Monday, April 02, 2012

Lessons from Bradford

The latest issue of International Socialism, a quarterly journal of socialist theory features Christian Hogsbjerg's review of The Crisis of Theory, the book about EP Thompson I published last year with Manchester University Press.

One of the minor characters in The Crisis of Theory is Lawrence Daly, a Scottish trade unionist who left the Communist Party in protest at the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956 and became, along with Thompson, a leader of the inchoate but dynamic movement nowadays known as the Old New Left. During Britain's 1959 parliamentary elections Daly contested the seat of West Fife and won many thousands of votes, finishing third behind the Labour and Tory candidates. As Daly's de facto campaign manager, EP Thompson arranged for scores of young left-wing activists from English university towns to travel north and beat the streets of working class Fife.

Last week another maverick Scot took on the political establishment in a working class electorate with the help of young activists from London and the universities. Campaigning under the banner of the small Respect Party, George Galloway astonished observers by winning the Bradford West parliamentary by election. Bradford West had been a safe Labour seat since 1974, and some pundits wondered whether Galloway would get even five percent of the vote there. In the event, he won more than fifty percent, and finished ten thousand votes clear of Labour's candidate.

Galloway is known through Britain as an opponent of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, and his campaign in West Bradford was aided by supporters from out of town. But Galloway triumphed in Bradford because he got large numbers of locals to vote for the first time in their lives. A third of the West Bradford electorate is Muslim, and Galloway's denunciations of British imperialism in the Middle East played well amongst that section of the community (his unfortunate habit of praising Middle Eastern dictators he perceives to be anti-Western seems not have been widely noticed).

Galloway also appears to have won over the wider Bradford working class by counterposing an old-fashioned social democratic programme of increased state spending on welfare and jobs to the austerity measures favoured by David Cameron's government.

The shock result in West Bradford came at the end of a week when Cameron's government had endured several severe embarrassments. A secret recording revealed that the Tories were selling access to Cameron and influence over policy making to the rich, and a leaked memo showed that the party was deliberately trying to provoke a major confrontation with trade unions by stoking public fear about fuel supplies. Labour ought to have benefited from the troubles of the Tories, but instead it was trounced in Bradford. Many left-leaning members of Labour blame the party's poor performance on its continuing attachment to a political strategy developed in the early 1990s by Tony Blair and his allies. The Blairites believed that Labour's electoral success was dependent on getting votes not only in its traditional working class heartlands but amongst the middle and upper middle classes in the outer suburbs of towns like Bardford and in the south of England. Labour could rely on working class support, but it had to court the middle classes by abandoning old policies like the nationalisation of industry and the aggressive taxing of the rich and big business.

Blairism led to a long-term decline in Labour's membership and vote in depressed working class areas like Bradford. The class which had traditionally identified with the party felt estranged when it saw Blair and other leaders hobnobbing with the Murdochs and cutting company taxes. Britons with links to the Middle East were also incensed by Labour's support for George Bush's military adventures.

Since it lost last year's election the Labour Party has being trying to formulate a new political strategy. But Labour is divided into Blairite and anti-Blairite factions, and new leader Ed Miliband seems to lack the willingness or authority to plot a new course for the party. Fearful of alienating the middle classes Blair spent so much time courting, Miliband has echoed some of the Tories' talk about the necessity of spending cuts, and refused to call for the withdrawal of British troops from the Middle East.

Miliband's left-wing critics argue that, rather than trying to impress a section of the population that has gone over to the Tories, Labour should be reconnecting with its traditional working class base by promoting unashamedly left-wing, pro-union policies. The party should, they suggest, be happy to give up on the voters of commuter towns in Hertfordshire and Surrey in return for winning back the loyalty of the workers of Bradford and Sheffield and Hull. George Galloway's victory in Bradford West ought to bolster the arguments of these left-wingers. Galloway showed no interest in courting the middle class voters of the city, but instead went aggressively after the working class and anti-imperialist Muslims. Again and again he presented himself as a champion of the unions and the welfare state and an opponent of war in the Middle East. Support flowed his way.

There are some interesting similarities between the present political situations in Britain and New Zealand. Like the British, we in New Zealand have a Tory government which has lately been destabilised by a series of scandals. Like David Cameron, John Key is having trouble holding his government together and convincing the public that endless cuts in spending are any sort of solution to economic recession.

Like Cameron, though, Key benefits from a Labour opposition that refuses to go for the jugular. Under its new leader David Shearer, New Zealand's Labour Party is moving rightwards, in an effort to win support from the same middle class voters who obsessed Tony Blair. Polls show Labour lagging a long way behind National, despite the latter party's troubles. Critics of Shearer argue that Labour should be forgetting about the middle class vote, and instead trying to recover its support in South and West Auckland and other working class heartlands.

