The Croydon North by-election, called after the death of Malcolm Wicks, took place on November 29. It was won comfortably by Labour’s Steve Reed.
I am not a fan of Labour, but I found this result palatable considering there was talk of Respect pulling off another shock victory. Respect is a party of opportunists who play at divisive politics. In the end, Lee Jasper (Respect’s candidate) only managed a paltry 707 votes.
Earlier in the year, Respect’s George Galloway won the Bradford West by-election by stirring racial tensions. Galloway put himself forward as espousing Muslim virtues (though he remains evasive when asked if he has actually converted to the religion). One leaflet stated: ‘God knows who is a Muslim and He knows who is not. I, George Galloway, do not drink and never have.’ Galloway also said: ‘I’m a better Pakistani than he [Mr Hussain] will ever be.’
Respect is no longer a socialist or liberal party; it is merely a platform by which Galloway rants against mainstream politics. Respect no longer supports women’s rights or gay rights (Galloway has avoided Commons votes involving these issues). All have been sacrificed to win over hard-line Muslim support.
Galloway controversially stated that the sexual allegations against Julian Assange were, even if true, ‘not rape’ since initiating sex with someone who is asleep would not be rape. Respect’s former leader, Salma Yaqoob, who left the party over the issue, described the comments as ‘deeply disappointing and wrong.’
Lee Jasper was an advisor on equalities to Ken Livingstone during his tenure as London Mayor. Jasper frequently ‘played the race card’ to silence opposition to Labour’s policies, notably during the European Social Forum hosted by the GLA in 2004. In late 2007, the Evening Standard accused Lee Jasper of cronyism and corruption. He resigned on 4 March 2008 following accusations that he had sent e-mails of an ‘intimate nature’ to a woman involved with organisations who had received GLA grants.
Jasper has frequently articulated the view that black people cannot be racist (one assumes he has never heard of Robert Mugabe?). His argument seems to be that, since black people are not often found in positions of power in the UK, they are not capable of being racist as they wield little influence. But Jasper’s reasoning is wrong because racism is not merely about enforcing prejudice through influence. Racism is about judging others by virtue of their race – and that can certainly be done by anyone.
So Jasper is not only quick to play the ‘race card’ when it suits, but also denies that a black man could ever be racist himself.
Galloway, the mastermind of all of Respect’s campaigns, was up to his usual tricks in the run up to the Croydon North and Rotherham by-elections. He declared that Respect would be targeting the black and Muslim vote: ‘We will be targeting the 10,000 Muslim voters on the issues which matter greatly to them, most important of which is the ceaseless bombardment from the ruling class and the media to try and poison the British public against Muslims and Islam.’
Even more remarkably, Galloway attacked Labour for selecting ‘white guy’ Steve Reed as their candidate for Croydon North. I say remarkably, because there didn’t seem to be anything wrong with white candidates when Galloway stood for Bradford West.
Community leaders condemned Galloway’s comments as divisive. Pastor Clement Okusi said: ‘Galloway appears to be reading a very badly written script and Jasper does himself no favours with his confrontational rhetoric. With regards to him targeting blacks and Muslims, he immediately alienates others and sets himself up as a divisive figure.’
Faz Hakim, once considered one of Britain’s most influential Muslim women, said: ‘I have known Lee Jasper for 20 years. The world has changed in that time but he hasn’t. It’s completely irresponsible to be encouraging division at a time when we should be joining together.’
Jasper, who was also found to have used controversial ‘Twitter bot’ programs to generate Tweets and give a false impression of his popularity, said: ‘You have to use everything at your disposal in modern campaigning.’ This sums up nicely the divisive game that Galloway and his Respect cronies are prepared to play. They exploit the groups that they claim to give a voice to. In the long term, this will be very damaging indeed. Ethnic minority and disadvantaged voters – already deeply mistrustful of politicians – will give up completely on the democratic process. Fortunately, the people of Croydon North and Rotherham saw through this.
What is clear is that the main parties must work harder to appeal to these groups. If not, the politics of division will take hold.