THE LABOUR Party's top committee has sparked outrage by refusing to lift the suspension of anti-war MP George Galloway and even closing down discussion on the issue. The undemocratic scenes at Labour's National Executive Committee (NEC) on Tuesday of this week underline widespread suspicions that Labour's hierarchy will use every dirty trick against the most prominent anti-war figure in Britain.
Galloway has been suspended for likening the US and British attack on Iraq to wolves falling on prey and for calling on the head of the British army in Iraq not to obey illegal orders. The Nuremberg trials established that 'following orders' was not a defence when those orders amounted to war crimes.
Galloway told Socialist Worker, 'I am bitterly disappointed at the continuing suspension of my party membership. This gagging order, which disables my parliamentary work and prejudices my rights, is without justification and virtually without support in the party. A large number of NEC members were mandated to support my reinstatement. This is becoming a big issue in the labour movement. Trade unions including the TGWU, GMB, CWU, RMT, Aslef, many sections of Unison and others are all coming behind the campaign launched by Michael Foot and Glenda Jackson MP and I hope that it will succeed. But I will not remain indefinitely in this limbo. We are demanding this matter is resolved one way or the other swiftly. My constituents cannot be expected to put up with this situation indefinitely and I will not ask them to. An MP cannot be indefinitely silenced over honestly held views openly expressed. That is the kind of parliament they had in Baghdad.'
Labour's deputy general secretary, Chris Lennie, is heading the 'investigation' into Galloway and has promised to meet him on Monday of next week. But there is no guarantee the suspension will be lifted quickly or not lead to expulsion from the party.
Threats of disciplinary action have also been made against left Labour MP John McDonnell after comments he made over Bobby Sands, the Republican hunger striker who was elected to parliament before he died on hunger strike. That all points to greater efforts by New Labour to isolate the few principled left wing MPs.
Galloway has made it clear that he is not prepared to disown the comments he made 'before, during or after the war'.
In addition to messages of support and hundreds of donations to fund his libel fight against the Christian Science Monitor and Daily Telegraph, he has received enthusiastic support at a score of public meetings over the last few weeks. Over 3,500 people have attended them.
At each, there have been popular calls to translate the historic movement against the war on Iraq into a political challenge to New Labour. nDonations to Galloway's legal defence fund should be made payable to 'George Galloway Legal Fund' and sent to Davenport Lyons Solicitors, 1 Old Burlington Street, London W1X 2NL.
What happened at meeting
THE CHAIR of the National Executive Committee, Diana Holland, opened the meeting by saying its officers (who are not party functionaries) had decided Galloway's suspension should be discussed. Steve Pickering, a representative of the GMB union, spoke up strongly against the suspension, which was driven through over five weeks ago by Labour's unelected general secretary, David Triesman.
Christine Shawcroft, a left wing representative of the Constituency Labour Parties, also argued against the suspension. Fellow left winger Mark Seddon was called next.
But before he could speak, Sir Jeremy Beecham, who represents Labour councillors, said, 'Move next business.' This bureaucratic trick is designed to kill off discussion and was voted on without any debate.
Only Mark Seddon, Christine Shawcroft, Ann Black (the third left wing constituency rep) and Steve Pickering voted to continue the discussion. Those voting against having a debate included Mike Griffiths of the GPMU and Maggie Jones and Nancy Coull of Unison, despite their unions' strong anti-war positions and widespread support for Galloway's reinstatement.
Constituency rep Shahid Malik also voted with the New Labour leadership. As if to add to the picture of a mockery of justice, deputy prime minister John Prescott and placeman Ian McCartney MP barked out, 'Back the general secretary' as the vote was taken. Tony Blair was not there. But surprisingly also absent were Mick Cash of the RMT, Jimmy Elsby of the TGWU and John Keggie of the CWU.
The RMT executive, incoming TGWU general secretary Tony Woodley and the CWU conference have all called for Galloway's reinstatement. The NEC will not meet again until September.
Freedom of speech
THE LABOUR Party's decision to suspend George Galloway for what he said in two television interviews against the war on Iraq is both wrong and potentially damaging to the party. It should be lifted by the National Executive Committee.
Galloway's remarks about 'wolves' and the issue of 'illegal orders' may not be to everyone's taste but free speech is even more important during an unpopular war opposed, when it began, by the majority of the British people.
Wasn't the export of such democratic freedom one of the coalition's 'war aims'? Many in the party think the intention is to keep Galloway in this limbo long enough to ensure he can't contest the forthcoming selections in the new Glasgow constituencies.
The party can dispel such unworthy suspicions by concluding this matter without further delay.
Statement from Michael Foot, Mark Seddon, Glenda Jackson MP, Bill Speirs general secretary STUC, Alice Mahon MP, Alan Simpson MP, Jeremy Corbyn MP