Rotherham is the most important election of all

by Rob Marchant

It seems that, over the next two weeks, we are about to suffer a plague of elections: six by-elections, plus the rather-important PCC elections.

But the one which has the most compressed timescales of all – where candidate Sarah Champion was selected yesterday, with a mere two weeks until polling day and after a walkout at the selection meeting – is going to be the toughest, nastiest and arguably the most important of all.

Why?

Denis MacShane’s resignation a fortnight ago, over the falsification of invoices, was a tragic, shabby end to what was an otherwise rather admirable and productive career, including three years as minister for Europe and some brave work fighting anti-semitism. And whilst there was never any question of personal gain resulting from his actions, it was also clear that his behaviour was inexcusable and that he had to go, to avoid dragging out the pain for him, Labour and his constituents over a further half-parliament.

What has not yet been focused on, however, is the considerable headache that his departure gives Labour.

First, we are in a political climate where the conventional wisdom is that trust in established parties is at a historic low – and therefore the likelihood of major parties being punished is high. Although neither Respect nor the BNP are currently in particularly good shape, this is good news for both of them in all these elections.

Second, there is the obvious Rotherham-specific issue – the electorate will want to punish Labour for MacShane’s misdemeanours, despite it being a historically safe seat. In other words, like Corby but unlike, say, Bradford West – which we lost – the electorate has a legitimate grievance against the incumbent. If we couldn’t hang on to Bradford West, that’s not a great sign for Rotherham.

Third, its sizeable Muslim population lives mostly in the central part of the borough which is being contested. The Respect party, which has largely centred its electoral offering around appealing to Muslim voters, is already putting in the shoe-leather. Respect also now has a base in Bradford, less than an hour away, and if they are not sending activists every other day to leaflet in Rotherham, it’d be very surprising.

Fourth, MacShane’s work on anti-Semitism and his former leadership of Labour friends of Israel makes the seat the ideal venue for a “global American-Israeli conspiracy” story against Labour. No prizes for guessing which party is likely to suggest that story in their campaign: one supporter of Respect candidate Yvonne “tentacles of Zionism” Ridley has already been tweeting about that “Zionist Denis MacShane”.

And Respect are not the only ones with a long-standing grudge against MacShane: back in 2010, long before his resignation, MPACUK (Muslim Public Affairs Committee, one of a number of questionable organisations which purports to represent British Muslims) was calling him an Islamophobe and encouraging a sectarian vote against him. For the record, MPACUK also has one of its four core principles “reviving the obligation of Jihad”. Nice.

Now, Denis MacShane may have ended his career ignominiously over his parliamentary expenses, but let’s be clear: a sectarian, or a racist, he emphatically is not. Sadly, few will probably make this distinction in the heat of a by-election campaign – he will merely be the bad guy, the man who “fiddled”. Such nuance is impossible here.

Fifth, the thing that has, sadly, put Rotherham in the headlines more than anything this year has been the harrowing “grooming” case involving gangs of mostly British Pakistani origin targeting young girls. It is, predictably, a subject which the far right have delighted in exploiting; a disgustingly convenient “hook” for the EDL and the BNP to foment anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistani sentiment. The former recently demonstrated in Rotherham; the latter polled 10% of the vote in 2010, and is promoting their candidate at a rally this Saturday. Yuk.

So, the by-election is in an era where mainstream parties are relatively unpopular; where the local party is less than happy; a seat where the expenses scandal will particularly hurt Labour, the only one of those mainstream parties in with a shot; where there has been awful anti-Muslim bigotry from the far-right; where the local community is still in shock after the grooming scandal; and where Respect are moving in from their Bradford base to stir things up between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Yes, what could possibly go wrong?

This will be a clear test case for Labour: the extent to which it can learn from Bradford West and turn its back on old ways in the inner cities; and, of course, whether it can win, which is something else.

So, friends, comrades, colleagues: yes, we can fight amongst ourselves, but that’s letting these clowns win. If we do anything for the party this year, we might think about this: in Rotherham, Respect, and the BNP, are gaining strength, and Labour is self-evidently the only party in a position to stop them.

More importantly, of the two, Respect is the bigger current challenge to Labour, as we have seen in Bradford. This is a window of opportunity to weaken them further, stop them in their tracks while we can. If we cannot beat Respect and their fellow-travellers back now, while they are weak, we are unlikely to be able to do it effectively once they recover. They already have their hooks in the labour movement and, sooner or later, count on it: the result will be serious damage to our party.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left


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17 Responses to “Rotherham is the most important election of all”

  1. john p reid says:

    I never new Mcshane was jewish let alone had views like that On Israel, Respect are digging the dirt to find anything to further their vote, they’re toxic anyone who was in them shouldn’t be allowed to join laobur

  2. Well said, as ever, Rob.

    Now’s the time to unite, and get on with the job of winning in Rotherham.

  3. swatantra says:

    Can’t Respect find any BAME candidates to stand in byelections like this.
    In Bradford they had Galloway and in Rotherham they’ve put up Yvonne Ridley a white woman convert to Islam. If they win this then they’ll have more MPs than the Greens or UKIP.
    It’ll be tough going for Labour; not only the sleaze of Dennis and Margaret Moran to overcome but also the mistaken belief that Labour is anti-Muslim. And its a byelection which won’t change anything.

  4. @JohnPReid: I’m not sure he is, but he has certainly been a strong supporter of Israel and effective fighter against anti-Semitism.

    @JohnSlinger: Many thanks John. Quite.

