Secrets are sometimes necessary in politics. So is telling the truth but not the whole truth. What is never acceptable are lies. Especially from the leader of a party still in recovery from a predecessor who may have fatally wounded it by the tower of lies he built along the path which led to a million dead Iraqis and cascading extremism around the world.
Earlier this year the Leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband asked me to come and see him in his suite of offices overlooking the River Thames in the Norman Shaw Building in parliament. In fact he asked me again and again. When my diary proved uncomfortably crowded his office tried even harder to make it happen. “Ed is very keen to meet George” says one e-mail.
It’s not that I was avoiding him, in fact I was intrigued as to what this meeting – with no specified agenda – might be about.
In any case I would never refuse to meet any parliamentary colleague, still less the leader of the opposition. Such meetings, often private, are the stuff of politics at Westminster.
And when the leader of the opposition asking for the meeting is the leader of the party I joined when I was 13 years old, served in at every level for 36 years and loved a lot more than the leader Tony Blair who kicked me out of it ever did, it’s obvious I would fit him in. I’ve known many Labour leaders after all. Click to continue reading →
It is fair to say that George Galloway is not universally popular.
It is therefore unsurprising that his attendance at a meeting with Ed Miliband was used by the increasingly desperate Blairites as ammunition to undermine the Labour leader. They claimed that Ed Miliband was preparing to welcome Galloway back into the Labour Party.
Labour MPs warned their leader against taking such action. ‘Galloway is a traitor,’ said one. ‘It’s naive lunacy for the leader to have anything to do with him. I thought he wanted to get rid of the Red Ed tag. He will rejoin Labour over my dead body.’
Of course, the meeting with Galloway is only one of a number of absurd issues currently being raised by the Blairites to undermine Ed Miliband. As Jon Lansman has remarked at Left Futures:
No sooner had David Miliband announced his departure from British politics than Blair, Mandelson, Milburn and other assorted “grandees“ started to attack his brother, without regard to the impending local elections. Cowardly right-wing shadow cabinet members are briefing anonymously against him on a daily basis too.
The results of the selection process for the short listed London euro candidates is also being challenged, but is about time that the Blairites realised that politics matters, and a candidate like Anne Fairweather who has briefed against extending employment rights to agency workers is not acceptable to many sections of the party, and its supporters.
The shock outcome of the Bradford West by-election ̶ the dramatic loss of a relatively safe Labour seat to George Galloway for the Respect party ̶ generated considerable media discussion in the immediate aftermath of the result. A variety of competing explanations were offered for Galloway’s victory, ranging from Respect’s use of social media to mobilise younger voters through to unsubstantiated accusations of electoral fraud. The debate about Respect’s remarkable breakthrough in Bradford continued in May 2012 after the party won five seats in the local elections, denying Labour majority control of Bradford City Council.
This report provides a detailed research-based analysis of the events surrouding ‘the Bradford earthquake’. It identifies the factors which led to one of the most surprising by-election results in living memory. It also assesses the wider significance of the by-election, both in terms of how it stands alongside other ‘shock’ by-elections in British political history, and the lessons which can be identified for the other political parties about election campaigning and political engagement in contemporary Britain.
The report was commissioned by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust (JRRT) Ltd and written by Lewis Baston, a Senior Research Fellow at Democratic Audit. It draws on interviews with key figures in the 2012 Bradford elections, statistical analysis of the election results and fieldwork visits undertaken by the author in July and August 2012.
A pre-publication feature on the report, including an interview with the author, Lewis Baston, was broadcast on The Sunday Politics(Yorkshire and Lincolnshire) on BBC Two, Sunday 27 January (48:38 onwards).
First off, it’s important to put things in their proper perspective. The SWP is a far left sect that is and has been mired in irrelevancy for a number of years now. From its high water mark, when it played a central role in the antiwar movement during its peak years around 2003-04, until today, it has suffered a steep decline in the quality of its analysis and with it anything resembling influence, traction, or effectiveness. It represents the fag-end of British Trotskyism, the political residue left lying forlorn and decaying on the beach after the tide of the left’s fortunes ran out long before now.
