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Galloway in Bradford: Will Labour Learn the Lessons?

Labour knows why it lost the Bradford West election. Apparently, it was the fault of the Tories:

Labour claimed that it might have retained the seat if the Tory vote had not collapsed so completely. Labour argued that the budget, revelations about Cameron’s wealthy donors and the petrol queues all led to the severe drop in Conservative support.

Apparently, another problem is that George Galloway was unexpectedly popular, because he had been on a gameshow:

Labour MP Toby Perkins conceded that his party had lessons to learn from the way Mr Galloway had been able to “capture the mood” of the electorate, especially young people.

He went on: “I think frankly there wasn’t a lot the other parties could do about it. They’d seen him on Big Brother.

Well, if those were the reasons for the swing, then George Galloway was very foolish to have run a campaign in which he emphasised his teetotalism, while his rival’s apparent preparedness to have the odd pint was played up. He was an idiot to preface his comments with phrases appealing to overt religiosity such as “By the grace of God”. Perhaps, if he hadn’t delivered a letter in which he stated:

“God KNOWS who is a Muslim. And he KNOWS who is not.

his vote would be even higher.

Labour’s problem is this.

Labour campaigns have themselves been run along communalist lines. Labour does attempt to woo “community leaders” in elections, and does run leaflets designed to appeal to the specific concerns of confessional communities. It does it with various communities: not simply Muslims. And it isn’t only Labour which does this.

At the moment, it is very clear that Ken Livingstone is running a similar campaign. These “arguments” with Jews are, I believe contrived: deliberately provoked, and relished. They’re designed to establish Ken Livingstone as the candidate who ’stands up to Jews’, among constituencies which believe in Jewish conspiracies.

We knew that Ken Livingstone was going to run such a campaign. That was the clear intention of his endorsement of Lutfur Rahman, the anti-Labour candidate, in the Tower Hamlets’ Mayoral election. Not only was Ken Livingstone not expelled from Labour, as the constitution of the party provided should should be: he was then allowed to run a similar campaign in the current election.

The trouble is: you can’t have “a little bit of sectarianism”. Try to win an election by doing it in a low key way: along will come a Galloway and beat you at your own game.

I can see why it is tempting to run these campaigns. It must be very difficult to resist. It is also probably true say that, at the moment, you’re more likely to pick up votes than lose them, by such a strategy.

There’s a real danger in communalist politics. Respect is, in many ways, the mirror image of the British National party: a party which markets itself as “for good Muslims” just as the BNP claims to be the party of white “patriots”.  But while Labour is doing similar things itself, on a smaller scale, it is very difficult for Labour to criticise this practice. Instead, it pretends that Labour lost because Galloway had been on a TV gameshow.

But unless Labour, and all mainstream parties, make appeals to faith and community a “poison pill” of an electoral strategy, it will continue. And then we’ll be in the surreal position of inveighing and urging unity against White sectarian politics, while practicing it in relation to other cultural and religious groups. I don’t think you can do that.

The only question, now, is whether politics sectarianises further, or whether parties are prepared to turn their back on it.

This has got to change. The only way to combat communalist politics is to render it taboo. But that cannot happen, if it is tacitly accepted.