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Hundreds Attend Corbyn Rally in Bradford

Jeremy Corbyn outdoor rally in Bradford

Jeremy Corbyn outdoor rally in Bradford

With rallies in Liverpool, London and other major cities running out of space, the organisers of Jeremy Corbyn’s labour leadership election rally in Bradford took the hint and opted for an outdoor rally.

Iain Dalton, Socialist Party West Yorkshire Organiser

Corbyn himself arrived to almost a rock star reception – to the tune of ‘The Final Countdown’, surrounded by paparrazi to a cheering crowd – except instead of a stadium, he was speaking to around 700 supporters on a cricket pitch.

Press photographers and cameramen buzz around Jeremy Corbyn as he walks to the stage

Press photographers and cameramen buzz around Jeremy Corbyn as he walks to the stage

Those gathered came from a wide variety of backgrounds, but the majority were those enthused by seeing a now prominent political figure that articulated their anti-austerity, pro-working class views, whether they were older activists disillusioned by New Labour or young people getting active for the first time.

Clearly with many of the reported 140,000 new members and 70,000 supporters signed up since the election been Corbyn supporters then it is possible Corbyn could win. But given the attempts to undermine his campaign by the right-wing majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party and others, alongside the media – there would be obstacles even after winning the leadership election as the make-up of the platform of the rally showed.

For example, the rally was hosted by newly elected Bradford East MP Imran Hussain. Whilst Hussain gave quite a fighting speech at the rally, he had previously been Deputy Leader of Bradford Council until his election, where the council has recently passed eye-watering levels of cuts.

If Corbyn’s words at the rally saying that we can’t just accept another five years are to be put into practise then as well as MP’s voting to defend jobs, services & welfare, it also means councils refusing to pass on Tory cuts like Bradford Council have. Given Imran Hussain also remains a councillor, then we hope him and other Corbyn supporting local councillors will be voting against further cuts budgets come next February.

Also speaking was Unison regional officer John Cafferty, someone many Unison activists would not consider left-wing. Yet the platform also saw a young student union officer speak reflecting the refreshing change that many would view the anti-austerity, anti-war platform that Corbyn is articulating.

Hundreds attended the Jeremy Corbyn rally in Bradford

Hundreds attended the Jeremy Corbyn rally in Bradford

Speaking to several young rally attendees afterwards, then a number admitted having been turned off from voting Labour in the general election as many of the views articulated by party’s leadership seemed like a watered down version of the Tories, several of them had instead voted Green. This viewpoint was echoed at the rally by the left-wing MP for Leeds East, Richard Burgon, commenting that “Many people said on the doorstep ‘I’m not voting Labour as you’re all the same'”

A number of those attending had signed up as Labour supporters to vote for Corbyn and see how things develop from there. On the platform a GMB speaker said of Corbyn “He’s the only hope for the Labour Party” whilst Imran Hussain commented “This opportunity (to elect a left-wing labour leader) will not present itself again in a generation”.

Yet the post-election anti-austerity mood, that the reception Corbyn is receiving reflects but also the big demos organised by Socialist Party members and others in cities such as Leeds and Sheffield, will not go away after this leadership contest. After the contest, Corbyn should call a conference of his supporters, but also of the trade unions which support a fighting anti-austerity programme (including those not affiliated to the party) to discuss where next to turn this mood & support into anti-austerity & socialist change.

(See also editorial from the Socialist on Corbyn’s campaign)

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Education First?

On Tuesday 4th November, Hanson Academy in Bradford sent over 150 pupils home for failing to wear school uniform matching its newly enforced standards. These include minutae about the colour of the socks children wear, type of trousers, colour of shoe laces etc.

Angry parents took to the school’s facebook page to complain, one who had accidentally put her daughters tie in the wash, sent her to school with money for a replacement but she was sent home anyway! But given how tight incomes are at present, many parents can’t simply afford to replace school uniform that was perfectly fine until this week.

The Principal, Elizabeth Churlton made the absurd statement in defence of the policy on the school website that “Our uniform and dress codes set the tone for our community and provide the scaffolding for high standards in every aspect of school life” Surely the scaffolding for high standards should be good quality teaching?

