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.