Cheap gestures have increasingly replaced serious politics when it comes to an organisation whose rapidly diminishing ranks reflects its embrace of liberalism. In concrete terms this amounts to positions that are almost indistinguishable from those regularly carried in the pages of the Guardian. A party that once stood resolute in its resistance to the war on Iraq in 2003, a war ultimately justified by the then Labour Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on the premise that Iraq was ruled by a ruthless dictator, Saddam Hussein, who represses his own people, is the party which stood on the side of NATO in its military intervention in Libya in 2011, justified on the basis that Colonel Gaddafi was a ruthless dictator who represses his own people. More recently, the SWP has been a vociferous supporter of the western-backed, Saudi-armed Syrian opposition in a brutal civil war that presages the dying gasp of Arab nationalism.
But this and other political missteps pale in comparison to the following paragraph from a report in the most recent edition of Socialist Worker, the SWP’s weekly newspaper, on the upcoming by-election in Croydon in which Respect are standing the respected and dedicated anti-racist campaigner Lee Jasper.
“Respect’s Lee Jasper has tapped into anger around police racism in the Croydon run-off. But Socialist Worker is not calling for a vote for him, following Respect leader George Galloway’s disgraceful and well-publicised comments on rape. Instead we encourage supporters to vote for Labour in this instance.”
Just think about this for a moment. A revolutionary socialist organisation, presumably proud of its commitment to the interests of the working class at home and its record of opposition to Britain’s wars abroad, has come out and endorsed the candidate of a party of war, privatisation, inequality, and neoliberalism, rather than the candidate of a party that has opposed all of the aforementioned consistently and vigorously since its formation in 2004. Click to continue reading →
This is a guest post from Andrew Burgin and Kate Hudson. Having joined and become active in Respect as a result of George Galloway’s recent election win, they’ve found themselves being in the position of being forced to leave the organisation without any explanation why.
We joined Respect two days after George Galloway’s outstanding victory in Bradford, in March 2012. In our estimate, this by-election victory indicated both the support for a clear anti-cuts politics to the left of Labour, and the viability of Respect as a political party which could inhabit that political space. Respect’s election result, across all wards in Bradford, indicated the resonance of the party’s politics across the city’s diverse communities, transcending the wrongly perceived limits of Respect’s political appeal and re-establishing the party on the political map.
Having recently returned from a solidarity delegation to Greece, where Syriza was gaining political ground with a similar politics, we were convinced of the need to advance a left political and economic alternative at a time when social democratic parties have abandoned their redistributive credentials and continue to opt for the failed policies of neo-liberalism. We remain convinced of that need but find that we are no longer able to fight for that alternative through the Respect party.
The Manchester candidacy
In July, Kate accepted nomination as Respect Party parliamentary candidate for the Manchester Central by-election in November 2012. Campaigning in Manchester over the subsequent weeks, it became clear that there was strong local support for a Respect candidacy based on opposing austerity, backing investment, fighting racism and working to end poverty in some of the most deprived wards in Britain. As a safe Labour seat, but with the lowest turnout of any constituency in the country, Manchester Central was a very clear example of how Labour no longer stands for the interests of the working class. Most people saw no point in voting at all. But the support on the doorstep for the Respect campaign demonstrated more clearly than any amount of theorising, that ordinary people want an alternative, that Respect’s political and economic platform provided a popular basis from which to build an electoral alternative. The campaign also demonstrated how political support from outside Respect could also be built for an anti-cuts candidacy and support for Kate’s campaign came from across a range of parties and political organisations which shared the values fought for within the campaign.
The decision to stand down as candidate was not one taken lightly. But it was one which became impossible to avoid, after the deeply regrettable comments by George Galloway about the nature of rape, in the context of the attempts to extradite Assange. There is no doubt in our minds that there are attempts to extradite Assange to Sweden, outside of that country’s normal legal procedures, to facilitate his extradition to the US to face charges over Wikileaks. But opposing such practices does not require extemporisation by Respect’s MP on the nature of rape which at the very least exposed his lack of understanding with regard to the legal definition of that crime.
