George Galloway: his Workers Party is on a high after Rochdale

Selective memory syndrome

Paul Demarty admires George Galloway’s grand ambitions, but warns about a complete inability to deliver. Meanwhile, a forgetful SWP sticks to ‘strikes and streets’

This year, it seems, is a good time to launch a left challenge to Labour.

There is the small matter that Labour is widely expected to wipe the floor with the government, thus reducing any worries about unduly splitting the vote. There is the total confusion and cowardice the party leadership has displayed in relation to the Gaza genocide - shifting clumsily from one message to the next in an attempt to keep in sync with the equally flaky messaging out of Washington DC. Then there are the thousands of honest activists either purged or demoralised into resignation.

Indeed, the problem would seem to be that we have too many supposed challengers. There is the perennial Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, which reliably manufactures humiliations for the Socialist Party in England and Wales and its allies. There is George Galloway’s Workers Party of Britain - still in the latest honeymoon period following his victory in Rochdale. There is We Deserve Better - basically a giant bank account for Owen Jones to sluice donations to whoever he happens to like, as far as one can tell. And so it goes on.

We suppose it is a good thing, then, that some kind of gathering was held of such people in Blackburn, under the name ‘No ceasefire, no vote’. Present, to make barnstorming speeches, were Galloway himself, Salma Yaqoob (who formerly chaired Galloway’s Respect venture), Craig Murray (who is standing for the WPB in Blackburn), and Andrew Burgin of Transform, along with a great number of councillors who have resigned from Labour in recent months, from up and down the country. It is a motley crew, all right.

Looming largest over the proceedings, however, was Galloway himself. It is hardly surprising. He is, after all, in parliament, doing his level best to roast the genocidaires of both sets of benches. It is a bigger deal than being a councillor in anyone’s book. His pitch was modest in scope, and typically grand in delivery. (Whatever the hell else he is, Galloway is more or less the last remaining parliamentary orator of the old school.) The slogan, ‘No ceasefire, no vote’, might be the only thing everyone in the room agreed on.

Not voting Labour

After some good tub-thumping material about not voting for Labour, for “genocide Starmer”, he quietly got down to business. Of course, the WPB would support independent challengers to Labour. But was that the best that could be expected? Why should such candidates not instead stand as WPB? He accepted that there were major political disagreements - he mentioned trans rights, trade unionism (presumably aimed at the sort of petty bourgeois elements that used to stand for Respect), and net zero. Any one of these, he noted, could be a matter of such great feeling that people might not want to stand under the banner. Yet the advantages of striking with one fist could not be downplayed. He promised that the WPB would stand hundreds of candidates - so many they could not be ignored or be refused access to the leaders’ debates. And, if the WPB had a candidate who it thought had a better chance of winning than some independent, then it could not guarantee that they would stand down.1

Will it work? Perhaps. Unfortunately, people are often too much in love with their own local standing, and will worry that a national affiliation - especially with such a major target of mainstream opprobrium as Galloway - might leave them on the hook defending things they do not agree with. It was plain enough, from the detail of his speech, that his target audience was primarily Muslims alienated from Labour: his rather ornery social conservatism is plainly directed at making such alliances. Holding that together with disaffected ex-Labour leftists (especially when combustible matters like the trans rights argument are involved) may prove difficult.

In any case, it offered an opportunity for others on the left to stick their oars in. One force less than impressed with Galloway’s initiative is the Socialist Workers Party. In advance of the conference, Charlie Kimber, who edits Socialist Worker, used the pages of his paper to argue that “George Galloway’s politics are not what the left needs”.

His concerns are, first of all, that Searchlight - the anti-fascist outlet - had discovered a number of individuals with dubious far-right pasts among Galloway’s Rochdale council candidates. Billy Howarth has apparently been involved in “anti-grooming” activities with a somewhat anti-Muslim bent; Socialist Worker subsequently discovered that John F Collins, meanwhile, has likewise been coming out with rants about Sadiq Khan’s “Muslim mob”, and apparently took Israel’s side in the immediate wake of October 7. Exactly what attracted them to the banner of a man who routinely slips into Scottish-accented Arabic in speeches remains a mystery. (Collins has stood down in favour of a Liberal Democrat.)

