George Galloway and Big Brother
Socialist Resistance statement
It is said that, in politics, there is no such thing as bad publicity. It is not true. A good example is George Galloway’s decision to subject himself to Celebrity Big Brother.
The main reason he gave for going on was that it would give him a chance to get politics over to a wider audience This is another mistake. Not only is the conversation in the Big Brother house completely banal, and the other ‘house mates’ unresponsive but Channel Four intends to ensure that it does not happen. Galloway has been bleeped out or edited out whenever he has managed to squeeze a political point in. As Channel Four said in the Guardian: We do not intend to allow George Galloway to use the programme as a political platform. It seems that the only thing banned on Big Brother is politics.
The upshot is a situation which is discrediting to George Galloway and discrediting to Respect. The media have had a field day, with reams about why he is not in parliament or working in his constituency. It is hypocrisy of course. Many MPs do things whilst Parliament is sitting and take time away from their constituency. As Zoe Williams said in the Guardian: if it had been Boris Johnson on the programme and not a serious politician none of these questions would have been asked. But it is an ABC of politics that the media will attack the left whenever it gets the chance.
All this is a problem for Respect, and one which reflects some of the problems which emerged at the Respect conference last November. There Galloway and other leaders of Respect argued – against those who wanted to strengthen the structures of Respect – that it is more important to get votes than recruit members. Whether he, or Respect, gains any votes out of this (political votes in future elections) remains to be seen. But Respect is unlikely to gain any members out of it – rather there a danger of losing established members as a result – if the anger being expressed across the Respect membership is anything to go by. And no left party can exist without a critical mass of committed activists to build it and carry out its work.
None of this will help Respect to become the kind of mass organisation it needs to be in order to become a real alternative pole of attraction. It will not help Respect to bring other sections of the left into its ranks, most importantly the trade union left. And no new left party can ultimately be successful unless it has within it a substantial part of the existing left.
The biggest problem for Respect, however, is that George Galloway took the decision to enter the Big Brother house without any reference to the elected leadership of Respect. This reflects another strand of the debate at the Respect conference – the authority of its elected committees and the accountability of its elected representatives. It is unacceptable that an elected representative of Respect takes major decisions which have a direct impact on Respect without the authority of its elected leadership. Its elementary democracy, and such a situation is not sustainable in the long term.
At the Respect conference George Galloway tackled the issue of accountability by insisting that Respect remains a coalition and not a party; the implication being that the level of accountability is lower in a coalition than a party. That may be the case, and this is a debate within Respect. By the idea that an organisation, whatever you call it, which presents itself as a political alternative to new Labour, has MPs and councillors, and stands as an alternative in elections on a full range of political issues, should not have its elected representatives accountable to itmakes absolutely no sense. Whether Respect is a coalition or a party it cannot have a situation where it campaigns to get people elected who then operate as individual.
Respect can, no doubt, weather this self-inflicted storm, it has a string of important achievements behind it over the past year from which to draw strength. But to do so for the long term it will have to make changes. It will have to strengthen the way it functions at all levels. It will have to ensure that its elected leadership bodies have authority within the organisation. And crucially it will have to ensure that those elected to office on its ticket are accountable to the organisation as a whole on all major decisions.
Socialist Resistance Steering Committee, 10.1.06
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