George Galloway: no longer a leftist

Issue: 183

Charlie Kimber

George Galloway, running as MP for Rochdale and leader of the Workers’ Party of Britain (WPB), is one of the most high-profile individuals involved in the pro-Palestinian challenge to the Labour Party at the 2024 general election.1 That is why it is crucial to recognise the reasons behind his re-emergence on the British political scene and to understand why he and his party cannot be the basis of a principled left-wing alternative to Keir Starmer’s right-wing Labour. Indeed, he is an obstacle and a reactionary diversion from the aim of building such an alternative. To the extent that he is successful in his political approach, he will poison and divide the opposition to a rotten Labour government if Starmer becomes prime minister.

However, Galloway is not as central as he thinks he is. By the time readers receive this journal, he may no longer even be an MP. Other challenges to Labour during the election campaign are also important—and could be even more critical after a new government is formed. They point the way to a better left-wing response to the opportunities for anti-imperialists that have emerged from the movement for Palestine in 2023-4. By contrast, Galloway’s approach threatens to divide the movement for Palestine. Are transgender activists welcome on the demonstrations or not? Is it right for Palestine solidarity campaigners to defend the protest rights not just of Palestine Action but also of Just Stop Oil? Galloway’s WPB answers these questions in a manner that takes the movement in a divisive direction.

None of that can obscure the reality of Galloway’s stunning electoral success, when he stormed to victory in the Rochdale by-election at the end of February 2024, winning by almost 6,000 votes. While he received an impressive 12,335 votes, the Labour candidate took only 2,402 and came fourth with less than 8 percent of the vote.2 Labour’s 9,668-vote majority in the constituency melted away due to the rage over Israel’s genocide against the Palestinians and Starmer’s support for it. At the count, Galloway, standing as a WPB candidate, said, “Keir Starmer, this is for Gaza. You have paid and you will pay a high price for the role you have played in enabling, encouraging and covering for the catastrophe in occupied Palestine”.3 This was a direct echo of 2005, when Galloway won the Bethnal Green and Bow constituency in East London for the anti-war Respect party against Tony Blair’s Labour. He exclaimed, “Mr Blair, this is for Iraq. All the people you killed and all the lies you told have come back to haunt you”.4

To recall that Galloway won in Bethnal Green (and then in Bradford West in 2012) is to stress his extraordinary ability to seize the time and to cohere support around him. It also underlines that he is often good at a campaign, but very weak at organising afterwards. He came third behind Labour and the Tories in Poplar and Limehouse—the seat next to Bethnal Green—in 2010 and lost to Labour in Bradford West in 2015.5 He then performed a further political resurrection.

Galloway has ridden the great Palestinian movement since October 2023 and gave it an electoral focus during the by-election. The Rochdale result was a rejection of Starmer, and Galloway was determined it would not be a one-off. At the time of writing, the WPB said it had already selected hundreds of general election candidates. After his February 2024 electoral victory, Galloway stated:

I want to tell Mr Starmer above all, that the plates have shifted tonight. This is going to spark a movement, a landslide, a shifting of the tectonic plates in scores of parliamentary constituencies. Beginning here in the North West, in the West Midlands, in London, from Ilford to Bethnal Green and Bow, Labour is on notice that they have lost the confidence of millions of their voters who loyally and traditionally voted for them, generation after generation.

The WPB has risen because of Palestine, but it has done nothing to create this mood. There is no mass presence of WPB placards and stalls, let alone members, on the Palestine solidarity demonstrations. Socialist Workers Party (SWP) members from Bradford, one of the WPB’s target areas, told me:

The WPB is completely absent as an organised force in the Palestine movement locally. In the aftermath of one of the WPB’s four council election successes in Halifax, where an ex-Tory thrashed his Labour opponent, not only did the new WPB councillor not turn up to the Palestine march held shortly after the election, but there was no WPB presence on the march at all.6

Galloway sensed a mood in Britain and sees himself as central to creating a different kind of non-Labour left. He does not put forward one of the many varieties of left Labourism that have been advanced by socialists inside—or sometimes by electoral groups outside—Labour. Instead, Galloway’s approach is summed up by his phrase “for the workers, not the wokers”. In an interview with Russell Brand, Galloway said, “I no longer want to hear myself described as a leftist” because it now means “liberalism, licence, ‘refugees welcome here’ and so on. All this is inimical to the interests of the working class”.7 He also said, “We are the patriots. It’s the globalists who are the traitors”.8

The WPB’s “anti-woke” politics

In 2004, Galloway defined his politics as “socialist”, but added, “I am not as left wing as you think”.9 He then distanced himself even further from the left. There was a revealing moment during the Rochdale count when Richard Tice, leader of the anti-migration Reform UK party, which had done very badly in the election, claimed abuse of postal voting and intimidation of his candidate. Galloway replied, “I think Mr Tice has rather lost his balance, and Mr Farage too. I remind Mr Tice that I have on my telephone a text from him inviting me to be the Reform UK candidate in a by-election not that long ago”.10

