May’s local elections found opposition to the Conservatives divided between three parties: Labour, the Liberal Democrats, and the Greens. The news from Batley and Spen suggests that they could be joined by a fourth.
The only by-election poll published so far found the Tories on 47 per cent, Labour on 41 per cent and George Galloway a distant third on six per cent – not much, but enough to gift the Conservatives the seat, since the survey found him taking almost all his support from Labour.
However, constituency polls are a bit chancy, and one report claims Galloway could do much better. It didn’t claim that he will actually win the contest. But it floated the Tories gaining 14,000 votes and Galloway winning 12,000…with Labour third.
Many of our readers will respond to this prospect by asking: “what’s not to like?” To which our answer is: “a lot – and the more one thinks about it, the more one finds”.
On Galloway himself, we will be brief. This site reads him as an adventurer in search of a salary: he has been through at least four political parties – it is hard to keep count – and three Parliamentary seats.
Sometimes his ventures succeed and sometimes they don’t , as with his last vehicle, All for Unity. It seems to have taken him where his connections with Islam in Britain logically go: to anti-woke social conservatism.
It is tempting to write off his Batley and Spen candidacy as just another episode in Galloway’s self-starring version of the Greatest Showman. This would be complacent.
A good result for him in the constituency could pave the way for a revival of his Respect Party – now reinvented as his new Workers Party of Britain: and another opportunistic and incoherent alliance between anti-Labour leftists and out and out Islamists.
But crucially, the context is different. When Respect was up and running, Britain was connected to Galloway’s foreign affairs preoccupations through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
However, we’re now out of all that (unless one counts the Government’s dipping a toe into interventionist water by means of the deployment of British troops in Mali).
This time round, Galloway is encouraging communalism in UK politics by dragging two conflicts overseas into the centre of political discourse. Britain is connected to both from the past, though remote from them in the present.
The first is Israel/Palestine. It isn’t necessary to take Israel’s side (we give the Palestinian case an airing on ConHome, unlike some other centre-right publications) to believe that the morphing of anti-Zionism into anti-semitism is becoming more blatant.
A speaker at a pro-Palestine rally claims that the BBC has 13 main executives who are Jewish. A convoy brandishing Palestinian flags drives down the Finchley Road, with a man shouting through a megaphone: “f**k the Jews, rape their daughers”.
Returning to Batley and Spen, a senior Labour official believes that the reason for the party’s troubles in the by-election campaign “is what Keir has been doing on antisemitism”.
Furthermore, Galloway campaign staffers reportedly say that “members of the Muslim community have been expressing concern to them over the fact Starmer’s wife is Jewish, and that their children are being raised in the Jewish faith”.
The second foreign affairs issue is Kashmir. It has even bigger implications for civil order here in Britain than Israel/Palestine. Nuclear-armed India and Pakistan have fought three armed conflicts over the disputed territory since partition – most recently in 1999.
What would the impact of another war be in some of our urban areas, in which Pakistani-origin and Indian-origin people live side by side – with a large slice of Britain’s Muslim population originating from Pakistan-controlled Kashmir?
It is only to be expected that MPs will seek to represent constituents who have views on the former princely state. But it’s bad for the body politic when what happens there, rather than here, becomes a dominant preoccupation.
Especially if the two main parties divide up so that the Conservatives become a pro-India, pro-Israel party and Labour a pro-Pakistan, pro-Palestine one.
There have been signs of this happening in recent years, though the expansion of Tory electoral territory is slowing it. But it is a sign of the times when Palestinian flags are more likely to be waved en masse on the floor of Labour’s conference than the Union flag.
To believe that Galloway’s new enterprise is only a problem in a small part of the country misses a bigger point. It is about the “culture war” – a phrase can lull one into thinking that, like many real wars, it has two sides.
However, the culture war is more like, say, the Syrian civil war than a clash between two nations. Just as that tragic conflict has featured a mass of writhing factions, so do the quarrels imported here from America. Here are four parties to them.
The first is between the best of conservatism and the worst of liberalism – the latter being woke’s identity politics, its hatred of the western project, its exaltation of emotion over reason.
As for the best of conservatism, look no further than Liz Truss’ careful policy on trans, Robert Halfon’s attack on concept of “white privilege”, Robert Tombs’ case for Brexit, and Nigel Biggar’s nuanced view of the British Empire.
The second is between the best of liberalism and the worst of liberalism. In the first category you find J.K Rowling, and feminists who believe that biology cannot be discounted; and Trevor Phillips, with the insight he brings to debate on race and integration.
There is a point, by the way, at which the best of conservatism and liberalism meet: in a common stress on the rule of law and the democratic tradition. Biggar is arguably a liberal thinker making a conservative case.
The third sees the the best of liberalism against the worst of conservatism. We identify that as the struggle between the decent, democratic left and the regressive trends in western Islam identified by Ed Husain in his book Among Britain’s Mosques.
Rather than recite the full list, we return to Batley and Spen – where Kim Leadbeater, Labour’s candidate, has been targeted by leaflets claiming that she is “openly lesbian” who has “shamelessly been brought to the Masjids for votes”.
As for the best of conservatism versus the worst of it, well, the former lives in a different cultural space to the latter. Or has so far – though if the Conservative Party wins more Batleys and Spens, that will change.
We would find our headline question easier to answer were Labour a reliable bulwark against both woke and extremism. But there is a case for believing not only that it isn’t, but that it can’t be.
Everything we now know about Keir Starmer suggests that he is basically decent but without imagination – clueless when it comes to assembling a winning coalition that can yoke Labour’s newer metropolitan vote to its traditional provincial one.
On reflection, perhaps this is unfair to Starmer. Maybe the mission is impossible for the party as presently constituted. Galloway is campaigning to finish him off. But perhaps the solution to Labour’s problems is to scrap not the leader, but the whole party.
Maybe Britain needs a new social democratic force that doesn’t like Brexit, but can come to terms with it; that knows the difference between progressive social change and the cancel culture, and that can be relied upon for economic competence.
In which case, Galloway might be doing us all a service. And in any event, what would be wrong with another Tory MP? “Do I contradict myself? Very well then, I contradict myself,” said Walt Whitman. Whoever said the cross-currents of cultural conflict are easy to negotiate?