Galloway and Big Brother: a disaster waiting to happen

Alan Thornett

George Galloway was the first MP to break with Labour to the left. He was a central leader of the biggest anti-war movement Britain has ever seen, and prepared to be expelled for his uncompromising stand. 

Respect emerged as a loose coalition between - George Galloway, the SWP, other socialists, and Muslims radicalised against the war. This was inevitable in the circumstances, but it was never a viable model on a long-term basis. What was always posed was how to develop Respect into a political organisation that could take on all-comers, on the full range of issues, in the cauldron of party politics.

Ultimately it would have to be organised as a party ­ whatever it was called. A loose coalition could not have MPs in Parliament, local councillors, or run councils -which has been the plan. That would lead to disaster.

This was never going to be easy given the range of opinion within Respect. George Galloway was strong on the war, anti-imperialist and anti-neoliberal but weak (or worse) on aspects of social policy. And there were faith groups in Respect alongside the far-left.

The problem was that the process of building any political coherence has never even started. In fact it has been strongly opposed at each stage by George Galloway and the SWP,- who both want a loose structure for their own (slightly different) reasons.

After George Galloway won Bethnal Green and Bow last May, which was - a tremendous achievement, - things got worse.

He has become increasing unaccountable. His personal audience with George Galloway_ tour was an example of this. He was famously in Ireland at one of these when New Labour survived by a majority of one on a key vote on the "anti-terror" measures. Respect was damaged as a result.
What was developing was precisely the wrong relationship between a party and its only MP and only nationally known figure.

When accountability ­ and there can be no democracy without accountability ­ came up at the Respect conference last November, Gallowayıs approach was defended by the main component in Respect, the SWP: "Donıt worry George it_s only a coalition" was the message!

Whether serious attempts to develop democratic and accountable norms inside Respect would have prevented George Galloway taking his disastrous decision to go on Big Brother we will never know.

What we do know is that the failure to establish any accountability made it far easier for him to do it, and therefore more likely. It was a disaster waiting to happen.

Huge damage has been done to Respect as a result of his decision; only time will tell the full scale of this. But the lessons have not been learned even now.

When the Respect National Council first met to try to deal with the situation there was opposition to a proposal to issue a clear statement to the membership on the issue of accountability. It was argued that this could result in George Galloway resigning from Respect.

We are very much against a split with George Galloway over this, if it can be avoided. His reputation can be rebuilt if he goes about it the right way.

Publicly this means accepting that Big Brother was a serious error of judgement. In Respect it means accepting that he was wrong to take that decision unilaterally ­ and that he will do things differently in the future.

There has to be a principled basis for a continuing relationship. Otherwise Respect is providing foot soldiers for an unaccountable MP.

Respect was to be a different kind of organisation: more democratic, more accountable, less media spin and more rooted in the movement.

To ensure it has a future, it must live up to this.



Feb 2006

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