It is a condemnation that such a rotten racist party could have wooed Galloway. Nick Griffin, former leader of the neo-Nazi British National Party (BNP), also felt able to call for a Galloway vote in Rochdale as “the best way by far to stick two fingers up to the political elite”. Galloway is not a racist, but such support is telling. The problem with Galloway was shown by the contrast between two letters he sent out to voters. In the first he wrote:

To the voters of the Muslim faith in Rochdale. The killing of thousands of our brothers and sisters in Gaza is a war crime, and Israel must be held to account. If Labour loses this by-election, Sir Keir Starmer could well be forced out as Labour leader. Sir Keir Starmer, a top supporter of Israel.11

Yet, in the second letter, aimed at a different audience, he stated:

First and foremost, I believe in Britain. I believe in family. I am a father of six children. And I don’t like some of the things they are teaching our children. I believe in men and women. God created everything in pairs. Unlike the mainstream parties, I have no difficulty in defining what a woman is. A man cannot become a woman just by declaring as such. I believe in law and order. I will fight for more and smarter policing. There will be no grooming gangs on my watch. Even if I have to arrest them myself. MAKE ROCHDALE GREAT AGAIN.12

The first leaflet is an anti-imperialist rallying cry. The second one is a stark example of how Galloway plays with a right-wing agenda, including the sort of policies and positions often advanced by the far right and fascists in Europe. That is also reflected in the WPB’s choice of candidates. One of its picks for the Rochdale council elections in May 2024 was Billy Howarth, an “anti-grooming” campaigner who has been involved with numerous far-right conspiracy theory groups and the anti-trans Patriots of Britain events at Honor Oak in South London.

The WPB welcomed former Tory and UK Independence Party (UKIP) candidates to its 2024 general election list, including Harry Boota in Bradford, who was suspended as a Tory candidate in 2016 after suggesting homosexuality could be the result of being abused as a child. The WPB’s South Northamptonshire candidate, Mick Stott, is a founder of the Guardians300 group, which peddles a range of conspiracy theories. Former UKIP MEP Amjad Bashir, who defected to the Conservatives in 2015, was selected to represent the WPB in Pudsey.

The WPB’s offer in 2024 was a mixture of rage against Israel’s mass murder in Gaza, opposition to austerity and a proud reflection of right-wing ideas. The WPB manifesto, for example, struck out at migrants and refugees: “People are not wrong to worry about undue burdens being placed on local services, about disproportionate herding of migrants into poorer parts of the country, and about the cost of hosting escalating numbers of asylum seekers”.13 The manifesto goes on to denounce moves towards “net zero” environmental policies as “essentially a redistribution of wealth from [people] to investors and businesses”. The document’s scepticism about the need for environmental action is deep:

Climate change is constantly taking place. It has done so for thousands of years. We understand just how much science can be socially constructed in a society dominated by the interests of profit and not people. We keep an open mind.14

Another constant theme of the WPB is that it supposedly stands for “common sense”—for which read “thoroughly oppressive”—views on gender and sexuality. During the 2021 Batley and Spen by-election, Galloway complained about what he called “transmania” in an article for Russia Today. He also told the Spiked website how Labour is “infatuated” with the trans issue, repeated the “transmania” term and said it was putting off working-class voters. During a “Freedom of Speech” event, he explained he did not want primary school children taught “that there are 99 genders” and “that men can become women”.15

In a recent Novara Media interview, Galloway said, “I want my children to be taught that the normal thing in Britain, in society across the world, is a mother, a father and a family”. He continued:

I ain’t no liberal, bruv. I have always had a more conservative mindset on social and moral issues than the rest of the left. I have voted for gay marriage and the rest. But I don’t want my children brought up to believe that men in frocks and all the transmania that is around—no, I don’t want my children exposed to that. I think Jeremy [Corbyn] is probably quite comfortable with that.

There have always been men who wanted to be women, and I treat them like I would like to be treated. But, if you ask me to accept that, with his dick swinging, he could change next to my seven year old daughter, then the answer to that is no. I am gay-friendly. I just don’t want my kids to be taught that it is the same if you decide to take the direction of Adam and Steve, when the norm and the happiest and the most stable basis for society is mum, dad and the kids.16

Galloway went on to say he wants to teach his children that LGBT+ people exist and “must be treated with respect”. Yet, he does not want his “children to be taught that these things are equal because I don’t believe them to be equal”.17 Later, he said he meant “normal” rather than “equal”. Given a let-out that he might mean “typical” when he said “normal”, he refused to accept it. The interview was so provocative in its transphobia and homophobia that some commentators thought it was a deliberate attempt to deter “entryists” from the far left from trying to infiltrate the WPB.18 Others saw it as bending to “Muslim ideas” or “working-class views”. However, this would be to misrepresent the views of both Muslims and working-class people.

