Exclusive report from Bruce Robinson:
About 100 people attended Wednesday’s debate between Clive Searle of Respect and Lucy Powell, Labour PPC for the Manchester Central by-election. Unfortunately there was only an hour for debate which followed a Trades Council meeting, so little time for speakers.
The introductions were largely about the Bradford West campaign. Searle opened by saying that people had tried to dismiss the result as a Muslim bloc vote, but that was not true and he was, anyway, proud of Muslim votes. The Labour Party was in denial. Ed Miliband had said one couldn’t talk to people who denied Israel’s right to exist, but millions of people do so. The result was also a message on a range of other issues – for instance student fees, There is an alernative to trade unionists giving money to Labour. Interestingly, he made no mention at all of Galloway. Later in the discussion he said: “We want Labour to be more like Old Labour.”
Lucy Powell was very conciliatory, saying that Chris Searle had made a compelling case and that there was a lot Labour could learn from Respect. They had a common enemy in the government. Labour puts down Respect at its peril. People in Bradford had wanted change and there’d been a deficit in political leadership. George Galloway was charismatic and principled and there was a place for him within the Labour spectrum. Labour remained the only way to get rid of the government.
Initial contributions from the floor were largely pro-Respect, including those from SWP’ers and a woman who was once in Socialist Action, who said she was thinking of leaving the Labour Party to join Respect. There was also lots of criticism of the (Manchester) Labour council’s cuts, turning the city over to private developers, etc, etc.
I got to speak for a couple of minutes. I made the point that the politics of both Miliband and Galloway are symptomatic of the crisis in working class representation and attacked Galloway’s appeal to religious identity as a “better Muslim” as communalist. This brought some muttering from SWP and Respect people. Powell gave a wry smile when I pointed out that Galloway had recently come out against public ownership.
Kay Phillips, one of the ex-SWP people who’d stayed with Respect, replied saying it was a libel to say Galloway supported the clan-based Bradree/Biradiri system – which of course was not what I’d said. Much was made in the discussion, of the Respect campaign’s appeal to young people and women through the challenge to the traditional system (ie: Bradree/Biradiri) of patronage and clan loyalty.
There was an interesting contribution from a Labour Party member from Bradford who described how the Labour campaign had not nadressed non-Asian voters and had based itself upon Bradree/Biradiri clan loyalties.
Star contribution of the evening came from an Asian Labour Party member from Preston, who said that as one of the very few Muslims in the room there were two people in politics he couldn’t stand: Tony Blair and George Galloway. Galloway was leading Muslims up the creek without a paddle. He noted that Respect had never won anything where less than 40% of the electorate was Muslim, and challenged them to stand elsewhere.
In the summing-up Searle said he was going to stand for Respect against Powell in Manchester Central which certainly doesn’t have a 40% Muslim population, so we shall see.
I had an amusing and political bus journey home…