, mind you, not amongst the broader electorate) that they were not doing well.
And clearly their own polling was giving them bad news. Despite having sent a string of Labour MPs (presumably to make up the shortfall in local Labour campaigners) to the constituency to try to energise the campaign, Sir Keir Starmer was still briefing that Labour expected to lose the seat on the very eve of polling.
On election night itself, unsealed binbags were seen arriving at the count allegedly containing many thousands of ‘postal votes’ that appeared to change the course of the night entirely. According to one of the few observers at the tightly controlled (for ‘Covid’ reasons, of course) count: “George was matching Labour vote for vote, at one point he moved ahead of them. Then a whole slew of votes arrived on the table …”
And suddenly, as if by magic, Labour had plucked a ‘victory’ from the jaws of defeat, ‘winning’ by a margin of just 323 – less than one percent. But even with all these manipulations, they couldn’t hide the key facts: that Labour’s vote had collapsed precipitously; that the campaign had been forced to hide its connection to the party as much as possible; and that despite all manipulations, George Galloway’s Workers party had achieved a whopping 22 percent at its first parliamentary outing.
Labour’s future is in the past
This fact, more than any other, shows that the Workers party means business and is in prime position to build on its success in Batley and create the really independent working-class organisation that is so desperately needed.
Amongst all the hullaballoo, one or two commentators were able to see the real significance of the Labour party’s downward trajectory:
“The Tories have raised the prospect of Labour coming a catastrophic third in the Batley and Spen by-election, saying George Galloway seems to be ‘destroying’ the party’s campaign.
“Senior politicians who have been on the ground in the red wall constituency say that the hard-left former MP has been ‘hoovering up’ votes from muslim communities …
“One experienced Conservative source who has spent a lot of time there told Mail Online that turnout would be crucial, but estimated they could end up with 14,000 votes on 1 July and Mr Galloway might rack up as many as 12,000 votes, with Labour trailing far behind.
“Both Labour and Tory HQ played down the suggestion that Mr Galloway could take second place. A Conservative source tried to dampen expectations, saying: ‘We think it is neck and neck. It is Labour’s to lose.’ …
“But veteran campaigners are relentlessly downbeat about their prospects. Mr Galloway has been accusing Sir Keir of failing to stand up for Palestine and saying local voters have a chance to topple the leader.
“Speaking to the Mail on Sunday, muslim voters vented their anger at what they claimed was the Labour leader’s failure to speak up for Palestinians in Gaza being bombed by the Israelis …
“‘People have just had enough of us,’ one former Labour MP who has been out knocking doors told Mail Online. ‘They have given up on Labour.’
“The ex-MP said they were not sure how bad the result would be, but feared the by-election would be the next instalment in the ‘culture war’ and ‘identity politics’.
“‘We are a coalition of woke,’ they lamented, pointing out that the Tories would not have sent Boris Johnson to the seat on Friday unless they expected to win. ‘We have got to work out what we stand for.’ …
“The senior Tory source involved in the Batley and Spen campaign said: ‘We are worried about Galloway. The question mark is all about turnout.
“‘We have got to get our vote out, and we should win it. I think Galloway will hoover up the muslim vote – almost all of it.
“‘He should get around 12,000 votes – although it depends on turnout. If we get 14,000 we should be alright. Labour look like getting 6,000.
“‘Galloway is the threat. Labour is f*****.’
“They added: ‘No doubt about it, I think Galloway has destroyed the Labour party in this seat.’” (Could Labour come THIRD in Batley & Spen? by James Tapsfield, Mail Online, 23 June 2021)
As by-elections loom in various other Labour-held constituencies, more opportunities will present themselves for the Workers party to repeat this extremely creditable performance elsewhere, all the while spreading awareness of the party’s socialist platform and politics and establishing and strengthening local branches as it does so.
We have no doubt that the Workers party with George Galloway at its head will continue its excellent work in accelerating the demise of the Labour party and destroying that party’s ability to control and contain working-class anger and suppress its action against the manifold inequalities and injustices in British capitalist society.