Saturday, April 17, 2004
Reinforcement or Withdrawal

This may be the options that currently face military planners on the troublesome Iraqi 'police action', but the title refers to the choices that former Labour members struggle with. Foreign policy is now potentially shaping British politics for the first time in many years. Whilst American pundits avidly note their scorecards on the minutiae of the campaign and fisk their opponents on the historical inaccuracies of their comparisons (Vietnam, WW2, etc. etc.), these have little bearing on the debate here. If a comparison with an earlier period is to be made, then surely the Spanish Civil War is the most fitting example.

With an implacable foe, the Left was faced with the challenge of active support or withdrawal in the battle against fascism. The same discourse is now used by both sides of the Left who support or oppose the war: their actions and reactions are governed by the thirties and its echoes in 1940, 1956, 1968 and 1980.

Labour's membership has declined in the past year and can be attributed, in part, to the identification of the government with the war. Polling may have shown that public support has been higher than the demonstrations indicated, but the campaign has been opposed far more consistently from the Left. The flotsam and jetsam to the left of Labour that undergo their cyclical reconstitutions and splits has recognised this disillusionment as a possible opening to political recognition and greater support. After all, it is galling for the hard left that their years of campaigning have been overtaken by the BNP who pulled the dirty trick of saying what some people are thinking.

The opportunity has been pursued by the Respect coalition, using the local infrastructure of the Socialist Workers Party and the Muslim Association of Great Britain. Voters, disengaging from Labour have a choice of passing their voice further left or damning all those who seek power and staying out of the ballot box. A quick survey of Respect's local infrastructure, as listed on their website, does not provide the impression that they can mount a nationside challenge.

Most areas have meetings, newsletters and protests. However, campaigning appears to be more active in the North and the Midlands rather than the South, although the quietest areas are the East Midlands and the North East. It is concentrated on established areas of socialist activity and existing Muslim communities: the North West, Yorkshire and the West Midlands. This may actually play to the strengths of the movement. The BNP achieved a breakout and national recognition through local campaigns. Respect could possibly do the same due to the combination of socialist and Muslim activism.

It is not possible to predict if such a breakout will occur in some localities until the European and local electiosn have taken place. Then, a year into the war, arguments of its effects on British politics and voting patterns will include concrete evidence, especially as protest votes will be magnified. But, on present evidence, Respect does not have the power or the infrastructure to mount a significant national challenge to Labour from the Left.

(23.53, Saturday, 17th April 2004)


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