Wasted opportunity

George Galloway displayed his catholic credentials on the BBC's Question time last week, when he firmly sided with the disgusting 'right to life' propaganda of the dead pope and George W Bush

It was quite a poor performance by George Galloway by any measure. Appearing on BBC's Question time on March 31, he was not able at all to present himself or Respect as a rounded or viable alternative to New Labour, let alone look anything like a socialist. On occasion The Daily Telegraph journalist next to him appeared more progressive and was often more rational. A particularly low moment came when Margaret Hodge (minister of state for children) said George had been expelled from the Labour Party for good reason, as he was guilty of "inciting British troops to disobey orders" and "encouraging Iraqi troops to attack British troops". He warned her to be careful. The Telegraph journalist would be able to tell her of the possible consequences: "You've now libelled me on national television, twice." However, he did not clarify what he actually had said a few years back - ie, that British troops should disobey "illegal orders" - and that the second accusation had never been proven. But comrade Galloway squandered an opportunity. Instead of making the case against the war and demanding the immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, he just kept threatening to sue her. It made him look rather apolitical and painfully vain. Another chance for some decent politics was wasted when the discussion turned to prince Charles's hilarious mutterings against the media. At the traditional five-minute press call during the Windsors' annual skiing holiday in Klosters, the microphones picked up his contempt for "these people", the assembled press crew (undoubtedly, he feels pretty much the same for most people - after all, they are not part of his slightly deranged world of fox hunters who wash their hair with his organic Duchy shampoo). Surely Galloway would use the opportunity to make clear his position for the abolition of the monarchy, which he has stated on previous occasions? But no. He chose to focus his contribution on the personal strains and stresses that poor Charlie must be experiencing in advance of his wedding. He closed with the plea that "people should get off his back". Later, he made a half-attempt at heckling the Liberal Democrat speaker with a comment which seemed to include the word "republic", but nobody could hear him properly. He gained a bit of ground when he supported the Liberal Democrats' call to stop sending female shoplifters to prison. But he would not go any further on this question. He did not express any view on equivalent male offenders or indeed on the role of prison as an institution and its effectiveness or otherwise in combating crime and bringing about genuine rehabilitation. In effect, he acted as a cheerleader for the Liberal Democrats (this reminded me of the anti-war rally on February 15 2003, when Charles Kennedy was allowed to address the crowd from the platform before supporting British troops once the war started, merely five days later. The Socialist Alliance was denied a speaker). His worst contribution, however, came when the discussion focused on the plight of Terri Schiavo, who at the time of recording had just died: "The courts killed this woman and I don't think there can be any justification for it." It was "wicked beyond belief" and "it is happening not just in the US: it is happening now in Britain. We are sliding towards a euthanasia society, where people can get snuffed out". He could imagine a scenario where the NHS simply bumped people off to save cash. It takes quite a twisted sense of reality to arrive at the conclusion that it is the pro-choice agenda that is on the march. Quite clearly, the opposite is happening. Fuelled by the religious right, short-sighted populism and the rightwing media, the anti-abortionists and so-called pro-lifers are setting the agenda here and in the US. A political atmosphere is developing in which more and more people are denied the right to make even the most basic decisions over their own life and bodies, be it on the question of the right to have an abortion or the right to a humane death. Galloway even argued that in cases similar to Terri Schiavo's, doctors should "not accept any so-called living wills", in which an individual states their desires when it comes to the conditions of their own death. "People could change their mind," he said. Most rational people have no desire whatsoever to be kept alive in a vegetative state, but Galloway had an answer for that too: some people actually recover from such a condition. Clearly his views on the 'sanctity of life' must take precedence over the wishes of the person concerned - and Galloway will come up with whatever argument springs to mind to justify this. Surely we must defend the right of every human being to determine as far as possible factors affecting their own life - and death - and firmly deny politicians like Galloway the opportunity to overturn such decisions, especially when their main concern seems to be displaying their religious credentials to backward elements in the electorate. In the same way that he wants to deny terminally ill people the right to decide the manner of their death, he thinks women should be completely deprived of any right to choose an abortion. The executive committee of Respect should immediately dissociate the organisation from such reactionary, religious and anti-democratic claptrap. If Galloway is elected to serve as the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, what would he do if a case like Terry Schiavo's was to be debated and voted on in parliament? According to the SWP's Lindsey German, he should do as his individual conscience dictates - as is the practice in mainstream bourgeois parties. In other words he will be a 'pro-life' MP who promises to carry on attacking the rights of vulnerable people. The membership of Respect is supposed to remain silent and 'trust the leader' to make the right decisions. This is not good enough - and it certainly is not going to build the kind of organisation the working class desperately needs. Candidates claiming to represent the working class must be accountable to it and to the organisation that selects them. They must be bound by the democratic decisions of the majority. Nevertheless, despite Galloway's vile views on such questions, we will urge a vote for him in the general election. The central question is the war and occupation of Iraq and the CPGB has adopted the position of supporting working class candidates who opposed the war and now call for the immediate withdrawal of troops. This tactic is aimed at differentiating between candidates over where they stand on this key issue, while at the same time attempting to drive a wedge between those who are from the working class movement and those who are not. Galloway is clearly part of the former, whatever his religious views. The problem is that the current, formally revolutionary, majority in Respect has politically subordinated itself to the religious and anti-democratic agenda of their (largely phantom) allies in the Muslim Association of Britain and the mosque. Given the popular frontist nature of Respect, we regard it as vital to emphasise the centrality of class. This is not, as an increasingly disorientated Tariq Ali dismissively says, "tribal politics" - it is a straightforward understanding that the working class alone is capable of winning the battle for democracy, stopping wars and liberating the whole of humanity. Whatever the particular motives, we believe that in today's conditions a vote for the Liberal Democrats, or any other non-working class candidate, is to indulge in ineffective moralism. Either that or it is to betray the cause of socialism. Tina Becker