Although there are important differences between Bradford and New Zealand's cities, George Galloway's recent triumph does offer some possible lessons for Labour and other left-wing parties in this part of the world.

Galloway won because he was able to appeal to Bradford's trade unionists and to its anti-imperialist Muslims. In Auckland, Labour could have replicated Galloway's strategy by throwing its weight behind this summer's fight by the city's wharfies against deunionisation and mass redundancy. Instead of offering the occasional tepid speech, David Shearer could have made all his party's resources available to the wharfies, and raised their cause again and again in parliament. If he had done so, then he might have been able to share in the support the wharfies have gained from the public, and claim some credit for the victory they seem about to win.

Like Bradford, Auckland is home to a large yet marginalised community descended from relatively recently immigrants. Hundreds of thousands of Pacific Islanders live in the city, concentrated in the south and west. Although they have traditionally been supportive of Labour, Pasifikans have turned out in relatively low numbers in the last couple of general elections.

The Pasifika community still often feels alienated from middle New Zealand, and still frequently raises issues which no political party will champion. The sometimes capricious bureaucracy of Immigration New Zealand, which locks out Pacific Islanders with historical and family connections to New Zealand at the same time that it lets rich crooks buy their way into the country, is a perennial source of resentment in South and West Auckland. A party which championed the right of Samoans, Tongans, and other Pacific peoples with historic connections with New Zealand to settle here would become very popular in electorates like Mangere and Otara.

Auckland's Pasifika community is also dissatisfied with the city's education system. Tired of seeing their kids' native languages neglected in mainstream schools, they have set up institutions where the language of instruction is Polynesian. Despite academic studies which indicate the superiority of first language schooling, these institutions often struggle to receive recognition and funding from the state. Since the election of National in 2008, state funding for childrens' books in Pasifika languages has plummeted, making first language education still more difficult for the Pasifika community. Pasifika people have responded to this situation by creating the Leo Bilingual Pacific Languages Coalition, which now has thousands of members and holds public meetings in many parts of Auckland. Despite intensive lobbying, the Coalition was unable to win explicit support for Pasifika-language education from any party at the last election. A party which threw itself behind the cause of Pasifika languages would gain many supporters in Auckland.

Under David Shearer, Labour is unlikely to abandon Blairite political strategy by allying himself with trade unions in struggle and with Auckland's Pasifika community. Shearer and his advisers are aware that the middle class Pakeha voters they want to entice into the Labour tent have negative views about unions, and also dislike overt expressions of Polynesian culture.

But a party to Labour's left could learn from George Galloway's victory, and reach out to apathetic voters in Auckland and other Kiwi cities. The Mana Party has already played a leading role in the battle on Auckland's wharves. If the party gave similar attention to the Pasifika community's fight for language rights then it might begin to gain a mass base.

Footnote: before somebody turns up and accuses me of being a lackey of George Galloway or somesuch, let me link to this 2007 review-article for the Weekly Worker, where I took issue with the man's rather Stalinist understanding of the Spanish Civil War.

[Posted by Maps/Scott]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

A Mana Party activist has been injured while protesting the removal of a state house in Glenn Innes, the party says.

Vice-president John Minto says Jimmy O'Dea "put himself in harm's way in front of the house removal truck" and was taken to hospital.

Mr Minto says state houses are being taken away and the land sold to private developers for luxury homes on the north side of Glen Innes.
"Mana supporters are on site and coordinating support for the community and opposition to the removals," he said.

4:42 pm  
Anonymous Already there said...

Mana's immigration spokesperson James Papali'i says MANA will be calling on whomever governs after tomorrow's general election to immediately put in place a 12 month amnesty against deportation for all Pacific Island overstayers.

Mr Papali'i says 150 to 200 people representing all the nations of the pacific islands attended a meeting in Mangere last night at which MANA outlined its policy to restore dignity to the people of the Pacific Islands by treating them in the same way those from Australia.

He says the emotional response from those present was over-whelming with speakers from the floor detailing case after case of trauma and hardship as people live in terror of being deported for no other reason than that they have been here too long.

5:24 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Great stuff from Mana. I do think the party should throw itself into the language campaign, too. The campaigners could certainly do with the expertise of some of Mana's activists.

6:31 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

After witnessing the Papakura Mana party organiser's racist rants at the library against Samoans, I think Mana has a long way to go before it can secure the Pasifika vote.

