Thursday, February 01, 2007

Galloway in parliament

Over at the home of SWP blogger, Richard Seymour (who rather immodestly calls himself Lenin), there is a video clip of Galloway’s speech to the Commons in the recent Iraq debate. The interesting thing about the picture is how it shows Galloway’s physical isolation, and body language discomfort.

He has found a place to stand in the farthest corner, and clearly has no relationships with other MPs. This is not a new development, and Alan Simpson MP said that in the run up to the crucial vote over war on 20th March 2003, Galloway played no part in helping other left MPs to lobby their Labour colleagues, even though at that stage he still had the Labour whip.

At one level of course the value of the House of Commons as an arena for political activity can be overestimated, but it can also be underestimated. In order to make progress we need to both understand the political context we are operating in, and also use what resources we have.

I discussed the current situation in the Labour Party in an article last year. “The Labour Party has a broadly progressive electoral constituency, and historical links with the trade union infrastructure, but it is in continued antagonism with both of these elements. Nevertheless, although the Party no longer articulates the aspirations of these support groups, they do provide a constraint upon it, and mediate the transformation of the Labour Party, so that it appears less dramatic than it is.”

No viable alternative to the Labour party can be built unless it relates to Labour’s electoral base, which means not only appearing as rupture from New Labour, but also stressing continuity with the historical traditions of Labour, and that means using every opportunity for parliamentary work alongside the Labour left. This is particularly important as the Trade Unions want parliamentary representation, and will never abandon the Labour party, however right wing it becomes, unless there is a viable parliamentary alternative.

The Labour Party stands at a critical juncture. The party’s infrastructure is irreversibly wedded to neo-liberalism, it is the party of war, privatisation and corruption, yet the left face the sobering prospect that John McDonnell may fail to get on the ballot for the leadership. Were Respect even remotely serious it would see the vital necessity for Galloway to work closely with other left MPs. But that would mean holding Galloway to account to the party, something that Respect's leadership have consistently opposed. The resource of having an MP is squandered.

Let us put this in context. Much comparison has been made between Galloway and Phil Piratin winning Stepney for the Communist party in 1945. In fact there were four left of Labour MPs elected that year. In addition to Piratin, Willie Gallagher retained his Fife seat for the CP, Naomi Mitchison won Chelmsford for the left wing Common Wealth party; and Independent Labour candidate, D N Pritt (the Galloway of his age?) was also returned to parliament.

Mitchison shortly joined the Labour Party, but Piratin, Gallagher and Pritt navigated through parliament to build a network of support with Labour MPs.

Although the CP was much bigger than any left group today (56000 members in 1945, 215 elected councillors, and a paid daily paper sale of 120000 (200000 on Saturdays)), the party struggled due to incorrect strategic decisions such as supporting the forcible merger by the Russians of the two left parties (KPD and SPD) in Germany, and supporting the Communist coup in Czechoslovakia – this damaged its reputation among many activists concerned about democracy. It was hindered not only by this Cold war polarisation, but also the Labour Party was revelling in its most heroic phase, and socialists were at home in it.

The achievements of the CP’s MPs are therefore even more remarkable. They worked alongside a group of other left MPs, including John Platts-Mills, Ian Mikardo, Lester Hutchinson, Leslie Solley, Sydney Silverman, Geoffrey Bing, Emrys Hughes, D. N. Pritt and William Warbey, and of course Konni Zilliacus.

It might seem fanciful to suggest that Labour would break with its left MPs today. Yet the ideological gap between Blair and the Campaign group is at least as great as the gap between Attlee and the left. No one can predict exactly what will happen, and the left MPs are out on a limb.

During the 1945 to 1951 parliament there were two sets of expulsions of Labour MPs: John Platt Mills was expelled in 1948 for organising support for socialists in the Italian election, and Zilliacus, Hutchinson and Solley were expelled in 1949 for opposing the formation of NATO. This could not have been predicted in 1945, and was partly the result of patient relationship building between the left Labour and Communist MPs, which meant involvement in mundane parliamentary routine together.

Had Respect spent the last three years building viable democratic branches that labour movement activists were comfortable in; and had Galloway worked to be an indivisible part of a left group of MPs, cooperating over parliamentary opposition to war and neo-liberalism, then we would be in an entirely different situation.

I have never read a convincing account by the SWP of how they see Respect's electoral acheivments fitting into the big picture. However in March 2005 I did have a chat with John Rees when we were both waiting to address an FBU branch. Rees said that a good electoral showing for the left could shift the political climate, and in his words "float all our boats". This does make sense as Respect supporters constantly talk about their high votes, fethishising this over the value of sustainable organisation, membership or relationship building. What is more, it does explain the Coalition model over a party organisation - as a good electoral showing for Respect would float the SWP's boat.

Should McDonnell’s campaign fail, it will reveal the strategic cul-de-sac that the Labour left finds itself in – yet none of them will for one second contemplate joining a hollowed out, undemocratic lash up between the SWP and a handful of local Muslim personalities, with a gadfly MP too busy for politics while he preens himself for a celebrity media career.


Snowball said...

The reason Galloway has to sit where he sits in the House of Commons is because if he sat with the left Labour MPs (all 12 of them) he would be on the 'Government' benches. As he is not part of the Government but an 'Opposition' MP he has to sit with the Tories and Lib Dems etc. The fact he sits so far from them in a corner by himself is to his credit - I only wish some other Left Labour MPs would have the courage to cross the floor and sit with him.

