This is a guest post by Dan McCurry, a former chair of Bow Labour. It first appeared on the New Statesman blog here but Dan has localised it for this site. (My personal view, for what it’s worth, is that there is a snowball in hell’s chance of Galloway returning to Labour: a) because Labour would never readmit him; and b) he wouldn’t want to anyway: far better to be the martyred rebel outsider.)
We know that George Galloway wants to return to Labour. The question is: does Labour want him back?
The tears and anguish in Bethnal Green & Bow in the early hours of 7th May 2005, when Oona King lost to George Galloway by 800 votes, were very different to the pale expressions of shock in Bradford, as Imran Hussein walked out of the count to disappear back into obscurity. In east London, Galloway won by exploiting divisions.
In Bradford he won by offering entertainment, and stimulating a constituency where voters felt taken for granted.
At the time of Oona’s loss, I was chair of Bow Labour. I saw the Respect Party born through a coalition of Godless communists and religious fundamentalists. It was always doomed to division and that came in the council elections the following year.
I created the campaign slogan which was to became our mantra in Bow: “Vote for us, or you get Galloway!” The white working class obliged and the Lib Dems were wiped out in Bow. Respect did gain 11 council seats, but they were all Bangladeshi candidates, none of the SWP people were elected.
This was when Galloway started to complain about the tiresome village politics of the Bangladeshis. This is when he began to miss being a member of the Labour Party. From then on, he started to look around for some way, anyway, to get back into Labour, but every effort eluded him, until Bradford.
We never ignored George Galloway. If anything, he became our secret weapon. I wrote some copy for the party website which Jim subsequently used on all his election material. It portrayed Jim as surrounded on both sides by extremists with “George Galloway on his left promising to defend Islam, while on his right, tax exile Lord Ashcroft attempts to buy democracy with his millions”. It was Jim as the underdog. If he has to lose, then he’d go down fighting.
This is in stark contrast to the strategy in Bradford West. While we used the presence of George Galloway to our advantage, to motivate our supporters and get out and vote, they chose to ignore him as a has-been. It was a critical and lazy mistake.
Today, George doesn’t speak of rejoining Labour, but his actions do. He used to call for the death penalty for Tony Blair. Today, if he disagrees with Labour policy, he doesn’t make personal attacks. This isn’t just since the election, but during the election also. He is actively behaving himself.
The £200k salary from a sports radio slot doesn’t compare to the buzz of parliament. George doesn’t want that buzz to come to an end in May 2015, nor does he want the uncertainty and the hard work of trying to win somewhere else.
So what role could George Galloway have back in the Labour Party? There can be no question of George occupying a position in the Foreign Office. The salute to Saddam Hussein will never be forgotten. It’s difficult to imagine him occupying any ministry. The use for him is that he entertains us. Politics is often a boring subject. We hear the politicians make the same old arguments time and again. George fires things up. He is a character.
But do we really want the media to invite George onto TV panels as “The Labour bloke” at the expense of a senior Labour politician, especially when we don’t know what he’s going to say? He might be behaving himself now, but once he’s been accepted back into the party, there’s no saying what he’ll decide to do.
A return for George is more likely through real-politick than rational consideration. It is likely that this coalition will end with the Rat-Run Scenario. Once we get close to the election the Lib Dems will split along Labour/Tory lines and the government will survive on a wafer majority. We’ll be back to the days of sick MPs being brought in to vote on stretchers. At that point George Galloway becomes powerful, because he has a vote.
The problem with that idea is that Labour won’t leave it till so late to decide what to do about this seat. By the time the coalition runs for the hills, Bradford West will have a Labour candidate. If it’s not George then whoever it is will not step aside for anyone. So it’s unlikely that the national party will have anything much to do with it. It will be for the 400 members of Bradford West to decide. How will that play out?
Imran Hussein is unlikely to remain as candidate.
He made a fundamental mistake by ignoring Galloway and it’s unlikely that his party believe he can win in two years. A fresh face will be needed. The question is whether there is anyone who can take on Galloway and win this seat back. If it is the case that Imran Hussein was the best candidate that this constituency could produce, then George Galloway will be laughing.