However, Churlton is financially worlds apart from the situation faced by the parents of many of her pupils. The advertisement for the post of principal when Churlton applied for the post was around £125,000 a year, whereas the median wage in Bradford East constituency (where the school is located) is less than £18,000 a year.

Academies were designed to wrest local control away from education and instead it now lays in the hands of over-paid bureaucrats like Churlton and the academy trusts behind them. Rather than prioritising a quality education, their supposed “freedom to innovate” is being used to deny education to some of the poorest students and, like the scrapping of january exams and resists, ‘manage’ their expectations for the future where under capitalism only low pay and zero hour contracts await.

Iain Dalton,
Yorkshire Socialist Students Organiser

Bradford Benefits Under Attack

Bradford Socialist Party members campaigning against attacks on benefits outside the jobcentre

Bradford Socialist Party members campaigning against attacks on benefits outside the jobcentre

“Look for work nine to five, or face losing your benefits.” That was the government’s right-wing mantra for cities like Bradford, which has about 14,500 claimants for Jobseeker’s Allowance, and is part of a pilot scheme to pile on more misery.

Peter Robson, Bradford Socialist Party

For the month of October Bradford’s jobless people must go to a signing on session, then spend the whole day (35 hours a week) looking for jobs that either don’t exist or have low wages.

The intention, of giving applicants the ability to write a CV, may seem benign. But read the small print.

Applicants will be sanctioned with a three month suspension if any transgression is registered, pushing vulnerable people and their children, further into poverty. A first breach will trigger a four week suspension. But any further transgressions will lead to an immediate three month suspension.

However there are few decent jobs in this city, we know this from the response we got at the Socialist Party’s sales stall outside the job centre. We plan more activity and hope to build a momentum with resistance from the people of Bradford to these horrendous attacks.

Bradford Respect: Where did it all go wrong?

In October the five Bradford Respect councillors announced their resignation from their party to now sit as independents.

Less than a year and a half ago, Respect was riding high, after George Galloway had won the Bradford West seat from Labour by a landslide.

He received more votes than all the other candidates put together and attracted over 1,000 people to a pre-election rally.

This had an initial energising effect on the city and was followed by Respect winning five council seats in last May’s election, including defeating the then Labour leader of Bradford council.

A number of youth politicised by Galloway’s campaign went on to occupy the Bradford Westfield site, known locally as ‘the hole’ after Westfield abandoned the site almost a decade ago to take up more lucrative projects in London in the run up to the 2012 Olympics.

The potential for anti-austerity and anti-war campaigning was shown further in several high profile demonstrations: over the massacre of the Rohinya people in Burma, drone strikes in Pakistan/Afghanistan and the crumbling Bradford Odeon; although such events have been one-offs and few and far between.

Divisions

Yet tensions within Respect over a whole series of issues have seen it shed a number of high-profile members over that period.

Some of these resignations were due to comments made by Galloway. The resignations of then-leader of Respect Salma Yaqoob and Manchester byelection candidate Kate Hudson a year ago, were over Galloway’s ill-informed and reprehensible comments about rape and consent.

The recent resignations initially stemmed from Galloway’s announcement that he was considering standing for London Mayor in 2016.

This fed in to an image that Galloway doesn’t care about Bradford, spending time presenting TV and radio shows.

Indeed, not one person from Respect turned up to the anti-war protest over Syria it was supposed to have organised in Bradford at the end of August.

Despite Respect’s initial impact in Bradford, it has not been able to build a substantial activist base in the city.

This was evident when its much publicised conference in Bradford after the elections only attracted less than half of the 200 attendees it had expected.

Then national secretary, Chris Chilvers, commented that the party had been on the verge of winding up before Galloway’s election, with only two functioning branches in the country and £170 a month in standing orders.

It announced a Jarrow-style march from the city for later that year which it has been unable to organise.

Abstention on cuts

Respect’s failure is partly due to the unprincipled stands it has taken. For example, rather than following the anti-cuts example of the Southampton two, Hull three and Warrington one rebel Labour councillors, Respect councillors in Bradford abstained on Labour’s cuts budgets and their council group leader Alyas Karmani gave an atrocious speech, in effect attempting to justify Labour’s budget and accepting the need for ‘difficult decisions’, ie cuts.

In the election to the Yorkshire section of their national committee there were 14 candidates for the six available positions.

