With the exception of Northern Ireland, it has been some time since Britain had a nakedly sectarian political party. I’m open to correction, but the last one was probably the Liverpool Protestant Party.
And now sectarianism is back.
Make no mistake. Galloway’s win in Bradford West was fought on the basis of religion. This was a candidacy that was aimed at demonstrating that, if Muslims are appealed to in the name of religion, they will vote for you. While Galloway’s campaign literature claimed:
“God KNOWS who is a Muslim. And he KNOWS who is not. Instinctively, so do you. Let me point out to all the Muslim brothers and sisters what I stand for:
I, George Galloway, do not drink alcohol and never have. Ask yourself if you believe the other candidate in this election can say that truthfully.”
the attack on the Labour candidate, Imran Hussein, took the following form:
Thirsty Imran Hussain (hic) likes his refreshments; and campaigning in this unseasonally good weather is thirsty work indeed.
Make no mistake, George Galloway is giving Hussain a real run for his money. Respect and Labour are neck and neck and Respect have the capacity to deliver a historic blow to Labour’s strangle-hold in Bradford. In fact, George could end up giving Imran “both barrels” (but not the barrels Imran was hoping for)
Galloway himself announced his win, on Twitter, in terms which played directly to the religious identity of his core supporters.
All politicians know that, in elections, there are certain claims, certain ‘dog whistles’ which will win you the votes of large numbers of the electorate. However, most mainstream politicians in Britain steer clear of doing so. Think back to the furore over the Liberal Democrat campaign in Tower Hamlets, about 20 years ago, where a drawing of a black boxer was used on a leaflet about crime – the Liberal Democrats took a very long time to live down the suggestion that they’d implied that black people were criminals.
It is partly a sense of decency that keeps most parties from practicing that sort of dog whistle politics. But it is also, in part, a sense that you ‘can’t get away with it’. A party which plays this sort of game locally, will be loathed nationally. This is one of the reasons that Ken Livingstone’s own sectarian politics, which may work in London, are so dangerous for Labour.
In areas with a substantial Muslim population, as we have seen this morning, it is entirely possible to win a local campaign by asking the electorate to vote as Muslims. The only way to oppose this sort of politics it is not to pander to it, but to treat it as you’d treat a white candidate whose campaign slogan was “If you want a nigger for a neighbour, vote Labour“. An MP elected along sectarian lines should be treated as a disgrace, not as a curiousity, or even as a spokesman for a religious or cultural group.
But there’s a squeamishness about opposing this sort of sectarianism, when it comes from minority groups.
amie adds, below:
Did you hear Salma Yacoob on Today. The interviewer mentioned that Galloway had been expelled from Labour for allegedly inciting attacks on British Troops abroad. The interviewer repeatedly asked Yacoob whether she approved of such attacks.
Yacoob repeatedly dodged the question, saying she wanted the troops back home and then in the last moment when he put it to her: so you don’t approve of such attacks in Afghanistan she said: I do believe in the right of resistance, and we are an occupying power there.
The interviewer said “Oh!” and the interview ended.