London mayoral election: It’s really no contest

GEORGE GALLOWAY argues why the choice facing Londoners couldn’t be clearer.

Morning Star, 19 April 2008

Any doubts about the topography of the battlefield in the race for London Mayor ought to have been dispelled this week with the shrill escalation of the Evening Standard’s attacks on Ken Livingstone.

Hundreds of billboards across the capital repeated the front page headline, “Suicide bomb backer runs Ken’s campaign.” It was a masterful piece of propaganda straight out of the playbook of the 1930s fascist propagandists whom Associated Newspapers were so attached to at the time.

The story actually amounted to little more than the fact that the British Muslim Initiative (BMI), an organisation that has co-hosted the major anti-war demonstrations, is working with others to ensure a large turnout of Muslim voters in the capital and is strongly advocating a vote for Livingstone for mayor.

The BMI is also calling for a vote for myself for the assembly and for Respect’s candidate in the City and East London constituency, Hanif Abdulmuhit.

Now you might have thought that Muslim activists arguing for democratic political engagement and taking part in lobbying, meetings, leafleting and all other activities that attend elections in Britain would receive plaudits from the self-styled defenders of the mother of parliaments. But no – the worthy aim of getting hundreds of thousands of Muslim voters to turn out at the polls is apparently evidence of a sinister, anti-democratic plot.

It is an indication of the nightmare that we could expect if Boris Johnson managed to get his hands on the mayoralty. It would mark nothing short of a counter-revolution against the progressive stances which Livingstone has adopted against racism and Islamophobia and over other issues.

Others understand this. The fascist British National Party is calling for a second preference vote for Johnson. In the previous two London elections, the BNP didn’t dream of offering its second vote to then Tory candidate Steve Norris. As anyone who has ever met him or heard him speak will testify, Norris is totally at ease with the multicultural and multiracial character of London.

Johnson says that he repudiates the BNP support. But he needs to ask the question. What is it that they see in him that they didn’t in his predecessor?

There can be no vacillation on the left about this election, no gesture politics and no narrow self-interest. I have many differences with Livingstone and am openly saying so. But I am framing all that in a simple message – I am backing Livingstone because those who are seeking to destroy him would also destroy me, progressive politics in London and the left. Those who would pay an immediate price for a Johnson victory include Muslims, migrants and minorities across the capital. And it wouldn’t stop there.

His advisers are discussing obliterating the RMT union. They are floating the idea of sacking every firefighter with over 15 years service and hamstringing the FBU.

There are real consequences affecting millions of working people to a Johnson victory. Already, his campaign has stiffened the sinews of the Islamophobic axis. And it is Islamophobia that is being used as the leading edge to justify imperialist adventures in the Middle East, the shredding of our civil liberties and the spurious right-wing attacks on the left dressed in liberal garb.

Now is the time for a solid bloc in opposition to this anti-Muslim offensive. No-one who has been associated with the anti-war movement should concede an inch to it.

We always said that it was relatively easy to maintain unity when there were hundreds of thousands on the streets. When, however, the gutter press hones in on some of our number – comrades in the BMI, for example – and there are pressures, electoral and otherwise, to accommodate, it is the real test of solidarity.

I am taking a clear message against racism and Islamophobia across the capital in this election campaign. I hope that even my opponents would accept that I am implacable in my defence of Muslims, migrants and minorities and that, if elected, I would be a bastion against the right in City Hall.

George Galloway is Respect MP for Bethnal Green and Bow. He writes a monthly column for the Star.