On the 11th September, following the furore caused by George Galloway’s bizarre defence of Julian Assange and his definition of rape, Salma Yaqoob honourably resigned as leader of the Respect Party.
Approximately thirty seconds later, online speculation began as to whether Ms. Yaqoob would be joining Labour, The Greens or pretty much any other left of centre party.
Although within Labour the debate has divided into two predictable camps, with Rob Marchant at Centre Left giving a detailed “No” and Andy Newman over at Socialist Unity being pretty positive to the idea, it was, inevitably that arch-opportunist Caroline Lucas of The Green Party who was first out of the traps in the race for the Order of the Brown Nose:
I really hope that Salma Yaqoob’s resignation from Respect doesn’t mean she’s leaving politics – we need her vision and clarity
Now this roughly translates from Politician to Human as “Ooh! Join my lot please! Then we can stick it to Labour and no mistake!” Which, considering the former Green Leaders’ endorsement of Salma at the 2010 election comes as no surprise, and it could very well be that Salma Yaqoob joins Lucas, if only for want of another political home. It also ties into the Greens’ courting of Muslim Association of Britain, which in 2010 led to MAB urging its supporters in southeast England to vote Green…
Lets be clear, Salma Yaqoob has campaigned consistently against not just the Iraq war, like many Labour members have, but also against the Labour Party. Now this is not a new phenomenon, as a look at our past reveals. Dr John Reid, Peter Mandleson,Denis Healy, Denis Howell, Bessie Braddock and Ellen Wilkinson were all at one time members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, and as such campaigned against Labour before joining. Salma Yaqoob has had a pretty good record as politician in saying that she is standing up for those ignored by New Labour, and talking about this in terms relating to class. So far so good, especially when you take into account the threats and harassment meted out to her by the banned extremist al Gurabaa organisation in 2005 – for having the audacity to be a muslim woman involved in politics. (Despite having MAB support)
Yet I fear any move to incorporate a politician who can prove to be so divisive, just for the sake of a few votes, possibly on the basis of perceived “muslim” support. It smacks of the Blairite realpolitik that led to Labour re-admitting Ken Livingstone after 2000, and we know here that led now, don’t we?
The wider issue for Labour is not simply whether or not a formidable local and national campaigner now wants to join Labour, or even if she is allowed to join our party, but what our attitude should be towards the thousands of people who have at some time or another since 2003 joined and campaigned for parties such as Respect. People like Andy Newman, who I pretty much disagree with on most things, has decades of campaigning under his belt for example. Not just in the SWP,ANL, Stop The War and Respect, but also as a trades union activist and Labour Party member in the early 1980s. After his pretty open split with the SWP a few years ago, he has run a non-sectarian blog at Socialist Unity (often full of Stalinists and Trots, but nobody’s perfect…). The nature of his split from his former comrades means that he is certainly not an entryist vanguard, and the nature of his sterling work with the GMB for its members at Carillion in Swindon means that he is the kind of activist we need with the party.
Particularly since the election of Ed Miliband, people have been coming back to Labour, not just as voters, but as members – and in general, this is a good thing. But as Rob points out in his blog, we must be careful who exactly is joining. We certainly have to avoid the 1980s experience of Militant and others using the party for their own ends, to our detriment. Leaving aside personalities, I think that so far the balance has been well kept. It would be pretty difficult for anyone within the party to make a convincing case for the return of George Galloway, and, to a much lesser extent, perhaps Salma Yaqoob should be treated as a former opponent who might, just might be suitable for membership at a future date.