In May 2024, the WPB circulated its draft policy on education and young people. It is a mix of Labour-type reforms alongside the reactionary, the bizarre and the chilling. It backs, for example, “small class sizes, teachers who are trusted to teach without administrative target-driven nonsense, investment in extra-curricular subjects such as the arts and music, as well as sports”. In summary, the party wants an “atmosphere of equitable encouragement of all, according to their abilities”. This is followed by a rather different message: “We are deeply concerned at the anti-natalist (those who believe it is wrong or morally unjustifiable to have children) prejudices of the elitist class who deal with reduced fertility rates with the easy solution of mass uncontrolled immigration, instead of securing the lives of those who live permanently in the country”.19 This is a version of the vile far-right Great Replacement Theory that could easily come from Italy’s fascist prime minister Giorgia Meloni and France’s Marine Le Pen.20

For some in the Labour Party, these loathsome politics are an easy way to justify sticking with Starmer. However, for all the differences, Galloway’s politics are a peculiar twist on mainstream Labourism rather than a real break from it. He is still marked by the social democracy that he adopted as a teenager. Labour has a long history of supporting imperialism, implementing racism, attacking working-class people and scabbing on strikes. Labour and Starmer are highly likely to preside over the British state’s battery of racist laws after the next election. Starmer and prospective home secretary Yvette Cooper will deport people, allow them to drown in the Channel and defend the cops who beat and kill black people. Labour will have the state power to implement vile racism, not Galloway.

Galloway’s appeal

Despite all this, it would be a mistake is to underestimate or misunderstand Galloway’s appeal to an important set of those who have marched and campaigned for Palestine in 2023-4. At the No Ceasefire No Vote conference in April 2024, dozens of important activists came together to discuss how to build an electoral expression from the great Palestine movement.21 One obvious possibility in some earlier periods would have been to pour into the Labour Party and select candidates close to the heart of those who have marched and organised against Israeli genocide. That was ruled out in 2024 due to the relentless support for Israel and its mass killings of Palestinians by Starmer and the vast majority of his MPs. Labour is rightly seen not as an unreliable ally but as an enemy—even if forming an alternative to it is hugely difficult.

Most of the participants in the conference standing in the forthcoming council or general elections saw themselves standing as independents, without a party label. That was either for organisational and technical reasons about registering a party or so that they could define their own stance without feeling constrained by a national body. Later, Galloway arrived and argued to sweep aside such an approach. Cloaked in his success at Rochdale, he shifted the atmosphere. He rallied much of the room behind him, and he did so by offering a crystal-clear political approach.

Galloway’s speech was wholly uncompromising toward Israel. He said the WPB was “with the occupied against the occupier”. This means that “we unequivocally support the right of Palestinian people to resist in whatever way they decide”. According to him, a vote for any Labour candidate, including the those on the left, was a “vote for genocide”. He added that when people say “some Labour candidates are not so bad”, we should “ask whether that car park for the mosque matters more than the dead children of Gaza”.22 It was a searching reach into the consciences of those who might be tempted to elevate petty local gains for the “community” above the agony of the Palestinian people and their struggle for freedom.

Galloway acknowledged that some people in the room did not much like him and disagreed with him about trans rights, trade unionism and “net zero” environment policies. However, he remarked they should consider the value of the WPB logo, which sets people apart from other independents. He said it meant they could be part of a challenge by “hundreds of candidates” at the general election.23 It was a powerful appeal and, after the speech, he regally declared he was moving outside the hall and would consider offers from those who felt themselves worthy to stand for the WPB. Several people rushed to speak to him.

Galloway’s take on how to build a movement and the salience of issues such as LGBT+ liberation, refugees and the environmental emergency are partially shared by others. For example, in April 2024, Andrew Murray bemoaned in the Morning Star newspaper that Owen Jones—the journalist and commentator who has recently left Labour—and Galloway are divided because they are in “opposite trenches in those ‘culture wars’, which divide socialists to the profit of our opponents”.24 The argument here is that we should unite, at least in electoral terms, if we can agree about, say, Palestinian liberation and tax increases on the rich. Whether refugees are welcomed or excoriated, whether LGBT+ people should have additional rights or fewer, whether abortion access should be widened, narrowed or entirely eliminated, whether environmental collapse is central to the future of humanity or a fraud need not set us apart—apparently all these issues are of marginal importance.