7:50 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'After witnessing the Papakura Mana party organiser's racist rants at the library against Samoans'

well that settles that dunnit...

9:01 pm  
Anonymous intuitive patriot said...

Socialists, Islamists, anarchists, Democrats unite! Servants of Sauron on the move!

One Lie to rule them all,
One Lie to find them,
One Lie to bring them all,
And in the darkness bind them,
In the land of Muslims, where the shadows lie!

10:37 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

By Michael Meacher from Left Futures

The most important outcome of the Bradford West by-election is undoubtedly the rejection of the 3 main political parties who secured the support of only 40% of the electors. This increasing disaffection with conventional politics, with the Labour-Tory share of the votes down from 97% in the 1951 election to just 65% in 2010, was accentuated in Bradford West by the very high proportion of Asians in the electorate (38%), the still raw wounds in the Muslim population about the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the very significant revolt among the younger Asian generation against being told how to vote by their elders (bradreeism).

But that cannot conceal that disgust at the Westminster establishment (the expenses scandal, the continued uncovering of sleaze of which quarter million pound dinners with Cameron are only the latest awful example) and distrust of the two main parties (the rise of the SNP, Cameron’s failure to win even against Brown) are widespread and growing. And these are revealing signs of the direction in which politics is going from Europe:

In France the most arresting shift of opinion in the Presidential election is the rise and rise of Jean-Luc Mélenchon’s Front de Gauche. Now standing at 15% in the polls and rising, this Left Front has now passed both the regularly recurring centrist candidate François Bayrou and the neo-fascist Front National led by Marine Le Pen. If so, the Left will have a decisive influence on the second-round shoot-out between Hollande and Sarkozy, both with around 28% of the vote at present.
In Germany, the Left (Die Linke), which broke from the Social Democrats when the former SPD leader, Oskar Lafontaine walked out of the Schroeder cabinet a decade ago, has steadily increased its polling to 12% today and still rising.
Mélenchon’s programme in France stresses workers’ rights, controlling the banks, ecological planning, boosting the UN, resisting US hegemony, and repudiation of the EU in its present form, all of which would strike chords in the UK. His attacks on the Far Right have been vitriolic and effective, and his rejection of the social democrats and their leader (as useful as the captain of a pedalo) has been scathing.

12:18 am  
Anonymous George D said...

Papali'i has a history in Mangere, and has supporters and detractors. Any candidate in this part has to be one to transcend 'the tyranny of small differences', and have sufficient mana. I don't think he's the one to do it, unfortunately.

Papali'i and Mana are of course within their rights to prove that impression wrong.

9:43 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...
why PI activist James left Labour for Mana

10:24 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Next Generation Labour responds to the Bradford debacle:

5:27 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quote from Next Generation Labour:

Mobilised youth are a polical force to be reckoned with. Key to Galloway’s success were the high level of young people who had been through the experiences of the anti-war and austerity movements. Students hitting the streets in winter 2010 were the first to turn the tide on the coalition, and creating a presence amongst these young people is vital. In order to do this we will need give them something to come out for – Ken Livingstone’s pledge to reinstate EMA for FE students in London is an excellent start, but this needs to be used as a prototype for national policies. Over half of young black men in Britain are currently unemployed. We should be shouting that from the rooftops. And yes – we need to talk about free education again.
Labour has to examine its relationships with Muslim communities. One of the more unpleasant responses to Galloway’s victory has been the suggestion that ‘the Muslim vote’ is somehow tainted and invalid. As well as wars waged on Muslim countries abroad, all too often Labour politicians have seen scapegoating Muslims as fair game- Liam Byrne’s vile campaign in Birmingham comes to mind particularly. This has extended to how people within the party are treated – see the expulsion of Lutfur Rahman, Gilligan smears being used against Ken Livingstone etc. However, MPs such as Jeremy Corbyn have managed to develop strong links with local Muslim groups by speaking out against Islamophobia and the war-mongering of the coalition and the Labour leadership before them. These are the kinds of alliances that must be built.

5:28 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:21 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Good post Maps. The emphasis needs to be on language indeed and we are a big multicultural place now. Auckland and indeed New Zealand (Aotearoa). NZ is very changed. It is like the rest of the world, like Britain, we have many ethnicities here now.

I think we have to be dubious though of some of these so called "freedom" movements" especially when Imperialist nations such as the US and Britain back them. IN the Moslem nations they have good leaders. They need to build up their military strength to stand up to the US aggressors etc. "Democracy" (who put the mock in it?) is not good timing for is a European disease

Labour or Mana could shift to a positive role.

Good to see Minto in action. Jimmy is a good man.