Only four of them had been involved in Respect for over two years and five described themselves as ‘business people’ or CEOs.

The electoral description of one, Qurban Malik, was:

“I have been a Tory for most of my political career. I was a candidate for Tories in the last local elections but recently joined Respect publicly. I have various and vast experience.

“I am a business man in Bradford and would like to get involved with the building of Respect in Bradford”.

He is one of a layer of political opportunists who moved towards Respect in the aftermath of Galloway’s Bradford victory.

Indeed Galloway seems to have surrounded himself with ‘yes-men’ and turned Respect more and more into a vehicle purely for his own promotion.

If Respect is to live up to its self-description as a ‘left-wing alternative’, instead of unprincipled blocs, it should recognise the need to build up powerful campaigns based on trade unionists and youth.

Contrast Respect in Bradford with the approach of the Yorkshire Socialist Party in the Doncaster mayoral election where our local candidate Mary Jackson won a respectable vote, but crucially built up important links with the RMT and other trade unions.

Only on the basis of building such campaigns, linked to publicising the ideas of socialism as an alternative to capitalism, can a sustained political alternative be built to the main political parties that Galloway once described, correctly, as ‘three cheeks of the same backside’.

Iain Dalton

 

Bradford Labour-led council inflicting £82 million of cuts

On Wednesday 27th February there really wasn’t any debate about whether or not Bradford’s Labour councillors were going to refuse to do Pickles’ dirty work, the only real debate was centred on how and what was going to be cut. The main point of contention was Labour’s decision to increase council tax by 1.99%.

Again, Labour treated the people of Bradford to the usual words of regret over the cutting of the budget and the further job losses and cuts to frontline services that will be the inevitable result.

However, it was obvious from the budget that they put forward that mere words were as far as their opposition was going to stretch.

Councillor Green of the Labour group however made a startling comment that the people of Bradford couldn’t rely on central government to work in their best interests regardless of who was in power! Doesn’t seem like he has much faith in his own party; who could blame him?

Respect merely abstains

Those expecting a valiant and well thought out anti-cuts stance from the five Respect councillors were about to be sorely disappointed.

Only three turned up and only one spoke; councillor Karmani. His speech started off well, about how the rhetoric of cuts had become an almost universally accepted ideology amongst the mainstream parties despite the fact this stance is clearly not working and had only served to increase the deficit.

He pointed to Italy and said that the election results there showed that “most people see austerity as flawed.”

He stated that Respect was not going to accept the Tory amendment or the Labour austerity budget put forward and they were going to abstain on the passing of any austerity budget.

The chance was there to put forward calls to throw out the budget and set a needs-based budget like the Liverpool socialist-led Labour council did under Thatcher in the 1980s.

Sadly, Karmani basically made it clear he didn’t actually know what the solution was and just called for a watered-down austerity programme, appealing to try to find a ‘middle ground’.

He even resorted to the rhetoric of the cuts himself, stating that “unpopular choices have to be made”.

The damning of austerity on one hand but failing to be able to put forward an alternative plan on the other made them easy pickings for Labour and Conservative councillors who made them look inept.

Labour have 44 out of the 90 councillors in Bradford, so with the three Green councillors voting with them and half of the Lib Dems, they had a majority, but Respect should still have voted against rather than abstaining.

The Conservative amendment was defeated and the Labour Party budget pledging to cut £82 million out of the budget over the next three years was passed.

Matt Leek, Bradford Socialist Party

 

Respect Party Conference in Bradford

On Saturday 16th May, around 100 people attending the Respect party’s national conference in Bradford, where in the past few months George Galloway has been elected MP for Bradford West and in May’s council elections they won 5 councillors, including deposing the Labour leader of the council.

The first session of the conference discussed these very developments, pointing out to use Galloways phrase ‘that the three main parties are three cheeks of the same arse’ and there is a desire amongst many working people for an alternative. Although Labour may benefit in many areas from opposition to the Con-Dems, increasing possibilities exist for anti-austerity alternatives, even though there seem to be small organised forces to do this at the moment.

Galloway gave the example of his support growing from 5 people 3 weeks before the election, to a meeting of 1,000 shortly before election day. From the floor, delegates commented on  how in Liverpool Tony Mulhearn’s campaign for Mayor had a similar impact and called for working together with TUSC.

