Stop using George Galloway to bash democracy

If we want to defeat this grim sectarianism, we need more democratic debate, not less.

Fraser Myers

Fraser Myers
Deputy editor

Topics Identity Politics Politics UK

George Galloway’s shock success in last week’s Rochdale by-election has prompted a familiar outpouring of anti-democratic fury.

Last Friday, the day the result was announced, UK prime minister Rishi Sunak emerged on Downing Street to condemn Galloway’s victory as ‘beyond appalling’. He even likened the outcome of the Rochdale by-election to the Islamist intimidation that has bedevilled parliament in recent weeks. According to Sunak, the election of the Workers Party of Britain candidate is of a piece with the alleged death and terror threats that recently prompted House of Commons speaker Lindsay Hoyle to rip up the parliamentary rule book in an attempt to appease Islamic extremists. Essentially, Sunak branded this unwelcome election result as a threat to democracy itself.

The media reaction has been equally hyperbolic. Radio phone-ins have asked whether Galloway’s win might pose a ‘dangerous threat for democracy’.

It’s certainly true that the Rochdale by-election has revealed some depressing trends in British politics. As Brendan O’Neill argued on spiked last week, Galloway’s successful bid to turn the by-election into a referendum on the Israel-Hamas war showed that Islamic identity politics, in which Palestine plays a pivotal role, is now a significant electoral force. The new ‘honourable member for Gaza’ sought to appeal to Rochdale’s Muslim voters as Muslims first and Rochdale residents second. He put the plight of Gazans above the everyday concerns of constituents in Greater Manchester. This is an unwelcome development, to put it mildly.

But none of this should be taken to mean that democracy has somehow failed us or that democracy is imperilled by this result.

We need to put Galloway’s win into some perspective here. He cruised to victory in a by-election in which turnout was low – and in which the presumptive winner, Labour candidate Azhar Ali, was disowned by his party at the last minute, after he was recorded airing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Secondly, let’s not forget, we are talking about one man winning one parliamentary constituency out of 650.

Galloway’s win is certainly regrettable, but it is no excuse to cast aspersions on democracy or to call for a crackdown on free speech, as some of his more unhinged critics have been doing. The permanently hysterical Labour Party activist and born-again Starmerite, Paul Mason, has even suggested we might need to pass a new National Security Act to prevent Galloway from spreading ‘disinformation’ in parliament. This new draconian law, Mason says, would be part of a ‘united, cross-party, militant defence of democracy’. This sounds like yet another attempt to destroy democracy in order to ‘save’ it.

Besides, those treating Galloway’s latest by-election win as something new should have their heads examined. Not only has he won by-elections before, in Bradford West in 2012 and Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005, using the same grim playbook. His approach is also not so different from how Labour has related to Muslim voters for decades. Galloway is simply more effective and ruthless than Labour at targeting Muslim voters and ginning up a sense of group-based grievance, all while presenting a very different face to non-Muslim voters. The mainstream parties helped lay the groundwork for a character like Galloway with their own pork-barrel identity politics.

If anything, the Rochdale by-election reminds us what can happen when democracy and free speech are stifled. The ugly politics that drove this electoral upset need to be challenged. Most voters have no truck with this sectarianism, smuggled in under the banner of ‘multiculturalism’. And yet critics of identity politics and multiculturalism are routinely shouted down as racists or demonised for pricking the supposed prejudices of the masses. As a result, we have been prevented from confronting the very identitarianism that is now rearing its baleful head once again. The silencing has only made the problem worse.

So if you dislike the politics of not-so-gorgeous George, the answer is more democracy and more free speech, not less. Only then can we confront this grim sectarianism in our midst, and only then will we get a political class that treats voters as equal citizens, rather than monolithic blocs to be pitted against one another.

Fraser Myers is deputy editor at spiked and host of the spiked podcast. Follow him on Twitter: @FraserMyers.

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Topics Identity Politics Politics UK


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