Galloway’s prominence is a function of absences. The first comes about because the left electoral projects of the past ten years, which claimed to be able to challenge and replace traditional social democracy, have crashed and burned. Syriza in Greece, Podemos in Spain, Corbynism in Britain and the Bernie Sanders project in the United States have all failed in their own terms, let alone judged as movements of transformative change. Die Linke (The Left) in Germany is also in trouble, and the left in Portugal is in retreat.

Such trends are not in the forefront of British voters’ minds—the wreckage of the Tories, the meagre pledges from Keir Starmer, wages, benefits, the NHS and the carnage in Gaza weigh more heavily. Yet, in many countries, there is no substantial electoral force that gains when the Labour-type parties betray their supporters. There are small initiatives and gatherings, but, in general, Galloway paints on a blank canvas of the left.

There is a specific problem with Jeremy Corbyn, the best-placed person in Britain to shape such an electoral force. Despite Starmer blocking him from being a Labour MP or a Labour candidate at the 2024 general election, Corbyn waited a long time before declaring openly that he was running as an independent in his Islington North constituency. Sunak had made his surprise announcement of the election before Corbyn even said he was running. His candidacy was not the basis for a national confrontation with rightward-moving Labour. Instead, it was essentially an individual action. His step is important, deserving of support and is far better than nothing, but it is not a systematic alternative.

If he had been serious about confronting Starmer, Corbyn would have declared his candidacy when he spoke in front of close to a million people on the 11 November 2023 demonstration for Palestine. He could have said:

I tell you that Gaza will be on the ballot paper come the next election. I am standing for peace and justice, for Palestine, for an end to austerity, for compassion towards refugees, and for an end to the duopoly of two main parties led by those who are too close to the elite. The Labour Party that so many of us have dedicated our political lives to has regrettably, but I believe temporarily, walked away from us. Please join me! Let’s have 100 candidates across Britain!

This would not have been a revolutionary speech—I have deliberately couched it in terms that Corbyn might have used—but it would have electrified his audience. Within three months, he would have had a national network. Galloway would probably have joined it, but his particular set of politics would have been sidelined in favour of a variant of Labour’s manifestos in 2017 and 2019. Such a Labour Party Mark 2 would have been far short of what is needed, but it would have shaved off some of the most toxic elements of Galloway’s WPB. Corbyn’s delay in confronting Labour was not primarily an issue of personal character. It is because he still believes in the method of change through parliamentary activity and in the “broad church” of Labourism. He seeks to return to Labour. He does not demand that John McDonnell, Richard Burgon, Diane Abbott, Apsana Begum, Bell Ribeiro-Addy and others join him. Even after the last year, Corbyn wants them to stay and fight.

Galloway also accepts the essentials of Labourism. However, he knows that there is no place for him anymore. Corbyn hopes that he can win in a fashion akin to Ken Livingstone, who was forced to run against Labour for mayor of London but was then readmitted to the party. In an article in March 2024, Socialist Worker identified numerous initiatives that hope to cohere people breaking to the left of Labour.25 None of them, however, has anything like Galloway’s ruthlessness and focus. While others hesitated and vacillated, Galloway acted.

Underlying all this is the absence of sustained strike struggle by the organised working class. In Britain, the strike wave of 2022-3 was the highest level of resistance by organised workers since 1989, and it represented a serious break from a period when strikes seemed marginal to society and politics. However, the trade union leaders did not push these battles to victory. Instead, they mostly kept actions separated from each other and severely limited any direct participation by strikers in the direction of their action. The union leaders did not escalate beyond token action—and argued for acceptance of deals that fell far short of what could have been achieved. That shaped the sort of left and the scale of working-class confidence going into the explosion of the Palestine solidarity movement. The conservative red-white-and-blue WPB politics cut with some because they are not more widely challenged by a better, more principled and more numerous left.

From Respect to the WPB

At this point, it is reasonable to ask about the SWP’s record with Galloway. The SWP is distancing itself from him now, but did it previously not elevate him and praise him? The context for Galloway’s election as a Respect party candidate in 2005 was the great movement against the Iraq War. The anti-war movement could put as many as two million people on the street and created local networks across British society. It was correct to seek a political expression for that wave of protests, and particularly for the anti-imperialist tendency at its heart.

Electoral coalitions always involve compromise. When the SWP helped to form the Respect formation in 2003, its members accepted that the new organisation would not have the party’s positions on certain issues. SWP members argued at Respect’s foundation, for example, not to push for an end to the monarchy and a requirement for Respect MPs to accept a workers’ wage. This approach was based on the united front method. The SWP agreed with others who wanted to give expression to the vast anti-war movement and desired to channel the disillusion with Labour towards the left, rather than leaving people prey to right-wing ideas and even fascist groups such as the BNP.