The afternoon was given over to discussing international developments from Egypt and Syria to Greece and France, with the possibility of the election of a Syriza government in Greece seen as massively favourable to the struggle against austerity across Europe. Others during the discussion raised the need for an alternative society to capitalism, with a few mentioning socialism as that alternative.

Both the Socialist Party and TUSC have written to Respect to discuss a co-ordinated anti-cuts electoral challenge, which several delegate seemed supportive of. However, Respect have declared their candidate for the Bristol mayor without discussing with TUSC who stood 16 candidates across the city in the last election. The election was posed by some at the conference as Bristol choosing between Bradford or Brighton (in reference to the Green-run council in Brighton passing on the cuts).

But Respect in Bradford have yet to be fully challenged, if they do not stand up fully against the cuts in the council chamber and act as the tribune for the concerns of working class people in the city, then their support could crumble as quickly as it emerged. For our part, the Socialist Party is keen to work with Respect and other activists to fight all the cuts and capitalism, both in Bradford and elsewhere.

Iain Dalton, an observer at the conference

George Galloway’s stunning Bradford victory shows the potential for anti-cuts election challenges

The following was carried as an editorial in the Socialist newspaper.

It was a week when New Labour was passively benefitting from multiple crises of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition – in particular Osborne’s budget for the rich, the ‘cash for Cameron’ scandal, and the queues at petrol stations.

But then came the earthquake of George Galloway’s astonishing byelection victory in Bradford West.

After a three week campaign Galloway received more votes than all the other parties on the ballot paper put together! With 18,341 votes, he beat the Labour Party candidate by more than 10,000.

Labour reeled in great shock as its share of the vote fell 20% on its 2010 figure, losing a seat it had comfortably won with a 5,000 majority just two years ago.

The Labour leaders – some of whom had visited Bradford during the election campaign – were so out of touch that they considered Labour victory secure even as the polling booths were closing. Yet Labour was in fact losing a constituency that it had held for 38 years.

The Tory vote also fell dramatically, by 10,000 votes, a 23% drop in share and the Lib-Dems did so badly that they lost their deposit.

This result was a major haemorrhaging of support for the main parties – a sharp rejection of their policies of austerity and support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Only four out of every ten votes were cast for them. This mood is not confined to Bradford; a recent YouGov national poll revealed sinking ratings for the leaders of all three main parties, to a negative degree described as “quite exceptional” by psephologist Mike Smithson in that he could not find any other period in modern history when all three leaders had such poor ratings simultaneously.

Galloway summed up his victory as being a result of “massive dissatisfaction with the political system… and the main political parties…

“If a backside could have three cheeks then they are the three cheeks of the same backside. They support the same things, the same wars, the same neoliberal policies to make the poor poorer for the crimes of the rich people”.

He also pointed to the problems in Bradford: “A rotten combination of complacency, incompetence, opportunism and rule by clique has presided over Bradford’s decline.

“It was going down even during the 13 years of New Labour government… now it is in danger of sinking under the sado-monetarist austerity of the Con-Dem coalition” (Guardian 31.3.12).

Bradford has a run-down city centre and a closed main library. It has the 12th worst unemployment rate in the UK – youth unemployment has tripled in three years – and its schools are near the bottom of the national league tables.

Voting for Galloway was seen as a way of protesting against these deprivations and of agreeing with his main campaign demands: against the “smashing up” of the NHS, the lack of NHS dentists, against tuition fees and the scrapping of EMA, and for his strong anti-war message.

It was a reaction to the false promises of the main political parties and their lack of solutions for the acute problems workers and young people face.

George Galloway was viewed by many as somebody who, in comparison, ‘tells the truth’ and ‘fights for justice’.

The way in which he vociferously stood up to US senators in 2005 over the Iraq war had left an impression.

The Labour candidate, Imran Hussain, was an Asian Muslim in a constituency in which around 38% of voters were from a similar background, but he was in a different camp to most of them.

He was the deputy leader of a council that has made massive cuts, including up to 1,000 job losses, and he supports Britain’s military presence in Afghanistan.

So indefensible were his policies that he refused to publicly debate with the other candidates during the election campaign.