The condemnation of George Galloway’s comments by party leader Salma Yaqoob are well-known and went some way to redeeming the honour of Respect and we wholeheartedly supported them and welcomed Salma’s principled stance. However, the failure of George Galloway to retract his remarks on rape and apologise for them ultimately made it impossible for Kate to continue to stand for Respect in Manchester Central. As she stated at the time, “To continue as Respect Party candidate in this situation, no matter how much I object to and oppose his statements personally, would be in effect to condone what he has said. That is something I am not prepared to do.”
The identification of George Galloway with the Respect party is such that many perceive them to be synonymous. This meant that unless the party itself was prepared to state that it did not support George’s position on rape, and to ask him to retract his statements, it could reasonably be assumed by non-members that the party tolerated George’s position. Apart from Salma’s statement, and Kate’s public support for that, we are not aware of any condemnation by the party of George’s position. Indeed, Salma’s statement was not published on the party website, in spite of the fact that she was leader of the party, and Kate was initially asked by the National Secretary to remove Salma’s statement from her Manchester campaign Facebook page, which she refused to do.
Staying in Respect
Nevertheless, taking into account that we consider the politics of Respect to be essential in the struggle for a left alternative, and that we were aware of strong opposition to George’s position within Respect – even though it was not given expression by the party apparatus and media – we decided not to leave Respect. As Kate put it in her statement on standing down, “I will continue to work within the Respect Party to ensure that our values and principles with regard to women’s rights match up to the Party’s – and George Galloway’s – outstanding record in these other areas.”
Resignations from Respect
In the wake of the Galloway comments and his refusal to apologise, Salma Yaqoob decided to stand down as party leader and resigned from Respect. At the National Council in September, it was announced that a number of long-standing senior party figures had also resigned, including a majority of its national officers. However, we decided to stay in the party and its leadership to work for a party with a life of its own, properly expressing the policies so urgently needed.
Unfortunately, to continue to work politically within Respect is no longer possible. Last week we discovered that we have both been removed from Respect’s National Council. We received no official notification of this, rather, we discovered this when Andrew attempted to post a request for a Respect delegate to the Coalition of Resistance Europe against Austerity Conference on the NC google group. The message bounced back. On enquiring of the Respect National Secretary, Andrew was informed that he had been removed from the NC because he had missed two consecutive meetings of the NC and under the constitution this meant that he would be removed and replaced by a co-opted member. In fact, no such provision exists in the copy of the constitution that we received at this year’s Respect party conference. We have not been supplied, despite Andrew’s repeated requests, with a copy that includes that provision. Subsequently Kate attempted to post on the NC google group and again it bounced back. Her enquiry to the National Secretary about her NC status has received no reply, and she has had to assume that she has also been removed from that body.
There are numerous other National Council members who have missed two meetings and have not been removed from the NC. It is clear that we have been purged from the party leadership for political reasons: because we publicly condemned George’s rape comments and backed the position of our party leader, and because we refused to be silenced over the fall-out from the issue within the party. This is in spite of the fact that we have been amongst the party’s most active members over the last six months: we participated in the party’s annual conference in Bradford where we were elected as NC members, we organized a successful London Respect meeting in July involving representatives from Syriza and Front de Gauche, we revived the North London branch and helped to convene a meeting of the London Respect Committee – as well as committing to the Manchester Central candidacy.
Speaking out in Respect
As we have been excluded from the NC by the National Secretary, we have no way of knowing if other comrades are raising these issues too, or share our concerns about the lack of an independent political life on the part of the Respect party, as distinct from that of its MP. We have informed others of our concerns where we have contact details. The silence in the face of our struggle has been disconcerting. We hope that other comrades recognize that speaking out on matters of political principle must be a basic democratic right within any political party.