Re GI and Panmure, when I was young in the 50s it was predominantly a white working class area. Some Maori lived over by Taniwha street by Tamaki College

It was state housing area mostly. People come to feel that where they live is their home and in a sense it could be argued that they, by being there so long, actually have a right (legal-ethical) of occupancy.

9:24 pm  
Anonymous Keir said...

Are you actually arguing that in a FPP environment, a political party ought ignore marginal seats and focus on safe seats? Because while I can understand doing that in NZ, the UKLP has to be committed to winning marginals if it wants to win power. In the UK, marginals are in the midlands and suburban England.

If you ignore those seats, you will never ever win power.

10:30 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

That sort of Blairite thinking is devoid of any sense of history and sociology, Keir.

History shows that in societies like Blighty the middle classes tend to vacillate between the left and the right, the labour movement and the bourgeoisie, depending on the state of play in the economy and in politics.

If a party based in the labour movement builds up its membership and power in its heartland areas, and makes a serious play for national hegemony, then sections of the middle classes will be attracted to its banner.

Savage and Attlee both brought swathes of the middle classes with them when they rode to power in 1935 and '45 respectively. Only a few years earlier, though, the farmers who voted for Savage and the petty bourgeois southerners who supported Attlee regarded Labourism with something very like horror.

Only after Labour showed it had a solid base in the working class and rolled out a programme that began with the needs of the workers and then addressed the middle classes were doubters won over.

Blair inverted the method of the 1930s and '40s Labour leaders, by turning to the retirees of Brighton and the shopkeepers of Tunbride on Wells for his programme in the early '90s. In a period when the labour movement had been defeated by Thatcherism and the notion of social democracy, let alone socialism, was unfashionable, Blair's method inevitably ended up giving Labour a profoundly right-wing set of policies. These policies led to the decimation of their party membership in the working class heartlands.

Blairites like to argue that their man at least won elections for Labour, but the party was bound to win the 1997 election easily, such was the exhaustion of the Tory administration it faced, and Labour took the 2004 despite not because of Blair, who had become a hate figure with many Britons because of the Iraq war. Indeed, many Labour candidates kept Blair's name, image, and key policies out of their election propaganda in 2004.
The history of the SDP shows the true popularity of Blairite ideas with the British public.

11:10 pm  
Anonymous Keir said...

No, actually, Scott, it's called having a clue about electoral geography. I don't care how you want to slice it, if you want to be HMG you need to win the hundred marginals that decide UK elections. This is the single most important fact about the UK electoral system.

Tempting as it is to argue that ``
if a party based in the labour movement builds up its membership and power in its heartland areas, and makes a serious play for national hegemony, then sections of the middle classes will be attracted to its banner'' it just isn't true. (A play for national hegemony? WTF is the cash value of that statement anyway?)

Practically speaking, Attlee won by moving to the centre, playing to the moderates, and muzzling the far left of the movement. Same way Savage did. (The guaranteed minimum price anyway? What a blow for the proles that was...)

12:36 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Surely Gramsci's most famous concept isn't too recondite to throw around in a discussion about left-wing politics, Keir?

I don't want to romanticise the Labour parties of the '30s and '40s, but they did indisputably win over sections of the middles classes (quite broad sections, in New Zealand in 1935 and 1938) by building out from their working class heartlands, both organisationally and programmatically. Blair proceeded in the opposite manner, crafting policy to suit the middle classes and then imposing it on his party's heartlands.

Imagine Harry Holland or John A Lee or Savage running off to Te Aroha to run a focus group of the dairy farmers there and then making up policy based on the farmers' feedback, and you've got an analogy with Blair's practice.

1:25 am  
Anonymous Keir said...

Er, that's actually what they did do. Guaranteed minimum price?

I am hardly a defender of Blair. But he did actually win elections, something that Holland and Lee never managed.

10:23 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

11:44 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Te Aroha came to mind because it was a typical base of the ultra-right New Zealand Legion in the early thirties. The Legion was exactly the sort of organisation that the middle classes form when they're pulled rightwards.

If Blair was running Labour in the thirties he would have met the Legion, promised to take on board its concerns, and remoulded Labour policy to avoid offending its members. Guaranteed prices and other aspects of state intervention in the primary sector would have been out the window.

The liking of farmers for state subsidies and state intervention grew after they became convinced that the left was going to take power and implement a more statist agenda.

If we were talking about Britain, we could use the coming of the welfare state and the NHS as examples of the way a strong left and labour movement can pull the wavering middle classes in their direction. Liberals like Lord Beveridge were persuaded to back the welfare state after being impressed by the strength of feeling for it to their left. GPs initially opposed the NHS, but had to give in after seeing how much momentum lay behind it.