For Galloway though, over one thousand people crammed into a hall to hear him outline the need for change in Bradford.

His Facebook page had over 82,000 followers and he urged people to use social media and to simply send text messages to everyone in their address lists urging them to use their vote for him on polling day.

Divisive politics?

The Socialist Party has in the past sometimes criticised Galloway and his Respect party for creating a too narrowly based appeal aimed specifically at Muslims – especially in Respect’s former stronghold of London’s Tower Hamlets where it once had 12 councillors plus Galloway as the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow after he overturned a 10,000 majority held by Labour’s Oona King.

In Bradford West, he did though place some emphasis on the need to represent “all” against austerity attacks and he made a forthright appeal for the withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan, appealing to white working class families as well as Asian.

He lambasted the “village politics” of a Labour campaign that leant heavily on the Asian community networks, and the history of carving up of positions by the existing Muslim political leaders.

He also argued with effect against supporting the Labour candidate simply because he was local: “What’s it going to do for you, if you vote for a local man whose father came from the same village as your father 50 years ago…

“If I was a local politician I’d be embarrassed when I look around at the problems in this city to say vote for me I’m a local politician, because these local politicians are the problem not the solution”.

These comments fell on fertile ground in the Asian working class community, especially among the young.

Over half of British people of Asian origin are living in poverty and suffer from inordinate levels of unemployment.

This byelection result shows that they are now strongly questioning traditional support in their communities for Labour and are open to casting at least a protest vote against Labour’s cuts-making policies.

However, one of the shortcomings of Galloway’s campaigning is that he gives a confusing message about the Labour Party.

Despite condemning Labour’s austerity agenda and support for imperialist wars, he says that he is only outside of the Labour Party because the party expelled him. “I am real Labour, not New Labour” declared his leaflet.

So rather than giving a clear message, as the Socialist Party does, that a new mass workers’ party urgently needs to be built to give workers a political voice, he has adopted an ambiguous position.

Also, unfortunately Respect has failed as yet to build a solid and growing active membership base on a lasting basis.

It has suffered political difficulties as a result of not predominately taking a class-based approach and developing roots in the trade union movement.

It lost most of its elected positions in Tower Hamlets in part because it had a number of councillors who were not taking this standpoint, and it suffered a split in 2007 (separating from the SWP and others).

Prospects for the left

Notwithstanding the criticisms that can be made by socialists of Respect and Galloway, the Bradford West victory is extremely significant and indicates the electoral potential that is opening up for anti-cuts candidates standing against the main parties.

It is easier to win protest votes in a parliamentary byelection than in a general election, but huge disaffection with the three main parties now exists on a sustained basis and is widespread, as was shown when none of them achieved a majority in the last general election.

It was also shown in Scotland last year when the SNP won a majority in the Scottish parliament.

The Lib Dems have in the past been a recipient of protest votes against the Tories or Labour, but this is a different prospect now that the Lib Dems are in a brutal cuts-making government.

The Bradford West byelection also indicates, as the Socialist Party has been saying, that Labour councillors will not be viewed as being innocent after passing on government cuts.

This shows the growing potential for anti-cuts candidates at council level, with the May council elections fast approaching.

Respect has decided to challenge for council seats across Bradford in May, with great possibilities if it stands on the basis of firmly opposing all cuts in deeds as well as words.

There will be many other anti-cuts candidates across the country, including over 100 standing for council seats as part of the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), at present being ignored by the mainstream media.

Much of the media is claiming that Bradford West is a one-off, arguing that there are ‘no other George Galloways’ – that he is the only figurehead to the left of the main parties.

This is deliberate distortion. Tony Mulhearn was a key leader of the fight of Liverpool City Council against the cuts of the Thatcher government in the 1980s and is now a TUSC challenger against the Labour leader of Liverpool council for the newly created position of mayor.

In Coventry, Socialist Party councillor Dave Nellist, a former socialist MP, is standing for relelection to the council in St Michael’s ward.

In London, Alex Gordon, the president of the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union is head of the TUSC list for winning seats in the London Assembly.

The strongest possible campaigns are needed in the next few weeks to make sure that voters in areas with TUSC and other anti-cuts candidates know that they have the chance to strike another major blow against austerity politics, and also in favour of a socialist alternative.