At the moment there is no place for us in the Respect party. Those that control the party and its apparatus have seen fit to remove us from any possibility of active work because our political principles led us to speak out against a wrong position and wrong practice. We continue to support the political and economic alternative which the Respect party espouses but we will look for a framework within which to fight for it elsewhere.
The peoples of Europe – and beyond – are facing an unprecedented social, political and economic crisis. Here in Britain, our government is implementing the most savage spending cuts designed to destroy all the social gains of the postwar period. They are damaging the lives of millions.
Throughout Europe people are fighting back. Every day we hear of strikes, mass mobilizations and protest as people fight to defend their societies and reject the barbarism of austerity. The urgent need is for unity of the left, within Britain, and across Europe, to meet these challenges together, to maximize our forces and build a common solidarity that will enable the victory of ordinary people over the brutality of a failed economic system.
This piece was originally published on Left Futures, but it was removed from the site. Subsequently, the editor of Left Futures, Jon Lansman, someone with whom Socialist Unity has a good relatonship, apologised for the situation and explained why. You can find his explanation for the removal at the end of the article.
Why have I decided to stand as Respect candidate in Manchester Central? There is no doubt that the Labour Party has a fine past track record in the service of ordinary people, liberating millions – through the foundation of the welfare state – from poverty and from the denial of basic rights and opportunities. But sadly, the emphasis here is on ‘past’ record. Labour has ceased to advance, or even adequately defend, the great achievements it made for working people. For decades now it has bought into the pro-market, neo-liberal framework which has thrown Britainand much of the rest of the world into an economic crisis of mammoth proportions. The fundamental problem with neo-liberal economics is that it is all about rebalancing the economy, away from the modest redistribution of the Keynesian welfare state and back into the hands of the wealthy. That is not an appropriate economic approach for a social democratic party, especially one founded by the trade union movement – the organised working class.
This turn away from defending and advancing the interests of the working class is a source of great sadness and frustration for many on the left and within the Labour Party itself. And as Labour has moved to the right, this has opened up a political space to its left. People have reacted in different ways to this. Some persist within Labour, wanting to reclaim the party for the policies and values it used to represent. Others grudgingly settle for New Labour-lite, especially in the run up to a general election, hoping that perhaps this time, Labour will fulfil our hopes. Still others have concluded that a different political option must be pursued: the articulation of popular pro-working class policies which Labour – to a considerable extent – used to represent. And that many people, who feel their interests no longer have political representation, require – and will choose to support – a party which stands for their interests. The Respect Party can be such a party and it is my intention – as it is of many others – to work to make it so.
This political space – and the emergence of new parties to fill it – is not just a British phenomenon. It is something that is happening across Europe and has even hit the media radar here in Britain, as a result of the recent Greek elections. Labour’s Greek sister party PASOK was decimated in this year’s elections, as it implemented vast cuts programmes, driving millions into poverty and disaster. Syriza, a new pluralistic party of the left, emerging from radical and eurocommunist traditions in Greece from the early 1990s, won massive popular support, narrowly missing victory over the conservative New Democracy. PASOK had failed to represent the interests of its electorate and so was eclipsed. In France too, this new left current has hit the headlines: Front de Gauche and its leader Jean-Luc Melenchon have made waves in French politics, reconsolidating the left beyond the Parti Socialiste.
Of course what is happening in Greece or France is specific to those countries and is not exactly reproducible elsewhere, but the fact is that parties like Syriza and Front de Gauche are eating into the votes of previously ‘socialist’ parties across Europe, and they will continue to do so because an objective political space exists. In fact what George Galloway did in Bradford was comparable to the stunning rise of Syriza and resulted in the eclipse of Labour, because Labour signally failed to work for ordinary people in that city. And Respect, in the same political stable as Syriza, will continue to advance the alternatives which Labour should itself represent.