There are then those policy issues Galloway alluded to. Kimber states:

Abandoning migrants or trans people in order to grub up a few more votes fractures the working class and strengthens rotten ideas. We need a left that fights for Palestine - and also takes up other issues. And the most important direction for those who have marched over Gaza is still in the streets, building the movement, not the ballot box.2

As a portrait of the very strange mix one finds in Galloway’s organisations, one could do worse than comrade Kimber’s, of course. He could further have looked at the WPB’s official programme, called Britain deserves better, which is quite a bizarre hodgepodge: a special section on Palestine is immediately followed by one on properly funding the armed forces; there is even an appeal to the police, with promises to restore numbers, liberate them from the “cultural engineering … of the middle class state” and provide “greater statutory independence from political interference”.3

Despite the inevitable disclaimers in those dodgier sections - that the police should not be used to interfere with political speech, and the army should be for defence, not foreign adventures - there is a strange tension there. The police have always been used against political dissent: they were more or less invented by Robert Peel (who even gets a shout-out) to do so more efficiently than the upper-class rabble of the yeomanry. The police harassment of Palestine activists in recent months is not some perversion of their mission by ‘middle class social engineers’: it is their basic mission. ‘Tough on crime’ talk is the thin end of the political-policing wedge. “We are not soft-hearted liberals who believe that everyone is capable of redemption,” the WPB authors write; the pope might want to have a word with the famously Catholic Galloway on that one.


There are two basic problems with Kimber’s response. The first is the most substantive: his alternative, natural for an SWP lifer, is ‘the streets, the streets, the streets’. This is actually a hopeless regression, even compared to Galloway’s rather crafty speech. Having made his single-issue pitch, he went on to argue that people ought to join his banner, at least in part because there is more to life than foreign policy, important as that is. He even rehearsed his Brexitism, to quiet but noticeable applause. As strange as the WPB manifesto is, it is at least a fairly thorough document - indeed too florid by half for the genre in style (that is why I am not allowed to write the CPGB’s Draft programme!). Beyond the bread and butter, and the law and order, it even has a (fairly decent) section on football; and surely it is the only socialist programme ever to give an approving nod to K-pop.

The ‘real’ struggle - in workplaces and on the streets - has for too long served as a substitute for any programme in the SWP’s world. Thus even its political criticisms - on trans rights and migration - are shallow, and amount to an attempt to create a cordon sanitaire around what are essentially liberal approaches to these questions. They are preferable to Galloway’s open conservatism, but wholly inadequate.

The inadequacy is aptly demonstrated by our second objection. This is not, after all, George’s first rodeo. It is just over 20 years since Respect was founded. His allies in those days were none other than the SWP. The SWP, meanwhile, used its relative numerical strength to hold the line against any policy that would overstep the bounds set by Galloway. CPGB members at the time made something of a sport of proposing standard leftwing policies - on abortion, on the monarchy and many other things - sometimes in the exact words used by Socialist Worker’s regular ‘Where we stand’ column. SWP members, including comrade Kimber, voted them down one by one.

We do not bring this up as a cheap gotcha. The trouble with shallow, anarchistic anti-electoralism is that it is inadequate for even the immediate political tasks of the movement. But, having convinced themselves of the inevitable corruption of electoral politics, and then of the necessity of doing electoral politics nonetheless, the SWP leaders reached the conclusion that only opportunist corruption would make it worthwhile. Thus the bonfire of principles that the Respect-era SWP could only think of as shibboleths. Anarchism and right opportunism are twins (or better perhaps Jekyll and Hyde) - two pathological poles of the same personality.

So George Galloway has the better of the SWP merely by having some kind of party project, but that party project is, alas, hopeless. If today is a good day to steal a protest vote from Labour, it also seems on some level to be a good time for ‘Tory socialism’, inasmuch as there are a lot of attempts to make something real out of it. Conservative social politics have, indeed, melded with socialistic economic politics in some contexts: we think perhaps of Latin American leaders like Bolivia’s Evo Morales and Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador. In Europe, it remains a marginal taste, but a fairly common one - from the WPB and even the rump Social Democratic Party in this country to, say, the ex-communist, anti-Semitic far-rightist, Alain Soral, in France, whose movement at least for a time included some French Muslim elements.

The problem is ultimately not simply the one mentioned by Kimber, that such “Tory socialism” divides the working class (though it does, and that really is a problem): it is that it assumes a national road, and thus cannot ultimately deliver on the leftwing part of the programme. If you vote for social democracy and social conservatism, but get only the social conservatism and economic disaster due to the revenge of the global institutions, why not just vote for the right? The combination is prevalent because it is readily thinkable, and not as incoherent as - let us say - a utopian vision of an ideal society.

It fails because it is utopian - however ‘practical’ a man like Galloway may think he is being.


  1. www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcfF2zVliEs.↩︎

  2. socialistworker.co.uk/news/george-galloways-politics-are-not-what-the-left-needs.↩︎

  3. workerspartybritain.org/manifesto-britain-deserves-better.↩︎