Today
Thu 29 July 2021

Populist left candidate George Galloway’s campaign pitch against LGBTIQ-inclusive education shares disinformation and conspiracy straight from the religious right. Sian Norris reports from Batley

“I’ll tell you what I think,” says the Uber driver taking me into Batley. “Galloway will win. Because he talks about Palestine and there’s a large Muslim community here who are upset about Palestine. But why is he talking about Palestine? We need to talk about local issues – about what is happening in Batley. You just have to look around to see what’s wrong.”

It’s Sunday and the only people who seem to be out and about on the town’s quiet streets are Labour canvassers. Next door to Labour HQ, a cafe bustles with local women and children catching up with friends, and volunteers waiting to be deployed. It’s chilly and overcast and I’m regretting not bringing a jumper. But the volunteers seem hopeful.

They’re here because Batley and Spen is having a by-election on Thursday, after its previous MP Tracy Brabin was elected Metro Mayor of West Yorkshire. There’s a total of 16 parties contesting the seat, including five far and populist-right candidates immersed in racism, Islamophobia and anti-vaxx conspiracy. Unlike Labour candidate Leadbeater, none are local to Batley. 

And then there’s George Galloway, another outsider who, fresh from defeat in Scotland, has run an anti-Starmer campaign and is accused by MP Holly Lynch of creating a “toxic environment that is suffocating democracy and drowning out the voices of local people.”

Our Uber driver has got one thing wrong: Galloway isn’t going to win in Batley, despite his leaflet claiming it’s a “two-horse race” between “the people’s champion” and an “unknown Tory candidate.” The polls are putting him at 6%, compared to 41% of Labour and 47% for Conservative.

But he is correct that, wherever you seem to look in the small Yorkshire mill town, the hat-wearing politician stares down at you, boasting of his international reputation rather than potholes and GP waiting lists.


Anti-LGBTIQ Misinformation and Conspiracy

Two days earlier, the Labour candidate Kim Leadbeater had endured abuse from a Birmingham-based activist Shakeel Afsar who asked her if she would “support Muslim parents” against “LGBT indoctrination”. The crowd said Labour was “the colour of blood”. The moment was captured by Byline TV and Leadbeater claims Galloway was “laughing” as Afsar launched his tirade. 

Galloway denies the accusation that he was laughing and says he “absolutely” condemned the abuse. 

Afsar has tweeted that he is not part of Galloway’s campaign. But one thing is clear: the former Labour MP, Respect MP and now Workers Party candidate has been indulging in similar homophobic and transphobic dog-whistles in the lead-up to election day.

On 25 June Galloway complained about “transmania”, sex and gender in an article for Russia Today. He told Spiked how Labour is “infatuated” with the trans issue, repeated the “transmania” term and said it was putting off working class voters.

He also told Spiked that the issue had not come up on the doorstep. And yet the next day, during a “Freedom of Speech” event, he explained he didn’t want primary school children taught “that there’s 99 genders, that men can become women.”

In the same speech, Galloway said he did not want children taught “how to masturbate” or “about anal sex” and “parents chest-feeding their children.” 

The claim that children are being taught about masturbation and anal sex at primary age is a classic religious-right trope shared by organisations linked to alt-right conspiracy theories such as Parent Power, Christian Concern and Voice for Justice UK, as well as anti-LGBTIQ Muslim activists such as Amir Ahmed, and Afsar himself.

These are groups and individuals who actively campaign against what they call “LGBT dogma” and “trans indoctrination” in schools by spreading the same disinformation and conspiracist ideas that Galloway shared on Friday.

One Parent Power article about a sex education video focusing on the clitoris indulged in the far-right “Satanic” conspiracy theory. The same article claims six year olds are being “encouraged” to masturbate, echoing Galloway’s speech. The organisation was launched by newly-crowned Democratic Unionist Party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson – not a natural Galloway ally. 

Galloway’s electoral literature continues the attack on inclusive sex and relationships education (SRE). In one leaflet, Galloway writes “I will demand parental involvement in the school curriculum. I don’t want my children to be taught in a moral vacuum.”

While the leaflet is not explicitly referencing SRE, it’s unlikely complaints about parental involvement in the curriculum is about how Marie-Claire va au piscine in La Rochelle or methods for solving long division.

This again reflects one aspect of far and religious-right attacks on inclusive SRE: the conspiracist notion that the “LGBT agenda” seeks to undermine parental authority in the home.

The belief that progressive politicians want to usurp parents rights is shared by Spain’s far-right Vox Party and its Parental Pin campaign that demands parents give permission for their children to have ethics, social and moral education. Global anti-gender activists CitizenGO also railed against “LGTB and Gender indoctrination from primary school without informing or requiring parental consent” in its petition against the Matic Report, adopted by the European Parliament last week.

Galloway’s focus on LGBTIQ-inclusive SRE follows 2019 protests at Anderton Park School in Birmingham, coordinated by Shakeel Afsar. In common with the Christian religious-right, Afsar misrepresented the curriculum as “sexualising” children. The same accusations about indoctrination and teaching children to masturbate were voiced, with some protesters claiming that the school was pursuing a “paedophile agenda.”

Although primarily a response by conservative members of the Muslim community, the 2019 protests were supported by other religious-right groups including John Allman from Restore the Family UK and Christian People’s Alliance, a political party for which he stood as a candidate in 2017. The Alliance’s candidate in Batley and Spen, Paul Bickerdike, is “standing against LGBT propaganda in schools.”

Labour’s response has been robust in refusing to give ground on its commitment to the LGBTIQ community, including the LGBTIQ Muslim community, the importance of inclusive SRE, and its support of Leadbeater. 

Meanwhile, Galloway’s dog-whistle attacks on LGBTIQ people – especially during Pride Month – show a willingness to sacrifice and undermine the human rights of minority people in the constituency he hopes to represent. These include the human rights of young LGBTIQ people in Batley and Spen’s schools who deserve an education that respects their sexual and gender identities. 

The day ended in violence, although I had left Batley by that point. Former MP Tracy Brabin reported being followed by a group of young men who pelted the canvassers with eggs, shouted taunts – one volunteer even kicked in the head. 

The alleged assault comes five years almost to the day after the previous Labour MP and Leadbeater’s sister Jo Cox was murdered on Batley’s streets by a far-right terrorist. 

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