Tuesday 30 April 2024

Whither the Workers' Party of Britain?

At a slick rally-cum-press round outside of Westminster on Tuesday, George Galloway set out his ambitions for the Workers' Party of Britain. If the general election is "early" (June/July), there are 500 parliamentary candidates ready to go. If Rishi Sunak forces us to wait until November, they will stand in every seat in Britain. He added that he's in negotiations with three Labour MPs about defecting, and one member of the House of Lords. No hints who they might be, sadly. But he then bowled us a googly by announcing Monty Panesar as a star candidate. "I'm standing up for working class people", he said in a short statement. Asked about other candidates, Galloway said his party wouldn't contest some seats where there are strong independent challengers. He mentioned Jeremy Corbyn, should he decide to stand again, and hinted the same for Diane Abbott. Also, presumably, pro-Palestinian campaigns like that surrounding Leanne Mohamad in Ilford North - standing against Wes Streeting - will get a free run. But everywhere else, Galloway was adamant the coming election campaign would be a party building exercise. Those Labour MPs who are opposing Israel in Gaza will face a challenge as a vote for them is a vote for putting Keir Starmer in Number 10. Lest we forget his repugnant interview with Nick Ferrari, in which he endorsed war crimes.

There will be some on the left who routinely stand against Labour in elections who'll be put out by Galloway's ambition. The next steering committee meeting of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition is bound to be a hoot. But as Richard Seymour rightly observes, that section of the left can't complain. The two biggest parties on the far left are more interested in sect building than anything more ambitious than that. Small wonder the RMT packed its bags and left TUSC hanging. Why put resources into an electoral effort that is furloughed from one election to the next? Galloway is responding to a political vacuum that, for others, is treated nothing more than an opportunity to recruit a few dozen paper sellers.

The question is can the Workers' Party capitalise on Galloway's by-election victory and make a breakthrough at the next election? Labour seem convinced that they'll oust the Gorgeous One from Rochdale, but I'm not so sure. It was often said that the coalition of support Tony Blair and New Labour built was a mile wide but only an inch deep. Yet, the party won three elections and enjoyed significant poll leads over the Tories for the majority of that time. Regardless of what one thinks of its politics, the Labour government showed resilience in office. The same cannot be said for the coalition Starmer is putting together. Attracting Tories is no substitute for putting down the social roots required to prevent his project from getting buffeted by the howling political winds. Yet, not only is this what Starmer is intent on doing his constant retreats from popular, Labourist policies are actively pulling up those roots. Speaking about hope without offering any is a fool's errand. While we see huge polling leads for Labour popular enthusiasm is lacking and Starmer's personal ratings are firmly in the negative. As such, with a Labour victory a complete certainty there isn't a better time for a left electoral challenge. Which Galloway knows well.

Therefore, it's quite possible the Workers' Party could make some significant inroads. At the campaign event, Galloway introduced Aroma Hassan, who is standing against Angela Rayner in Ashton-under-Lyne. He boldy predicted she would capture 10,000 votes, which puts Labour's deputy leader at risk (her majority is 4,263). Many have been the times when Labour politicians have lectured others about splitting the vote, and Galloway is deliberately playing up to this well worn fear. And why not? You only have to see the rhetoric from leading shadow ministers to see how they hold significant chunks of their voter base in contempt.

Knowing British politics, it's exceedingly unlikely the Workers' Party will poll anywhere near 10,000 votes in any constituency. Except Galloway's own. But apart from the well known issues with its leading personality, there are issues with the Workers' Party's politics that puts its long-term viability into doubt. Despite its name, the most enthusiastic support is drawn not from Muslims per se but Muslim business owners. The operation is well-funded by the standards of the British far left, and though Galloway is not short of a bob or two his consistent campaigning has attracted donors that would previously, as a matter of course, given money to the establishment parties. This helps explain why, despite the differences between the Workers' Party and Reform/Brexit Party/UKIP, on social issues and "values" they are equally as socially conservative, if not authoritarian. Hence the anti-trans posturing we saw in Rochdale. But also like other populist projects, it's irredeemably nostalgic. For instance, Amjad Bashir, the restaurateur and catering businessman, lifelong supporter of right wing politics and former UKIP MEP for Yorkshire and the Humber at today's campaign launch said he wanted to see manufacturing brought back to Britain. Nothing wrong with this, especially when more manufacturing should be re-shored to cut down on shipping and air freight emissions, but in this context it's about evoking an image of a Britain that's passed to make the party's would-be supporters feel secure about the future. A backward looking, small-c conservative, old Labour Britain you might say.