11:46 am  
Anonymous how many wives does galloway have? said...

I think George must be a closet Muslim.
Actually in the case of Muslim marriages, in the UK more than one wife can be recognised as “legal” for the purposes of claiming benefits.
In around 2008 Ministers decided that, even though bigamy is a crime in Britain, polygamous marriages can be recognised formally by the state – provided they took place overseas, in countries where they are legal.
Ministers launched a review of the benefit rules for polygamous marriages in November 2006, after it emerged that some families had benefited financially.
The review concluded in December 2007 last year with agreement that the extra benefits should continue to be paid. But the decision was not publicly announced.
Four departments – the Treasury, the DWP, HM Revenue and Customs, and the Home Office – were involved in the review, which concluded that recognising multiple marriages conducted overseas was ‘the best possible’ option. In Britain, bigamy is punishable by up to seven years in prison.
Officials have also identified a potential loophole by which a man can divorce his wife under British law while continuing to live with her as his spouse under Islamic law, and obtain a spouse visa for a foreign woman who he can legally marry.
Immigration rules say entry clearance may not be withheld from a second wife where the husband has divorced his previous wife, and the divorce is thought to be one of convenience.
This is so, even if the husband is still living with the previous wife and to issue the entry clearance would lead to the formation of a polygamous household.
Muslim couples are only married in the eyes of the British state if they undergo a register office wedding as well as a Nikah, or religious ceremony.
Muslim groups say it is quite common for men here to undergo more than one Nikah with different wives. This does not count as bigamy since only the first marriage is legally recognised.

12:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

12:10 pm  
Anonymous Keir said...

Right --- apparently massive state sector give-aways to farmers aren't in fact massive state sector give-aways to farmers. Likewise, GPs didn't go along because of any gold/mouth arrangements, but because they were convinced by the moral force of etc.

In the real world, both Savage and Atlee sold themselves as centrists who were willing to compromise on Labour party dogmas. And Holland and Lee never won an election --- in Lee's case, never even won election to parliament without the party's backing.

12:44 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

It's about the middle class, or a portion thereof, deciding where its interests lie. The British Medical Association opposed the nationalisation of medicine in the UK - until it became bleeding obvious that nationalisation was going to occur anyway, and doctors needed to get on the train.

Farmers opposed state intervention in the economy - until it became clear to many of them that the right-wing parties were incapable of serving their needs and Labour was likely to take power in 1935. Once the farmers and the doctors had realigned themselves deals were struck. But the organisational and ideological strength of the left - and of course we're talking about the social democratic left here, not the far left - was what forced them to abandon their old alignments.

The vacillation of the middle classes in situtaions where the two main classes clash is not an unusual phenomenon. It could be argued that the phenomenon has been seen on a small scale in Auckland and Bradford these last few weeks, as a prominent Bradfordian solicitors' firm has defected from Labour and threw its resources behind Galloway, and a number of small companies have endorsed the Save Our Ports campaign set up by the wharfies. When the left and labour movement is strong it starts to exert a gravitational pull.

1:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Daily Mail invokes Powell...racist hysteria...

More than 40 years ago, Enoch Powell warned of the threat that mass immigration posed to the culture and security of Britain. Few believed him. What we have now is George Galloway: a pro-Islamofascist, anti-Britain, anti-capitalism product of classic third world, unassimilated, rabble-rousing engineering of an election.
Daily Mail George Galloway’s victory shows that we now have our ghettos. We have segregation. We have a divided land with the consequences of not assimilating failed third-world backward cultures within us. These are growing and multiplying generation after generation.

Galloway embraced by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh
Galloway’s Muslim-supported Respect Party has a future, and provided the Islamic population continues to grow at its present rate, and is not fully assimilated, it is an Islamist one. Be warned.

Without the reason of modern Western Democractic peoples that acquired democracy over time and sacrifice- the people who voted for Galloway might as well be going for any demagogue in Islamabad or Pyongyang.

Galloway’s victory is dangerous and demonstrates the ugly alliance between the far left and Islamists.

Islamists are non-assimilated Muslims who place their Islamic identity above an identity gained from centuries established indigenous British peoples. They would dismiss that remarkable of all Liberal British inventions the common law, for Sharia. Galloway actively promotes this idea.

He promotes multiculturalism, or cultural egalitarianism- the idea that all cultures are equal- the absurd idea that Sharia and the common-law are the same. He and his radical Islamist followers do this with contempt for British people on their own soil.

1:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

12:07 am  

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