Given the restricted scale of class struggle and class confidence, an electoral front of any size was not going to be based on revolutionary politics. Chris Harman set out the ethos behind the new organisation:

We agreed on a minimal set of points, fully compatible with our long-term goals, which were also the maximum acceptable to our allies, and to many thousands of people drawn into activity by opposition to the war. The initials of Respect summed up the nature of the project—Respect, Equality, Socialism, Peace, Environment, Community and Trade Unions—with socialism as one clear point among them.26

Galloway was always likely to be at the centre of such a formation. In May 2003, Labour had suspended Galloway from the party.27 In an interview for Abu Dhabi Television, Galloway had accused British and US troops of attacking Iraq “like wolves” and predicted a long “war of liberation” by Iraqis to repel them. He called on other Arab states to cut off oil supplies to Britain and the US.28

Galloway did not rush to found an alternative to Labour. In his autobiographical book, he writes that he had thought about the need for a break from Labour as early as 2002 because he realised that US president George W Bush and Blair “had secretly embarked upon the path to slaughter”.29 Yet, in 2003, he waited to be dumped. There are always tactical issues about how to manage such decisions, but the longer the gap between the anti-war marches of 2003 and the splits in Labour over the war, the less likely it was that other MPs would join a breakaway.

In October 2003, the Labour Party formally expelled Galloway. The charges against him included claims that he had incited Arabs to fight British troops, encouraged British troops to defy orders, urged voters to reject Labour MPs, threatened to stand against Labour and had congratulated Socialist Alliance candidate Michael Lavalette—a member of the SWP at that time—on winning a Preston city council seat. To Galloway’s credit, he was guilty of most of these charges. He had said that the war in Iraq was illegal, urged British troops not to obey “illegal orders” and asked, “Why don’t Arabs do something for the Iraqis? Where are the Arab armies? We wonder when the Arab leaders wake up? When are they going to stand by the Iraqi people?”.30 As Labour’s decision came through, the front page of Socialist Worker stated:

“We, in the anti-war movement, warned of the chaos the occupation of Iraq would bring. Tragically, we are being proved right.” That is the message anti-war MP George Galloway has been taking to packed public meetings every day since his expulsion last week. It is for speaking such truth and playing a leading role in the anti-war movement that the Labour Party has expelled him. But, as Galloway says, “All the kangaroo courts Blair can muster will not end the Iraq disaster or spare him from the millions in Britain who know their prime minister is a liar”.31

Once he was outside the Labour Party, Galloway was part of the search for an alternative formation. Again, this took time. On 25 January 2004, Respect—The Unity Coalition was formed at an enthusiastic rally of 1,500 people. In the run-up to the meeting, John Rees wrote in Socialist Worker:

The new organisation will be a coalition. It will focus on the great deal that unites us, not the issues that divide us. It will not demand that any of us cease to defend our own distinctive political views—merely that on those issues where we agree we speak with a single voice, campaign for our common values, choose candidates who best represent us and vote for them in the June elections.32

In such an organisation, Galloway was an immense asset. A superb orator and persuader, he could win over sections of working-class voters, particularly Muslim voters, who trusted him because of his anti-imperialist record. He would have been much less central if other Labour MPs who opposed the Iraq war had also joined Respect. Politically, he was a long way from the SWP, but he was also not pumping out the politics he espouses now. That is because, whatever his individual views, Galloway was disciplined first—to a very limited extent—by the Labour Party and then far more by the SWP in Respect. Instead of vicious baiting over LGBT+, he spoke of how Respect “will fight for the rights of all minorities”. Galloway explained:

We want our country to be a rainbow society. We like the fact that so many colours, cultures, traditions, religions and languages are mixing in our green and pleasant land. We love to see our children making friends who are different from themselves and yet fundamentally the same. We want our society to be a rich and wonderful weave of many colours and hues, like the threads in the tartan that together produce something more beautiful than the sum of their parts. This can only be done by proceeding on the basis of respect.33

Instead of searing attacks on environmentalists, he talked of “defending mother earth with verve, imagination and style”.34

The foul attacks on refugees that vomit forth from the WPB also stand in contrast to what Galloway said before. After the racist murder of Kurdish man Firsat Yildiz in Glasgow in 2001, he wrote powerfully: “It starts with inflammatory speeches from politicians and is heated up by cheap tabloid hysteria, and it ends with refugee blood seeping on to the cold, wet pavements of Britain’s sink estates.” He went on to link racist policies in Britain to imperialism, arguing:

Yildiz…was a victim first of our NATO partner and candidate European Union member Turkey, whose repression and murder of Kurds like him has, for reasons of realpolitik, to be ignored. Then he was a victim of the Home Office, destabilised by the virulent hate campaign against refugees… Some flee the bayonet or the torture table, others the no less lethal blades of hunger, ill health and ignorance.35

