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Eyes Left Rochdale has shown what can be done

Sunak’s quivering, late-night address, expressing dire concerns over George Galloway’s win in Rochdale, unveils a profound unease within the elite — good. Now let's build from here, writes ANDREW MURRAY

WHEN a Prime Minister decides to make an emergency address in Downing Street late on a Friday evening it usually means that either a general election or bombing another country is being announced.
 
Not Rishi Sunak. He instead wanted to issue a dire warning — the voters of Rochdale had done a bad thing and democracy itself was imperilled as a result.
 
The name he gave his nightmares was George Galloway.
 
The incongruity of his pronouncement — itself undemocratic, patronising and racist — speaks to the alarm in the corridors of power.
 
The prime minister was speaking to a primal fear among the elite. Keir Starmer, naturally, agreed with every word.
 
If the Rochdale result does not change everything, it changes a lot. Certainly, the dialectic of mass struggle and representative politics has taken another, and positive, turn.
 
Someone asked me: what are Sunak and Starmer worried about? After all, by-election victor Galloway has done several shifts in Parliament before without the pillars tumbling down.
 
The approximate answer is this: they are afraid of Galloway plus hundreds of thousands on the streets mobilised in angry opposition to the British state’s Palestine policy.
 
The movement against bipartisan British complicity with the Gaza genocide is reshaping politics.
 
It dominates the streets, and the Establishment does not have a clue what to do about that. Sunak summoned police chiefs to Downing Street to brace them for more repressive methods to curb the movement.
 
The truth is the cops are in a jam. They know that politicians’ rhetoric collides with policing reality when 200,000 turn out for a demonstration. The Palestine movement’s size and endurance make it impossible to manage through the usual methods.
 
It is the fact of its existence that the parliamentarians find intimidating, rather than any specific actions it undertakes.
 
It is a cardinal tenet of imperialist democracy that MPs should vote on war and other crimes through the undisturbed contemplation of what passes for their consciences, without the rude intrusion of the people’s voices into matters with which they have no business.
 
But the popular intrusions are getting ruder still. Say what you like about Galloway, and indeed people do, but his quality which is actually salient to the conjuncture is his lifelong campaigning for Palestine and against imperialism and war.
 
On this, his record is magnificent and devoid of vacillation. On some other matters, there is of course scope for criticism but I doubt if they count for much in Rafah right now.
 
The world gets it. Rochdale resounded in the Red Sea at the weekend, with Galloway getting a name check from the Houthis in the course of a defiant address aimed at Rishi Sunak.
 
The masses fighting to save Gaza see in Galloway a champion and are enthused at having a voice in Parliament — a famously fluent one — unencumbered by considerations of the Labour whip.
 
A left that does not rise to this moment because of other issues risks marginalisation.
 
Labour is the most threatened by this confluence of protest and parliamentary action. Its votes are the ones going walkabout, its moral self-image is the most challenged by overt complicity in genocide.
 
That indeed was the spirit and message of the “No Ceasefire, No Vote” conference which brought together councillors and parliamentary candidates who have broken with Labour over its support for Israel, although listening to the speeches of the disaffected it was evident that this issue was the proverbial last straw for people already deeply alienated from Starmer’s party.
 
Here is another flank. Its strength, as the impressive Claudia Webbe noted, is its organic roots in communities, a political development that has not been spun out of thin air.
 
Your columnist, in his own address to the conference, noted that it was the old slogan of “think global, act local” taking a novel and powerful form.
 
It is the unity of these developments that is the menace to Sunak and Starmer. Therefore, it is a unity to be treasured. That involves adaptation.
 
For one thing, the exclusion of Galloway from the platform at the national rallies for Palestine is not tenable. It would perversely echo the disdain for the masses of Rochdale expressed by the Prime Minister.
 
And the issue of a unified challenge to Labour in the cause of Palestine, peace and anti-racism at the general election now needs recalibrating.
 
The Workers’ Party is not likely to be that vehicle on its own.
 
Galloway recognises this. His call for a socialist and anti-war alliance under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership would be immensely popular.
 
Both bring something to the party.
 
It is a fact that the since the 1945 election candidates of left-of-labour parties have prevailed on just three occasions in parliamentary contests.
 
On each occasion — Bethnal Green 2005, Bradford 2012 and now Rochdale 2024 — the successful candidate was Galloway.
 
Yet Corbyn has that broader political reach, outside the Muslim communities at any rate, that comes from being Labour’s socialist leader through two general elections.
 
They share a firm anti-imperialism and democratic conviction but offer complementary political skillsets. One advocates for “kinder, gentler politics,” the other — not so much.
 
However, an alliance is not likely to emerge in that form. If it doesn’t, then Galloway has indicated he will forge ahead anyway, backing a mixture of Workers Party and independent challenges to Labour, particularly in seats with a significant Muslim electorate.
 
Paradoxically, that would leave the future of “Corbynism” largely in the hands of Galloway rather than its progenitor.
 
There are several issues, some of them important, on which large sections of the left do not agree with Galloway. Climate change may be the most consequential.
 
But there is a basis for unity, resting on the immediate framing of the impending general election. As it happens, they were spelt out more than 22 years ago, at the founding of the Stop the War Coalition.
 
In addition to the principal slogan embodied in the coalition’s name, it adopted just two other demands — opposition to a racist backlash caused by the “war on terror” and a defence of civil liberties.
 
That trio of central causes has worn well. A Prime Minister and Labour leader both backing genocide and wallowing in Islamophobia, with basic democratic rights threatened simply because so many people are exercising them in the “wrong” cause — there has not been a point in all these years where they have seemed more relevant and vital.
 
Naturally, other issues clamour for attention — the fall in workers’ living standards, the crisis in the NHS, reaching net zero. But the main battle lines on war, racism and democracy are clear.
 
Suella Braverman, Liz Truss and, despite his very partial eviction from the Tories, Lee Anderson, are making the running in the Conservative Party. Sunak bobs along before them. The state prosecutor waits to take over.
 
Peace, freedom, human dignity and community cohesion are engaged, all menaced by the bipartisan imperialist war party. Rochdale has shown it can be beaten. If Sunak and Starmer are scared by the northern town’s choice, we should rejoice.
 
Political policing: one small victory for the CPGB (M-L)
 
I reported a few weeks ago on the arrest of members of the CPGB(M-L) at a Palestine protest for selling a pamphlet the police had been told to find objectionable. It is good news that no charges are to be pressed in this case, although the outcome of subsequent arrests under terrorism legislation remains pending.

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