That is why I am standing for Respect in Manchester Central. It’s a ‘safe’ Labour seat, with 52% of the votes cast for Labour in 2010. But that figure hides a sorry tale. It also has the lowest turn out in the country at 44.5%. Labour, which has run Manchesterfor a long time, has not addressed the deep problems of the city or the constituency. Manchester is the fourth most deprived local authority in the country and its two most deprived wards are in Central constituency. Clearly, Labour is not working for Manchester Central. The people are making their judgment by voting with their feet, by turning away from the electoral process altogether.
It’s time for a political alternative, articulating the interests of working people. Respect stands for that alternative.
Left Futures and the Manchester Central by-election: an apology
“Earlier today we published an article by Kate Hudson, Respect candidate in the Manchester Central by-election, entitled The unrepresented working class: a space Respect can fill. Whilst Left Futures firmly believes that “the Left’s future remains inextricably linked with that of the Labour Party” (as set out in our mission statement), this has given rise to the mistaken impression that Left Futures supports a candidate standing against Labour in a by-election. That is emphatically not the case. In order to clarify the position, I have decided as editor to withdraw the article from publication.
Those of us on the Labour Left who, whilst committed to Labour’s success, also wish to realign Labour in a more radical direction and to draw into Labour many of those who are currently outside it, must tread a careful path. It is right that Left Futures gives space to others on the Left outside Labour to present their views and contribute to our debate about policy and the future of the Left. But we must be careful to get the balance right and on this occasion we did not but, just as we have carried articles by Kate Hudson and members of other parties before, so we will do so again.
Kate Hudson, as I said in my previous report about the Manchester Central by-election, is a formidable campaigner and a comrade in the campaigns for peace and in solidarity with the people of Greece in their opposition to austerity. Nevertheless, in Manchester Central, we want to see Lucy Powell winning the by-election by running a bold and radical campaign which will bring back Labour’s lost voters rather than see them turning towards Respect.
As it happens, today I was supposed to be on holiday and did not see Kate’s article prior to publication though as Editor it is right that I take full responsibility for everything that is published. When I did see it, I saw no alternative to withdrawing it from publication, and I apologise both to Lucy Powell, Labour’s candidate, for any wrong impression we may have caused and to Kate Hudson who wrote the article for us in good faith.”
Chavs by Owen Jones has rightly been lauded as an overdue rejoinder to the steady and near unstoppable denigration of the working class in Britain over the past three decades of unbroken Thatcherism, under both the Tories and New Labour.
Picking apart the economic, social, and cultural fronts on which this war has been waged, Jones weaves a narrative which combines sharp analysis on each of the aforementioned topics with superb writing. It is little wonder that the book’s success has earned him a prominent profile as a political commentator, speaker, and newspaper columnist.
What makes Chavs such a powerful book is its unabashed stance on the side of those at the sharp end of this assault, specifically that section of society pejoratively categorised as the ‘underclass’. This is a categorization which has proved successful in dividing working people between its so-called aspirational and non-aspirational sections.
In analyzing the paradigm shift when it comes to the working class, wherein the concept of aspiration moved from being measured on a collectivist basis, embodied in a postwar settlement in which the working class in Britain commanded the lion’s share of society’s surplus for the first time since the industrial revolution, to an individualist one, Jones succeeds in charting the political and social transformation of British society by Thatcher, culminating in Labour’s shift to the right after its election defeat in 1992.
Under Blair’s leadership this rightward shift reached the point where Labour in government reflected the political and philosophical nostrums of one nation conservatism in its paternalistic relationship to the working class, rather than one founded on the principle of solidarity.
As Jones writes
“Politicians, particularly in the Labour Party, once spoke of improving the conditions of working class people. But today’s consensus is all about escaping the working class. The speeches of politicians are peppered with promises to enlarge the middle class. Aspiration has been redefined to mean individual self-enrichment: to scramble up the social ladder and become middle class. Social problems like poverty and unemployment were once understood as injustices that sprang from flaws within capitalism which, at the very least, had to be addressed. Yet today they have become understood as the consequences of personal behaviour, individual defects and even choice.”