Just before Labour expelled him, Galloway wrote again in The Guardian in defence of asylum seekers in Glasgow. There are parts of the article that suggest that perhaps they should not have come to the area. He wrote that they had been “scattered to places like Glasgow’s Sighthill housing estate—where non-white faces were hitherto few and far between, and where the local people themselves lived in penury and, as they saw it, in competition with the new arrivals”.36 However, there is also a clarion cry for understanding, solidarity and a recognition of how capitalism constantly shifts people around and how we all need to stand together:

Less than a century ago, my grandparents arrived barefoot on cattleboats at Anderston Quay in what is now my constituency. They were greeted with hostility: window signs saying “No Dogs, No Irish!” and organised Orange Order witch-hunting. They walked to Dundee and produced a family of millworkers, engineers, teachers, health workers, computer experts and an MP. Little of the wisdom of Herbert Asquith’s wartime Liberal government of that time—or even Christian charity—is in evidence today, when our country is hugely richer.37

In his 2004 autobiography, Galloway attacked New Labour home secretary David Blunkett: “Blunkett’s Britain is a land of detention centres…with razor wire, private security firms, German shepherd dogs; the incarceration of people, even children, against whom the only accusation is that they were foolish enough to think that they were fleeing for asylum in the free country that sheltered Giuseppe Mazzini and Karl Marx”.38 Blunkett, Galloway wrote in the same book, “sets out to starve asylum seekers into the sea—or anywhere but here”:

Blunkett told me that such language and such measures were necessary to stop the rise of the BNP and other extreme right-wing groups. But throwing bones to the beasts of racism in the hope of satisfying them is the road which led to Treblinka and Buchenwald. Feeding the loud and foul mouths of the BNP merely makes them hungry for more. If a self-defined “social democrat” cannot see that, cannot stand up, straight, even for anti-racist multiculturalism, then it is worth asking what conceivable purpose in life he serves.39

The problem was that the shaping and disciplining effect of the SWP frayed and receded as Galloway won as an MP. No other parliamentarian broke from Labour, and his personal supporters became central in many local Respect organisations. From being a bridge to a wider audience for socialist politics, Galloway became a pathway to opportunist practice, putting vote-grubbing before any sort of principle. The anti-war movement, which Galloway had described as the “mothership” of Respect, declined from its great heights. Businessmen and “community leaders” now seemed to be more important than those who protested in the streets.

Galloway and some others in Respect, especially those who had recently been in Labour and broke over Iraq, were dismayed that Respect had not broken through electorally in a way they had hoped. It is common for people who once were in Labour to think they can easily overturn a mass reformist party or at least make major inroads by winning councillors and even parliamentary seats. It is often a rude awakening that the resilience of reformism (and the effects of the British first-past-the-post electoral system) make it very hard to win. That is not a profound problem for revolutionaries, who do not see elections as central, but it is a huge obstacle if one thinks society changes through voting.

The logic of electoralism led to Galloway seeking to adapt to more conservative forces and views to harvest more votes. He did not want to press arguments about LGBT+ rights too hard, and he then sought to marginalise the SWP, which was seen as a barrier to such accommodation. A low point came in 2021. A magnificent anti-racist mobilisation blocked a deportation raid in Glasgow’s Pollokshields area. However, Galloway was not celebrating. Instead, he denounced the Scottish government’s surrender to the protesters and its interference in the “reserved matter” of immigration—an issue for the Westminster parliament. In response, Mark Brown wrote a superb letter to The National newspaper setting out Galloway’s decline. He charted “the erstwhile socialist firebrand whose dedication to the Union has sent him hurtling into the political cesspit with a speed that would alarm Lewis Hamilton”. Brown continued:

[His] recent political descent…came less than two months after Galloway, a former stalwart of the anti-racist movement, had all but trashed his reputation with a vile, racist Tweet against Scottish justice secretary Humza Yousaf. In an extraordinary outburst of vile, ethno-centric bigotry, the former Labour MP for Glasgow Hillhead averred that the Scots-Asian cabinet minister is “not a Celt like me”.

It is hard to believe that this right-wing, racial chauvinist Twitter twit is the same George Galloway who so brilliantly excoriated the warmongering senators in Washington DC, when, in 2005, they falsely accused him of benefitting from the Iraqi “oil for food” programme. It is equally difficult to associate him with the man who stood beside me back in 2001, when I was secretary of the Glasgow Campaign to Welcome Refugees, and held out the hand of welcome to displaced people who were facing racially-inspired lies and defamation.40

Ironically, Galloway’s stampede rightwards finds him in the same place on gender issues as the Alba party, led by former Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Alex Salmond. Alba, a split from the SNP, has made “anti-woke” politics crucial to its approach. Yet, it also says that it is more serious than the SNP on winning Scottish independence—a prospect that horrifies the British unionist Galloway.