The problem is such a prospectus is extremely time-limited in its appeal. As argued here many times before, the anti-woke rubbish peddled by establishment politicians and their useful idiots is a reaction against the diversity of the working class as it exists today, in 2024. Galloway and the Workers Party fetishise an image of the worker that doesn't exist any more. Their resolutely hetero, masculine characterisation of the salt of the earth working class might play well to retired people and a petit bourgeois imaginary that appreciates graft, but for the rising generation it's likely to be a huge turn off. And that's before you talk about Brexit and "strong borders". As Starmer's government encounters difficulties, unless a different left force not so encumbered emerges then the Liberal Democrats and the Greens are well positioned to capture this discontent, precisely because the Workers' Party has put itself on the other side of actually-existing workers' interests. Therefore you might expect it to win votes in future from layers who have or might otherwise support Reform.

Nevertheless, that's for the future. Right now with the Israeli genocide of Gaza's Palestinians in full swing and the roiling anger hitting the streets weekend after weekend, Galloway is well placed to seize the moment and use it to power the strongest challenge from the left of Labour since Respect's heyday in 2005, if not the Communist Party at its height in the 1940s. And he's in such a position because the others outside of Labour have readily ceded the political ground to him.


Anonymous said...

Good analysis. Sadly I think that the biggest consequence for the left is to stimy the already slim possibility of a post-Corbynite party emerging as an electoral force once disillusion with Starmer really kicks in after the election. With the Workers Party already operating, there is not much space for a more socially progressive left party. So The Greens it is for the anti-Statmer left - and perhaps that's no bad thing as the hope for a strong post-Corbynite party was probably already an illusion.

Anonymous said...

As a self-proclaimed postmodernist, Phil, you ought to know that there is nothing beyond the narrative. If the Workers Party want to tell us a story that evokes a nostalgic image of the working class, how is that different from the 'rhetoric/dominant discourse' from the other political parties? At least Galloway is 'foregrounding' the cause of the Palestinians and their genocide, a topic this blog has unapologetically pushed to the margins over the past 6 months.

Rob David Martin said...

George Galloway is nothing if he isn't about what is the now... He's using the present political climate tied to Gaza Genocide very well. I agree about his social conservatism it caught him out before. If I recall correctly the wonderful Salma Yacoub came up against this and left. GG. Then. One thing he might do Phil is contact you. He isn't adverse to asking for help. If he reads this excellent analysis he will be learning won't he.

Jim Denham said...

Galloway's wretched outfit id *not* a flawed left wing alternative to Labour, but a reactionary, homophobic, misogynistic, antisemtic red-brown monstrosity.

Aimit Palemglad said...

What is Galloway's motivation? It seems to be all about his ego and being in the limelight, but perhaps I am too unkind. There is a lot of unrest and frustration bubbling under at the moment, so he is obviously hoping to capitalise on it, but to what end? He surely realises he is unlikely to end up with more than 1 seat for his 'party'. Is he hoping to push Labour towards something? If so, what? His mix of conservatism and radicalism is confusing to many and possibly only really appeals to a narrow group of socially conservative Muslim voters. Is he imagining that by pressurising Labour he can get Starmer to a more Pro-Palestinian stance? I can't see that happening. Or does he not really have any aim other than to be talked about and invited on to Question Time?

Anonymous said...

Well, Labour (and even Starmer) have moved to a significantly less pro-Israel position since October 7th - and it is arguable outside pressure, and the electoral consequences amongst a previously reliable part of their electoral coalition, is a significant part of this.

But that does not make Galloway or the WP "good". Their underwhelming performance in Rochdale was actually a bit striking, given what went on in other similar areas.

Blissex said...

«Galloway is 'foregrounding' the cause of the Palestinians and their genocide, a topic this blog has unapologetically pushed to the margins over the past 6 months.»

I reckon that the people who write stories about the large massacres, over several years, in Sudan, Tigray, Myanmar, Yemen actually care about the victims and do not use their suffering to score anti-sudanitic, anti-ethiopitic, anti-burmitic, anti-sauditic points, because they cover all of these massacres, not just those useful for propaganda against those they despise.

"Jeremy Corbyn calls on Aung San Suu Kyi to end Burma's violence against Rohingya Muslims"

"Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Ind): I beg to move, That this House has considered the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia, Sudan and Tigray."

"I remain deeply concerned about the widely acknowledged humanitarian crisis in Yemen. Britain’s continued role in providing weapons and military support to Saudi Arabia while they are conducting military action against Yemen, including inflicting massive civilian casualties, is totally unacceptable."

TUAG said...


MarxistHistorian said...

She's running as an independent, but Fiona Lali is from the Revolutionary Communist Party, formerly "Socialist Appeal": https://fionalalircp.com/