The concrete evidence is compelling. Labour’s atrocious position on welfare, in the shape of its welfare reform acts of 1999 and 2007, marked a historic low point in the party’s relationship to the working class, wherein the emphasis moved from eradicating poverty as a social ill to treating the poor as responsible for its own poverty. This was effected as part of the party’s orientation towards the perceived interests of swing voters, viewed as vital in its electoral successes during the Blair era.
Even those much heralded progressive reforms implemented by Labour while in government – the minimum wage and working tax credits – bear closer examination. Undoubtedly both helped to improve the lives of many, but during a time of economic boom, relative to the enormous increase in wealth of the richest in Britain, they stand exposed as paltry measures designed to alleviate the worst excesses of the nation’s low wage economy. In 1997 Britain’s richest 1,000 citizens were worth a combined wealth of £98 billion. Ten years later, under a Labour government, those same richest 1,000 were worth a combined wealth of just over £300bn – a staggering increase of 204 per cent.
There can be no greater indictment of Labour’s abandonment of the working class and the poor during the Blair years than this.
Jones also does an effective job in tackling the alienation felt by traditional working class communities in the wake of deindustrialisation. Here he analyzes the emergence of the white working class as a distinct demographic – one, he asserts, which comes with a racist connotation.
The predominance of identity politics over class-based politics is also explored, with the author adroitly recognizing this as a reflection of the adulteration of working class identity after the decimation of industry and the communities which existed around those industries.
By its very nature identity politics involves the blurring of class lines, relegating class to a subordinate role when it comes to progressive politics and constituting less of a threat to the status quo as a direct result. Self identification in terms of gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and religious faith has seen Britain increasingly adopt a US social paradigm, wherein culture wars form the main locus of political engagement. The collapse of the Soviet Union, and with it really existing socialism, accelerated this process throughout Europe.
When it comes to the rise of what he refers to as the ‘populist right’ – i.e. the BNP and -UKIP – Jones again offers an indictment of Labour.
“The reason this could happen – and why the populist right has already made inroads into working class communities – is because the Labour Party ceased providing answers to a whole range of working class problems, especially housing, low wages and job insecurity. To many former natural Labour supporters, it seems to be on the side of the rich and big business.”
This assertion is, however, more problematic. The populist right has gained traction by focusing more on the wrongly perceived favouritism given to immigrants when it comes to housing, employment and the allocation of services, not as he claims as a consequence of New Labour’s relationship to the rich and big business. Here the scaremongering around the issue of immigration by the right wing press, which all of the mainstream political parties have succumbed to and supported in varying degrees, and which has distracted from the overweening power of the rich and big business, played a huge role in creating the space for the BNP’s short lived electoral success and the ability of UKIP to maintain an electoral presence.
The emergence of the EDL, which Jones only touches upon, requires a separate treatment, especially as it dovetails with his treatment of Respect in the book, which is the point at which his analysis fails.
The impact of the war on Iraq on British society was transformational in a number of ways. In the run up the scale of the opposition on the part of the public manifested in an antiwar movement the size of which had never been seen in Britain, and most probably will not be seen again for many a generation.
The disjuncture between a political class that had fallen into line behind the Blair government’s case for going to war, and a public opinion which had early discerned the foundation of half-truths and untruths upon which its case consisted, resulted in the increased entrenchment of cynicism when it came to electoral politics, measured in lower and lower election turnouts and a plummeting Labour Party membership.
The exception to this cynicism came with the emergence of Respect in 2004 as a political alternative to the pro war consensus. Its declared objective was to occupy the electoral space vacated by Labour in its shift to the right, aiming to capitalise on public opposition to the war and the size of the antiwar movement at its peak. The challenge involved was considerable, in that success would depend on the ability to link the war with domestic issues affecting the daily lives of working class people, rather than the other way round.