Socialist Worker was correct in its coverage of the foundation of Respect and Galloway’s role. It was also right not to call for a vote for the WPB in Rochdale and to say the Palestine movement and the left need much better than Galloway’s politics. Voting is a tactical matter. Yet, when some individual or group proclaims themselves the alternative to Labour, socialists should not give their votes to those who might have some positive policies but dump the oppressed and encourage right-wing scapegoating. A Starmer government will act in the interest of the corporations, the generals and the British state. The far right could grow further as anger builds among working-class people. To prepare for that, we need alternatives that stand with the oppressed, not ones that direct working-class fury against them.

He’s not the only one

Galloway is one sharp example of a wider “economically left, culturally conservative” trend. One prominent example is German parliamentarian Sahra Wagenknecht, who, in 2024, launched the Bündnis Sahra Wagenknecht—Vernunft und Gerechtigkeit (BSW; Alliance Sahra Wagenknecht—Reason and Justice) party.41 The new party supports a higher minimum wage and an end to weapons deliveries to Ukraine. It also wants an end to net-zero climate policies and a return to “workers’ concerns”. At the party’s launch event, Fabio De Masi, now its lead candidate for the 2024 European Parliament elections, underlined that “we have deliberately said that we are not a Left Party 2.0”. BSW says it wanted to be a broad-based “people’s party” in which conservative voters who value social cohesion will find a welcome. In Wagenknecht’s book The Self-righteous: My Counter-programme for Public Spirit and Solidarity (Campus Verlag, 2021), she lambasted Die Linke, which she represented at that time, as well as the entire left, for failing to take care of the “little people”. Instead, she says, the “lifestyle left” represents academic milieus in the big cities and promotes topics that serve “bizarre minorities”.42

BSW’s manifesto for the 2024 European elections states that a “completely misguided immigration policy” has created “Islamist-influenced parallel societies in which law and order only apply to a limited extent, Sharia law is preached, and children grow up hating Western culture”. It is clearly against open borders:

We want to stop uncontrolled migration into the EU, put an end to the smuggler gangs and create prospects in the home countries. Asylum and protection status checks should take place at the EU’s external borders or in third countries… Anyone who does not receive protection status there also has no right to access to the EU, to a work permit or to social benefits in an EU member state.43

Leaving aside the Islamophobia, it is very similar to Galloway’s positions. One of Wagenknecht’s claims is that the left’s concern, which she calls “identity politics”, rebounds to give support for the far right. Yet, going along with key elements of the far right’s politics, as BSW does, gives credence to the far-right message of the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD; Alternative for Germany) party.

The German states of Brandenburg, Saxony and Thuringia have elections in 2024. In all of them, BSW is set to enter parliament. However, at the same time, the polls show that the AfD, whose proto-fascist wing dominates in these three states, would still receive its strongest election results since its foundations. At the time of writing, the AfD was polling at 26 percent in Brandenburg, 31 percent in Saxony and 30 percent in Thuringia.44

In an analysis that could equally be applied to Galloway, Dutch political scientist Cas Mudde argued that Wagenknecht is likely to boost the far right. He explained:

Wagenknecht’s anti-immigrant and “anti-woke” discourse will only strengthen the mainstreaming of far-right talking points. In most cases, this leads to more, not less, electoral support for the far right—as in the Dutch elections in November 2023.45

The Dutch Socialistische Partij (SP; Socialist Party) campaigned on an “old left” platform that combined traditional left-wing economic positions, for example, on healthcare, with demands for a temporary stop on migrant workers entering the country.46 The SP’s popular leader, Lilian Marijnissen, also attacked “identity politics”. It lost yet again, losing four of its parliamentary nine seats, while the (combined) far right won a record number of votes for the post-war period.47


In 2023-24, an anti-imperialist movement, the uprising of solidarity with the Palestinians, looked for political expression. What can we learn from two decades before and what has subsequently happened with Galloway? One danger is that, as Leon Trotsky put it, “A cat burned by hot milk shies away from cold water”—the experience of the past can be so traumatic that revolutionaries pass up genuine possibilities.48 This would mean, for example, standing apart from any sort of electoral campaigning unless it projects at least, say, 95 percent of a revolutionary socialist programme. Yet, there also has to be a strong dose of “once bitten, twice shy”.49

Our approach at the 2024 general election includes a stress on maintaining the Palestine movement on the streets and all the other forms of struggle such as workplace resistance, strikes, anti-racism, fighting for LGBT+ rights and environmental action. It also includes looking for much stronger electoral options than George Galloway—and that is certainly possible. There are always pressures to avoid “contentious” issues at election time in order to win votes. Still, participation in elections can co-exist with a principled anti-oppression politics. Numbers of the independents who were successful at the 2024 council elections in England combined the rage of Gaza with a much better approach than the one of the WPB over oppression and exploitation. We look forward to working in action with all those who want a stronger left to come from the Palestine movement.

