After Bradford West: a five point plan for Labour

For anyone trying to gather why George Galloway won the Bradford West by-election so convincingly, they need to look no further than much of the Labour reaction. For a worryingly high section of the party, including some who would consider themselves on the left, there was an attitude of either blaming voters for daring to look elsewhere or Galloway for standing and acting as some kind Pied Piper figure, leading the poor simpletons of Bradford West astray. If the party is to make progress, it can take the following from the result:

  1. Don’t take support for granted. The Bradford West result must be melted down, made into a nail and hammered into the coffin of triangulation. Working class communities need a reason to come out and vote Labour – the alternative is our core vote sitting on their hands and letting the Tories sneak in (alas, if Labour repeats the mistakes of Bradford West in other seats come the next election, they are highly likely to shift right). As Diane Abbott acknowledged, Galloway understood the importance of taking his campaign to the community, and was rewarded handsomely.
  2. We have to realise that the wars still matter- and join the movement against more. The lack of importance some in the party place on the neo-con foreign policy agenda of the last decade is quite astonishing. ‘Iraq was ten years ago, and we won the seat in 2005, so clearly Iraq was irrelevant’ snapped the denial brigade. As well as the fact that, yes, even after 10 years, the butchering of a country does linger in the memory of quite a lot of people, the idea that the continuing presence of British troops in Afghanistan affects perceptions of the party seems alien to far too many. With this in mind, the importance of taking an active stance against aggression towards Iran (and indeed Syria, or any other country) cannot be overstated. Support for the disastrous NATO war on Libya doesn’t bear well, but apologising for Iraq and calling for an end to settlements in Palestine is a start on the long road towards creating a party of peace.
  3. 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.
  4. 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. Austerity needs a fighting response – and a radical alternative. In a week with clear national anger at a ConDem budget so blatantly by and for the rich, Labour has gained its greatest momentum by coming out against it – Ed Miliband’s interrogation of the frontbench was been perhaps his most impressive PMQs performance so far. However, Labour needs to extend its opposition to the budget to the wider austerity agenda. Galloway’s election literature calling for the abolition of tuition fees and a strong anti-cuts message resonates with those being hit by the cuts far more than ‘too far, too fast’. The argument for a different direction of political travel can be won- but we need to make it first.

The key factor with all of these is that the people of Bradford West trusted Galloway to fight their corner over Labour. What the party has to do if it is to stop Britain going through an irreversible destruction of its greatest achievements is to take the fight to the coalition. If it starts to do this, then maybe we can start to talk about being the party of working people once again.

 

By Ben Hayes

Labour must put conviction back into politics

A spectre loomed over the Bradford West by-election, a spectre that many in the Labour Party like to believe has been conveniently forgotten. The spectre of Iraq, almost ten years after George Bush triumphantly declared ‘Mission Accomplished’, continues to haunt Labour activists on the doorstep, and Bradford West lies as a testament to this uncomfortable fact. In Muslim communities like those in Bradford, the war in Iraq is still an issue which holds potent saliency, especially over young first-time voters, who grew up under a Labour government which appeared to many to be addicted to war. Labour is right to try to move on from Iraq, but collective amnesia is not going to wash with voters on the doorstep.

Ed Miliband was right to apologise for Labour’s role in the Iraq War, and this is a good beginning to the process of exorcising Iraq’s ghost, but one of the key successes of Galloway’s campaign was its consistent message of speaking out against a war in Iran and Labour has to acknowledge this. If Miliband is to prove that Labour has learnt the mistakes from Iraq and has regained its moral compass, Miliband must live his principles and join the voices already condemning any further interventions in the Middle East. This is not only imperative to restore the damaged relations between Labour and Britain’s Muslim communities, but also to recognise that many still feel a genuine grievance over the Iraq War, and simply dismissing them will not work. The Labour Party lost 5 million core voters from 1997, and too many in the Labour Party are quick to write them off as lost causes; this kind of mindset will never deliver a Labour victory. Following Bradford West, some have sought to attack Galloway personally; while this may provide succour to those disappointed by the result, it does nothing to explain what occurred in Bradford West and does even less to show Labour is willing to learn for the future.

Miliband has proven that when he wants to be, he can be incredibly bold; bringing the Murdoch Empire to its knees and challenging the orthodoxies of News Corps’ blessing, taking on Osbourne’s Millionaire’s Budget and exposing the class warfare the Coalition is waging from above. However Bradford West has shown that much broader boldness, over foreign affairs, and over austerity, is required if Labour is to win the battle against Tory cuts. Labour has to own up to the fact that it cannot take working-class Northern seats like Bradford West for granted; as much as support for the Coalition has been obliterated in the North, if Labour does not provide adequate opposition to Coalition retrenchment, communities of once-static tribal loyalties will look elsewhere, especially as younger voters begin to find their own political voice in turbulent times. Labour cannot simply rely on the fact that they aren’t the Tories in order to win elections; it must give voters a reason to vote for them, and the voters of Bradford West have indicated they do not want more austerity.

Miliband must not get waylaid by Galloway’s victory in Bradford West, this was not a judgement on Miliband as a leader. He must instead use it as an impetus to take the Tory Party’s ideological austerity head on. Respect have proven, as much as some in Labour wish to deny it, that opposition to war and opposition to cuts, if sold with conviction, succeeds on the doorstep. Putting conviction back into politics not only sells, it invigorates, and enlivens a new base of voters who otherwise would have stayed away. In a week that has otherwise provided ample ammunition for Labour to set out an alternative and stand up for working people, if Miliband is willing to seize the opportunity, Labour could become a rallying point for all those who want envisage a progressive future for Britain.

 

By Calum Sherwood

Scrap Trident to scrap fees, Calum Sherwood writes

Ed Miliband’s announcement at Labour Party conference apparently endorsing £6000 fees was a great disappointment to many students, within and without the party. As a leadership candidate Miliband had endorsed a graduate tax, which while imperfect, suggested to students he was opposed to the status quo. To accept the reviled tuition fees system as here to stay severely jeopardises Miliband’s position with students, and as Nick Clegg has seen, this can be a dangerous move. Students refuse to accept that free education is off the negotiation table, and the Labour Party must seize back the progressive ground on higher education policy.

Up and down the country, the student movement shares a common set of values which is opposed to privatisation, cuts to essential services, the marketisation of education and the furthering of a militaristic and imperialist foreign policy. The most effective way for the Labour Party to win back the support of those students who abandoned the party would be to demonstrate that they are in tune with those same values. Labour must begin by explicitly opposing the renewal of the Trident weapons system; at a cost of £100 billion when EMA is being scrapped and tuition fees are being raised to a phenomenal cost, students would appreciate a reality check on renewing such an egregiously costly relic from the Cold War days.

Labour must condemn any further imperialist interventions by Britain, opposing the sabre-rattling of those who would have us do to Iran what we did to Iraq. Labour must get on the side of 74% of the British public and agree that four more years of war in Afghanistan is unacceptable. Lastly, Labour must support free education for all. If education is a universal right, financial burden should never become a factor in achieving one’s academic potential. Knowledge is not a commodity which can simply be bought and sold, and to think so is anathema to the values of the Labour Party itself. Miliband must remember how his boldness energised students during his leadership campaign, and in turn harness the boldness of the values of the student movement in order to win them back to Labour.

 

Calum Sherwood is Co-Chair of Bristol Uni Labour Students.

The article was originally posted at Labour CND.