AN said...


The seating plan in the commons is only a convention - provided he does not speak from the despatch box, he can sit where he likes. As a former Labour MP he could have toughed it out, and should have toughed it out.

But in any event the issue is only symbolic of the fact that Galloway does not take parliament seriously.

The prospect of Labour MPs joining Galloway is precisely the issue that is amazingly unlikely given galloway's failure to work in parliamnt, and the undemocratic and unapealling organistaion that respect has become. That was the pint of my post.

Anonymous said...

This dislocation goes back a long way.
Even to Dundee.
When the predominantly ex communist group in the Dundee Labour Party found out what Galloway had been up to with the cash,it was decided a candidate must be put up against him in the safe Labour Ward he'd been selected for.
Step forward a redoubtable Trade Unionist, Bunty Turley, and the slogan,, "Enough is Enough"
George,soundly beaten and bye bye Dundee.

AN said...

Intertsingly, I was organising a Stop the war public meeting with Galloway in Swindon around the time he was expelled, and I believe our meeting was his first public event after his explusion (within 24 or 48 hours, I forget).

What I noticed was that the staff member we were dealing with in his Westminster office changed immediatley after his expulsion, I have no firm evidence, but I infer that he didn't even take his own parliamantary staff out of the Labour party with him.

Anonymous said...

You're not referring to him bringing in an attractive Lebanese squeeze on the payroll are you?

neprimerimye said...

The assertion that there were four 'left of Labour MP's' in 1945 is far off the mark if we consider that proposition from the standpoint of class.

In other words the representatives of the CPGB must be considered to have been to the right of Labour in that they were elected on the basis of a program that called for a Popular Front and were against Labour taking power alone. The same is true of Pritt who in this period followed the Stalinist line on most questions. As fopr the remnant of Common Wealth, much of it having already cllapsed into Labour, it was not a workers party but consisted of petty bourgeois elements radicalised by the war but otherwise lacking a socialist program distinct from the state capitalist project of Labour.

That the Stalinist MP's and their fellow worshippers of tyranny in the Labour Party moved to the left after 1947 was a result of their shared opposition to socialism from below and the needs of the boss class in Russia to which they were linked. It was also a function of the lack of a revolutionary alternative which enabled the Stalinist charlatans to pose as na alternative.

If Respect the opportunist alliance resembles any of the formations of that period it must be Common Wealth. If only because it is essentially based on a section of the petty bourgeoisie and is neither socialist or proletarian in its political nature.

Anonymous said...

Galloway has always been part spiv,part Stalinist and part small man syndrome.

The revulsion of women in the Glasgow Kelvin/Hillhead CLP was not an accident.

Anonymous said...

Preening for a media career is a good description.
However,don't rule out something much nastier for George.
Can he be so sure of silence from his ex wife and the other two in the Oil money scam?

It seems the SWP are prepared to go along with anything he wants.
Strangeley Chris Bambery allowed the story that the documents naming Galloway in the Oil for Food corruption scam were forgeries,to appear in the Socialist Worker.

Who was being duped here do you think?
Galloways lawyers emploed a forensics guy named Oliver Thorne to examine the Oil Ministry documentsa,and guess what.
George is strictly not allowaed to refer to them as forged.
Did Bambery know this or did Galloway use him?
anyone know?

AN said...

I qould prefer people did not post comments anonymously if they are going to alledge mal-practice

AN said...


I don't think this thread is the best place to discuss our dofferences about this, but I think the fethishisation of "socialism from below" is a semi-anarchist concept, and my position would be "socialism - by any means necessary".

I will make a post specificaly on this subject soon, critiquing for example Hal Draper

Tawfiq Chahboune said...

You raise a very interesting point, Andy. It seems that is is not a question of whether the Labour Left breaks from Labour, but when Labour will break form the Labour Left.

The trade union cash will soon disappear as Labour makes a move for state funding (a bit like the Corleone family becoming legitimate). Perhaps trade union money will be made illegal. What the Labour Left then do will be interesting. Will they support a rightwing party that has expelled all its leftwing MPs?

The Labour Left will never have a better opportunity to capitalise on leftwing hopes, fears and desires than now. It'll be too late when the Blairites and Brownites purge the lefties once and for all. Although, for the Left this may be the best thing they could do.

Anonymous said...

Naomi Mitchison was never an MP: her husband Dick was elected Labour MP for Kettering in 1945. Chelmsford was indeed won by Common Wealth in 1945 (twice - byelection in April, general in July) but MP was Ernest Millington (still alive BTW, probably last of the 1945 MPs)

The ILP also had 2 MPs in 1945 - both Glasgow. Both died or crossed to Labour by 1947.

AN said...

Thanks for the correction anonymous, my source of information on Common Wealth was an old editon of Angus Calder's "the People's War".

I must have misread the ame fo the Common Wealth winner at Chelmsford.

Did the two ILP MPs contest seats against Labour? I beleive All the other 4 beat labour candidates.

The Sentinel said...

Once again you play underhanded games. Obscuring the truth and propagating lies, everywhere you slither.

You are nothing more then an excuse for a man with no concept of right or wrong.

Your repugnant beliefs are responsible for this shit hole we call the UK today.

You despise this country and its inhabitants and are nothing more then a traitor who does not have enough courage to live in the countries whose peoples you wish to import here wholesale or whose systems you advocate for our own.

History is a self repetitive entity however, and your day will soon end.

And the traditional punishment for treason will come back again.