Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2901

No Ceasefire No Vote conference debates what sort of left we need

George Galloway rallied much of the room behind him—but not everyone was convinced
Issue 2901
A panel of 5 at the no ceasefire no vote conference

Speakers at the No Ceasefire No Vote conference

People from across Britain gathered in Blackburn, Lancashire, on Saturday for the No Ceasefire No Vote (NCNV) conference. It was designed to build a stronger political challenge to the mainstream parties at the local and general elections over Gaza and other issues.

For much of the day, although there were some excellent contributions, the meeting was rather aimless with about 150 people present. But then George Galloway MP arrived and, because he was crystal-clear about his way forward, he shifted the atmosphere. He rallied much of the room behind him—with all the dangers that represents.

The conference was united by fury and disgust at the way the Tory and Labour parties have backed Israel’s genocide against the Palestinians.

Suleman Khonat, deputy leader of the Blackburn independent group of councillors, said, “It’s time to ditch Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems.”

There were repeated calls to keep building support for the Palestinians and to expose the main parties’ refusal to break from Israel and its Western backers. And there was widespread insistence that the campaigning movement has to be sustained and not put aside because of the elections.

Sabba Shah, a member of Friends of Al Aqsa, urged the movement to learn how to build new networks from the structures created during solidarity with Palestine. 

Activists from Leicester, Pendle, Wigan, Manchester and Merseyside spoke of their enthusiasm for launching an election challenge. 

Lotte Collett from the Independent Socialist Group in Haringey, north London, said that even if there is a ceasefire in Gaza there can be “no meek return to Labour.” She described how “our left bloc on the council fell victim to the strong arm, right wing Labour thugs run on behalf of Starmer”.

But there was also debate about the politics that must shape any pro-Palestine offensive at the polls.

Galloway said his Workers Party of Britain was “with the occupied against the occupier”. “We unequivocally support the right of Palestinian people to resist in whatever way they decide. That’s what solidarity means,” he said. 

He said a vote for any Labour candidate, was a “vote for genocide”. He added that when people say “some Labour candidates aren’t so bad, ask whether that car park for the mosque matters more than the dead children of Gaza”.

He added that he knew some people in the room didn’t much like him and disagreed with him about trans rights, trade unionism or net zero environment policies. But he said they should consider the value of the WPB logo that marked people out from other independents. He said it meant they could be part of a challenge by “hundreds of candidates” at the general election.

Galloway didn’t mention the revelations about some of the candidates the WPB is putting forward. They include Billy Howarth, an “anti-grooming” campaigner who has been involved with numerous far right groups. 

The WPB’s readiness to ditch the oppressed in the search for votes offers no way forward and will divide the working class. It reinforces the right wing scapegoating that deflects from the crimes of the rich and imperialism.

It says, for example, that it “offers a migration policy that reflects the anxiety about an influx of migrants which appears to be out of control”. It adds, “People are not wrong to worry about undue burdens being placed on local services and about the cost of hosting escalating numbers of asylum seekers.”

But Galloway doesn’t pull everyone. Earlier in the day at the NCNV conference, there had been hints and references to a different approach to Galloway’s.

Palestinian Mohammed Ghalayani spoke of how the places he knew in Gaza were now all destroyed. He argued that freedom for the Palestinians was inseparable from a wider campaign for liberation. He was applauded when he called for support for “an end to the oppression of women and support for LGBT people too”. 

Michael Lavalette, who is set to run in Preston at the general election as an independent socialist, said, “Independent often means a Tory in disguise. But for us we mean independent of the parties and the establishment that has supported Israel. We are part and parcel of the movement on the streets for Palestine and we are accountable to this movement.”

He added that it was crucial to “put Palestine on the ballot paper” but that the approach needed to be “Palestine plus”—taking up issues such as inequality and anti-racism.

Alan Gibbons from the Liverpool Community Independent councillors said, “We have never seen mobilisations like the ones over Gaza. We’ve had 22 marches in Liverpool.” 

But he too wanted an electoral challenge to take up wider working class concerns such as cuts and austerity. He added that anyone encouraging “anti-migrant feeling is not my brother, is not my sister”. 

Socialist Worker editor Charlie Kimber said, “We’re united by Gaza—but we will be divided unless we also confront all forms of oppression.” He asked WPB supporters in the room to “get rid of Howarth” and to “push for politics that can genuinely fight for liberation in Palestine and more broadly”. 

Many of those in Blackburn felt torn between their wish to punish Labour and uncertainty about the WPB. Ayesha, a Palestine campaigner from Leicester, told Socialist Worker, “I can see the attraction of the Workers’ Party, but I also feel George Galloway won’t in the end set up a movement for everyone. I’d like Jeremy Corbyn to come forward and stand against Labour.”

It’s important to remember that the movement on the streets and in the workplaces is more important than any election challenge. And we need a break from Labourism and its obsession with councils and parliament, not just Starmer. 

NCNV has been a useful forum for debate and a focus for people breaking from Labour. If it is dominated by the politics of the WPB, that will be a disaster.

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