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The left’s deathly embrace of Islamic identitarianism

The Rochdale by-election confirms that the working classes lose out when identity politics rules.

Brendan O'Neill

Brendan O'Neill
chief political writer

Topics Politics UK

So the House of Commons now has an MP for Gaza. His name is George Galloway. Last night, the fedora-sporting left-wing malcontent won a stunning victory in the by-election in Rochdale. ‘This is for Gaza’, he said in his victory speech. Not for Rochdale’s poor, then. Not for its struggling families. Not for its working-class girls who suffered so terribly at the hands of Pakistani grooming gangs. No, for a small patch of land 2,500 miles away. Rarely has the British left’s penchant for deserting its own working class in favour of cosying up to more ‘glamorous’ causes overseas been so brutally illustrated.

Galloway’s victory in the Greater Manchester seat was decisive. Standing for the Workers Party of Britain, he won 39.7 per cent of the vote. He trashed both the Tories and Labour, who came in third and fourth respectively. Second place went to the independent candidate, David Tully, a local businessman, who won 6,638 votes, more than the combined vote of the Tories and Labour. It is a sign of the kindling discontent in towns like Rochdale that they would not only return to parliament a famed firebrand like Galloway, but also take a punt on a political unknown like Tully, rather than give their X to one of the establishment parties. Last night was a bad night for the mainstream.

But it was also a bad night for those of us who wish ‘left behind’ voters who are sickened by the technocratic blancmange of 21st-century politics had something better to vote for. Galloway described the by-election as a ‘referendum on Gaza’. Other candidates agreed, especially Azhar Ali. He was on the ballot for Labour but he’d actually been suspended by Labour following the leaking of recordings from a local party meeting in which he indulged Israelophobic conspiracy theories and ranted about the ‘Jewish’ media. Ali likewise advertised himself as ‘a strong voice for Palestine’. What about a strong voice for Rochdale? Who will do that?

The people of Rochdale were essentially invited to pass comment on Palestine rather than to pass comment on their own needs and interests. This represents a serious erosion of the entire purpose of democracy. The vote is one of the few means working people have of stating and pursuing their self-interest. That right is utterly upended when an election is ‘for Palestine’, when it’s a ‘referendum on Gaza’ rather than, say, on local unemployment levels, poor schooling, community tensions or any other issue the good people of Rochdale are worried about. Making Rochdale all about Gaza is another form of working-class disenfranchisement.

It feels like the voters in this town have been ‘left behind’ twice – first by a technocratic elite that doesn’t give a toss what they think, and then by parachuting leftists who think Gaza is more important than any small-beer stuff in Rochdale itself. Rochdale was famously the site of the Gillian Duffy scandal in 2010, when then Labour leader Gordon Brown was overheard referring to the elderly Mrs Duffy as a ‘bigoted woman’ after she asked what he would do about immigration levels. The working class of Rochdale was once silenced by the sneering insults of the Westminster elite; now they’re sidelined by agitating lefty upstarts who seem to think a foreign war is more pressing and more interesting than any of their northern nonsense.

This cuts to the heart of the Islamo-left, that neo-Bonapartist alliance between Britain’s middle-class leftists and radicalised Muslims. The Islamo-left springs, fundamentally, from the left’s desertion of the working class. From its growing frustration with what it views as the dim, tabloid-addled ‘gammon’ of the lower orders. From its feeling of exhaustion with ‘conservative’ workers and its longing for an edgier, more radical and more glamorous constituency to speak for and side with. Enter Muslim identitarianism. To the post-class left, the zealous Islamist in a keffiyeh is a more alluring figure, more oppressed, than an old lady like Gillian Duffy.

Galloway’s own career sums up the left’s turn from class and its embrace of the fake revolutionary thrill that comes from hanging out with angry Muslims. There’s a telling moment in his 2004 autobiography, I’m Not the Only One, where he describes being a 21-year-old political activist in the Labour Party office in Dundee in Scotland in the 1970s. He would often ‘let the doorbell ring’, he says, because he felt there was little he could do for the ‘hard-luck cases’ who came looking for help. Then, one day, a young Palestinian came knocking. He spent two hours telling Galloway the story of Palestine. It was ‘one of the most important [meetings] of my life’, Galloway says. Before long he was visiting Palestinian militants in Beirut where he became transfixed by this ‘different world I had entered’ – it was ‘bliss’, with ‘exotic Arabic music in the cafés and the whiff of revolution in the air’. Not like dull Dundee, then.

This is a perfect distillation of the dynamics behind the Islamo-left. The modern left seeks refuge from the pesky ‘hard-luck’ problems of its own society in the ‘exotic’ politics of Arab radicalism. Their feverish embrace of the Palestine issue is really a flight from class, a flight from the drudgery of trying to improve life at home in preference for the easy ‘exotic’ kick of mingling with non-white men with guns. And some are more than willing to turn a blind eye to Islamism’s deeply reactionary nature. Witness the very same chattering-class leftists who reached for the smelling salts over Gillian Duffy’s ‘bigotry’ now marching with Islamists who gleefully chant about the massacre of Jews.

To be fair to Galloway, he hasn’t entirely abandoned class. He is not like the flapper-girl socialists of Novara Media or the phoney Remoaner left of the Guardian. He supported Brexit. He isn’t woke. He even knows what a woman is. Yet he has moved towards Muslim identity politics. After being expelled from Labour in 2003, for saying Tony Blair and George W Bush had attacked Iraq ‘like wolves’, he sought re-election in constituencies with large Muslim populations. He won in Bethnal Green and Bow, then Bradford West, and now Rochdale. He’s like a helicoptering seeker of Muslim identitarian grievance in the hope he might ride it back to parliament.

In Rochdale, he made brazen shout-outs to Islamic identitarianism. He promised to give voice to ‘the people of Palestine in their agony’ and denounced the ‘killing of thousands of our brothers and sisters in Gaza’. He seemed to be appealing to Muslim voters less as British citizens than as members of an angry ummah; less as residents of Rochdale than as religionists whose grief over Gaza trumps all else; less as people with interests than people with feelings. This speaks to the treason of the left. A movement founded in the values of enlightenment and universalism now seeks to marshal religious fervour to the end of rattling the establishment. After class, there’s only the dead end of reactionary religious misery.

Galloway switched it up for non-Muslim voters, true. To them he said, ‘I believe in Britain’ and ‘I have no difficulty in defining what a woman is’. ‘There will be no grooming gangs on my watch’, he continued. Then came his cleverest line: ‘MAKE ROCHDALE GREAT AGAIN.’ Yet such populist cries felt like an afterthought to the main show, which was Gaza and sticking it to Keir Starmer over his support for Israel’s ‘war crimes’. This is the way under the Islamo-left – working-class concerns are always an afterthought, if a thought at all, to the more important, more ‘exotic’ business of Muslim identitarianism.

Some in the Islamo-left march alongside Hamas fanboys, turn a blind eye to misogyny and homophobia when it comes from Islamists, failed to denounce the fascistic pogrom of 7 October and engage in the most unhinged denunciations of the world’s only Jewish state, and then they have the gall to call us bigots? Come on. Working-class voters are rejecting the establishment – next they need to reject these anti-establishment fakes who pose as radical while providing moral cover to the most troubling reactionaries of our time.

Brendan O’Neill is spiked’s chief political writer and host of the spiked podcast, The Brendan O’Neill Show. Subscribe to the podcast here. His new book – A Heretic’s Manifesto: Essays on the Unsayable – is available to order on Amazon UK and Amazon US now. And find Brendan on Instagram: @burntoakboy

Picture by: Getty.

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Topics Politics UK

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