Charlie Kimber is the editor of Socialist Worker and a co-author of The Labour Party: A Marxist History (Bookmarks, 2019).


1 Thanks to Judy Cox, Richard Donnelly, Rob Ferguson, Sheila McGregor, Christian Hogsbjerg Rob Hoveman, Tony Phillips and Mark Thomas for their comments and suggestions on earlier iterations of this article. The draft of this piece was finalised just after Rishi Sunak announced a general election would take place on 4 July and before the campaign had gotten underway.

2 The Labour Party disowned its own candidate, Azhar Ali, after he was accused of making antisemitic remarks.

3 Cited in Guardian, 2024.

4 Cited in Socialist Worker, 2005.

5 Galloway had promised he would step aside in favour of a Muslim candidate in Bethnal Green after one term. He kept the promise, but Respect’s Abjol Miah, with Galloway’s support, came a distant third in Bethnal Green in 2010.

6 Conversation with author.

7 Brand has been accused of rape, sexual assault and emotional abuse by at least four women in a joint investigation in 2023 by Channel 4’s Dispatches and The Sunday Times. Brand denies the allegations. In May 2024, he went through Christian baptism in an event apparently conducted by television adventurer and chief scout Bear Grylls.

9 Ross, 2004.

10 Galloway also tried to stand for Nigel Farage’s racist Brexit Party in the Peterborough by-election in 2019.

11 Cited in Socialist Worker, 2024a.

12 Cited in Socialist Worker, 2024a.

13 Workers Party of Britain, 2024a.

14 Workers Party of Britain, 2024a.

15 Norris, 2024.

16 Novara Media, 2024.

17 LBC, 2024

18 Sections of the far left—including the Socialist Party—did back Galloway in Rochdale, and he may have feared these former supporters of the Militant Tendency within the Labour Party were seeking new hosts. Galloway’s other left-wing boosters include the Weekly Worker newspaper, which in May 2024 said it will continue to back his candidacy in Rochdale at the general election.

19 Workers Party of Britain, 2024.

20 See Orr, 2024.

21 No Ceasefire No Vote was a group of councillors and others seeking to challenge Labour and the Tories in elections over the genocide in Gaza, austerity and other issues—see Socialist Worker, 2024b.

22 Cited in Socialist Worker, 2024b.

23 Cited in Socialist Worker, 2024b.

24 Murray, 2024.

25 Socialist Worker, 2024c.

26 Harman, 2008.

27 The decision was made on a Tuesday, just as we were preparing Socialist Worker to go to press. As one of the team on the late shift, I knew straight away what we had to do. Harman, the editor at the time, sent through the message, and we changed the front page at the last moment to “Defend George Galloway”. We wrote, “The target is not just one individual, but every one of the millions who marched against the bloody war on Iraq.” The same issue had news of Michael Lavalette’s election as a councillor in Preston for the Socialist Alliance. See Socialist Worker, 2003a.

28 Wintour, 2003.

29 Galloway, 2004, p181.

30 Tempest, 2003.

31 Socialist Worker, 2003b.

32 Socialist Worker, 2004.

33 Galloway, 2004 p204.

34 Galloway, 2004 p207.

35 Galloway, 2001.

36 Galloway, 2003.

37 Galloway, 2003.

38 Galloway, 2004, pp8-9.

39 Galloway, 2004, p8.

40 Brown, 2021.

41 A bemused entry on the Wikipedia page says that BSW “has been variously described as left wing, far left, and left-conservative; the latter label is due to its more right-wing stance on socio-cultural issues”—see

42 Cited in Walter, 2023.

43 Taken from the BSW’s “Our goals in the European Parliament” page at

44 Thanks to Sascha Radl for this point—Zicht and Cantow, 2024.

45 Mudde, 2024.

46 The roots of the SP lie in Maoism, initially founded as the Communist Party of the Netherlands/Marxist–Leninist, but it has long moved away from this past, positioning itself to the left of the Dutch Labour Party.

47 This trend has not always been the case. Mudde writes, “In some countries this ‘left-wing conservative’ approach has led to a fall in far-right support; for example, it benefited the Danish Social Democrats.” However, “Even this was mostly because of internal problems in the Danish far-right party, which eventually gave way to a successful new Danish anti-immigrant party.”

48 Trotsky, 2003.

49 For a full treatment on this subject see Choonara, 2023.


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