Respect’s initial support base would as a result predominately reside within the Muslim community, consisting of both those Muslims who had previously supported Labour, and young Muslims politicized by the steady demonization of their religion and culture in the wake of 9/11, to the point where they came to be regarded as a fifth column by the establishment and right wing press under the rubric of the war on terror. From there the aim was to spread and attract the support of the wider working class.
However, inevitably, and rightly given the sustained nature and intensity of the attack involved, Respect’s focus became centred on providing a political defence of the nation’s Muslim community, especially after 7/7 when Muslim became interchangeable with terrorist in the nation’s political and social discourse.
While Jones does acknowledge the “rampant Islamophobia” which pervaded in the wake of 9/11, just two sentences further on he takes Respect to task for failing to orient to the working class.
“It [Respect] did not pitch to working class people as a whole; instead, it substituted them for a Muslim community that was understandably angered by the war in Iraq. Class politics was abandoned for communialist politics.”
This particular charge was also made by the Socialist Workers Party, one of Respect’s founding partners, during the 2007 split. It was also made recently in the mainstream media in the wake of George Galloway’s by-election victory in Bradford West. It is a charge premised on a flawed understanding of communialism as the failure of the Muslim community to integrate, rather than a response to that integration, or assimilation, being blocked.
In this regard communialism is no recent phenomenon or indeed one unique to the Muslim community in the present day. It has been ever present throughout the nation’s social history, a symptom of the marginalization experienced by succeeding waves of immigrants and minority communities in Britain, responsible for those communities forging their own social, economic, and political networks in response.
The point therefore is not to attack or condemn Muslims, or any other minority community, for doing so, but to understand the reasons why – namely the racism and marginalization they have encountered from and within mainstream society. At bottom it reflects Britain’s history and continued role as a colonial and imperialist power, which in turn has helped forge and develop British society’s cultural values and attitudes towards minorities and others perceived as an alien presence in this green and pleasant land. That this prevailing national mythology stands in stark contrast to the brutal, militaristic, and exploitative truth is academic.
Of far more importance is the fact it has acted as a key linchpin within British society since the British State came into being, emotionally attaching generations of the nation’s working class to the aims and objectives of its ruling class. This has enabled it to bask in the perceived reflected glory of Britain’s long history of wars and influence on the world stage. The exalted status enjoyed by the troops and the sustained support of the Monarchy are tangible examples of how this informs a false consciousness, a key reason why Britain has never experienced the social convulsions experienced on the continent, where revolutionary impulses have at various points threatened the status quo.
Ultimately, you cannot have it both ways. You cannot acknowledge the existence of the “rampant Islamophobia that has gripped Britain” on the one hand, a direct consequence of the British State’s participation in wars against Muslim and Arab countries over the past decade and more, but then excoriate the only political party to provide a robust defence of it victims at home and abroad for failing to “pitch to the working class”, in which it cannot be denied this Islamophobia has gained significant traction, even if on a passive level.
Rather than point to the fact, which Jones does in his book, that Respect “did not pitch to the working class”, it is equally pertinent to point out that the working class has not pitched to Respect – or at least not yet – to any significant degree. The inescapable conclusion of course is that when he uses the term ‘working class’ here, Jones means the ‘white’ working class, the categorization he takes pains to criticise earlier in the book.
Ultimately, economism and sociology only takes you so far. At some point you have to challenge the political and ideological foundations upon which the state’s institutions and received truths rest. In the case of the British State those foundations consist of imperialism and racism. Given the extent to which both are interwined and have helped define aspects of working class culture, this entails risking alienating significant sections of that same working class along the way.
The willingness to do so is not only a price worth paying, it is absolutely essential in a society whose cultural values have been poisoned by centuries of colonialism and imperialist wars.
The debate is between Lucy Powell, who has just been selected as Labour’s candidate for Manchester Central in the forthcoming by-election and long-standing Manchester activist and Respect Party National Secretary Clive Searle. It would be great to get a big turnout and a lively debate.
The meeting is next Wednesday, 16 May at 8pm, at the Mechanics Institute, Manchester – click here for a map.