  5. I lived and worked in France from 1978-1981 and my recollections seem make it a very different city to the one Denis McShane inhabited as a journo. When McShane was pushing I.D. cards for New Labour it seemed extremely sinister to me.
    France had ID cards, and ‘controles d’Identitee’ were a frequent form of police harassment, targeted very much at Arabs, but there were exceptions. One of these exceptions was the rape of a couple of German tourists in the back of a police van (police vans were quite large vehicles in France, in those days), during a ‘control d’Identitee’. Liberation report the ripples of this scandal for several weeks and it became a ’cause celebre’
    It’s quite sure that McShane campaigned for Britain to play it’s fair role in the EU, but his tactics and stratagy are akin to those of the much vaunted American generals in Iraq and Afghanistan. There is no way the working class is going to resist capitalism except by acting in an international context. The city of London should be controlled by the people, but we need democratically elected parties which cut across state borders in order to do this.
    What happened to Denis McShane is parhaps rather sad, because he was one of the few MPs who had lived and worked in a foreign country which was not called America. Parliament certainly needs more of these people.

  6. @Swatantra:

    Well, I think they did find at least one, but didn’t like him enough to put him on the shortlist. However, it does beg the question whether we should be choosing candidates on account of skin colour – I’m not sure that is the best way to get the best candidates.

    But I know, it seems odd that in an area of high percentage ethnic minority, all the candidates will be white! That said, Yvonne Ridley will clearly get a high percentage of those with a tendency to vote along sectarian lines.

    Where I’d disagree is that it’s a by-election which won’t change anything – not directly, perhaps: but if Respect were to end up with two seats in parliament, there would definitely be a strategic rethink at Labour HQ. And quite possibly it would make a wrong analysis. Secondly, the increase in strength for Respect themselves could well help them further their unpleasant agenda within Britain’s unions, and possibly get money from them. That would be a very significant and unwelcome change.

  7. @antony:

    I think too it’s sad that we have so few MPs who know what it’s like to live and work in Europe. Our politicians are increasingly insular in their outlook, and most have never worked in a proper job, let alone abroad in distinct, non Anglo-Saxon cultures. It’s a shame, as these things are hugely enriching for all of us.

  8. By the way, all, I accidentally missed a link about the supporter of Yvonne Ridley who referred to the “Zionist Denis MacShane”: his name is Ibrahim Hewitt, and he is chair of Interpal, an organisation with strong links to terrorists Hamas.

    https://twitter.com/ibrahimhewitt56/status/267692590026088448

    Just in case anyone thought I was making this up.

  9. Thomas says:

    This is what happens when a movement created to represent the working man is captured by middle class public sector types who choose substitute identity politics for labour representation and demonise the white working class as racist, sexist and homophobic. The white working class base naturally turns to the BNP which is, as they rightly say, the Labour Party your grandfather voted for. Having ingrained identity politics leaves Labour just as vulnerable to Respect, which offers a more keenly focused identity politics appeal to Muslims while also appealing to the anti-Semitic left, as exposed by McShane and Nick Cohen but otherwise ignored by the left as an embarrassment.

    This is a direct result of Labour abandonning it’s roots. If either racist socialist party prospers it will be Labour who is to blame and all of us the poorer.

  10. Les Abbey says:

    So with all the problems facing the Rotherham why would those in the leadership go out of their way to upset local party members by giving them a shortlist whih just two leadership favoured candidates? This was insane and those responsible should resign. Too late now but the local party activists should be offered the chance of re-selecting their candidate for the next general election if Sarah Champion manages to win this time and we haven’t given Respect too much of a head start.

  11. @Thomas, yes I think the Respect crew are probably delighted that one of their harshest critics has been silenced. Comrade Cohen, has also, I agree, done excellent work on this. There are other decent people who are writing about this, but their voices are drowned out by those who think this is a problem which will go away. It won’t.

    Identity politics is cancerous: we need to do all we can to stop it. And I agree that, sadly, the Labour Party, along with the labour movement in general, is largely to blame for that.

  12. Michael Sylvester says:

    I’m an Independent Parish Councillor in Rotherham the last time I voted Labour in a parliamentary election was for Macshane in ’94 it became very apparent to lots of us locally what he was all about.

    In the by-election on November 29th I’ll be voting for Sarah Champion and for Labour for the first time in 18 years.

    There are a lot of us in Rotherham who were born and bred Labour but couldn’t vote for him appeal for those of us who feel like that to come home in a clean break with the past.

  13. The biggest threat to Labour is the fact that a local candidate wasn’t shortlisted. I thought this kind of control-freakery would end with Ed in charge but it continues to our eternal shame. South Yorkshire folk don’t like parachutes and this could cost us dear.

  14. @Michael: well I hope there are lots of people who come back to us. For whatever reason.

    @Andy: the frustrating thing is, as I tweeted yesterday, the idiocy of choosing an AWS when doing so will result in a shortlist of two is indescribable. Dogma over practicality, yet again. This seat was clearly not suitable for an AWS. Maybe next time we will have a shortlist of one, like the Soviets!

  15. @Andy: One other thing: I hasten to add, to be clear, that this is nothing to do with my excellent former colleagues on the party staff. The NEC by-election panel makes these political decisions, not them.

  16. Mike Homfray says:

    Irrespective of the quality of the candidate, Labour do not deserve to win this seat. The imposition of a candidate no-one wanted who was then selected by 13 people is a travesty and I am sure the voters will be reminded of what happened and why.

    There were perfectly good and popular local candidates who should have at least been given an opportunity to be on the shortlist

    I certainly think that Labour has been far too sympathetic to the Zionist cause.

  17. Passing Comment says:

    Did the 13 Labour Party members who selected the Labour candidate know that she had been a Trade Union member for only two weeks?

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