Manchester Withington in the General Election

Ian Parker on the candidates perhaps worth voting for


Manchester Withington is a very safe Labour seat. The sitting MP Jeff Smith has a whopping majority, of 27,905. The seat was Tory until 1987, then went Labour, and then Liberal, with John Leech, who came a poor second in 2019 with 15% of the vote. Jeff Smith, who is a supporter of Labour Friends of Israel (though once upon a time confessed that he couldn’t remember which “Middle East” support group he was part of when challenged by Palestine activists), took the seat again for Labour in 2015. His signature stance in internal Labour Party meetings when challenged, over arms sales, for example, is an apologetic shrug. There has been a Palestine protest outside his constituency offices every week over the Gaza genocide.

At an election hustings at Didsbury Central Mosque on 19 June, Jeff Smith refused to name what was happening in Gaza “genocide” and to characterise Israel as an apartheid state. The most significant Labour Party intervention from the floor at the hustings was from transphobe activists of the “respect my sex” campaign. Apart from anything else, that kind of intervention is indicative of the right-wing dynamic of the transphobe labour activists locally. It is disgraceful that they chose this hustings as a place to raise this, a hustings that was often fractious, and put pressure on the candidates over Gaza. No vote for Labour here.

Workers Party of Britain

There is a Reform Party candidate, a Social Democratic Party candidate, these are no-hopers, and a paper candidate for the Tories, no chance; those three candidates were not at the Didsbury mosque hustings. And there is Lizzie Greenwood standing for the Workers Party of Britain (WPB). Lizzie has been involved in Palestine solidarity politics for a while, and she said she was approached to stand by the WPB. She has been on the Jeff Smith constituency office protest, on other local Palestine protests and often on the weekly Manchester march. She is an honest well-meaning activist, and we have joked in one of the local Palestine WhatsApp groups that perhaps a good option would be if she defeats Jeff Smith and George Galloway loses his seat at the same time.

Lizzie spoke at the beginning of the Manchester march on Saturday 15 June, a good rousing speech but, unfortunately for her, this was the very day in which the police attacked the demonstration. The compere of the opening rally had warned us, directly after Lizzie spoke, that calls for increased funding for the police is antithetical to the Palestine solidarity movement. We were warned to be careful about candidates telling us they supported Palestinians when they also sided with the police.

Indeed, the WPB has a classic authoritarian populist approach to law and order and views the police as workers who should be embraced and funded as comrades. During the last local elections, WPB tweets claimed that the police were being manipulated by the powers that be to do bad things; this is a toxic combination of pro-police and conspiracy sentiment.

Apart from a very clear pro-Putin line on Ukraine, for which the WPB has a pamphlet lauding Russia’s “special military operation,” Lizzie is faced with a party leader, George Galloway, who supports tighter restrictions on abortion, sees lesbians and gays as “not normal,” and intends to erase trans life. The code phrase in the WPB manifesto for transphobia is opposition to “identity politics.” Lizzie says she stands for LGBTQIA+ politics, and she says that, when she was recruited as WPB candidate, she was told that this would be no problem. However, she back-peddled on the sex education in schools question at the Didsbury mosque, talking about parents’ rights, a worrying sign of compliance with the WPB line. A vote for a WPB candidate in this election is a vote for the WPB and, even worse, a vote for Galloway who will proclaim himself the tribune of the family and the nation.

The Green Party

The Liberal Democrat candidate, Richard Kilpatrick, has been a good hardworking councillor, and will perhaps pick up some votes this time, and he has another card up his sleeve, endorsement by Muslim Vote. Richard did will at the mosque hustings. Muslim Vote is also calling for a vote for Green Party candidate Ekua Bayunu in Manchester Central, that is against the awful Starmerite Lucy Powell, and for George Galloway in Rochdale.

Also present on some of the Jeff Smith weekly protests in Withington has been smiley Sam Easterby-Smith, who told us that he expects to get second place in the count. That is possible. Sam stood with his bicycle alongside us and told us that he wished for peace, but his campaign literature does not speak out explicitly about the genocide. A vote for Sam would be one way of sending a message of protest at Jeff Smith, and would be a voice pitted against Tories of different stripes.

There is also abstention, which would send a message of some kind, and a spoilt ballot paper, but a large vote for the Green’s Sam Easterby-Smith would be possible good option for those wanting a sympathetic, if weak, voice on Gaza. He was clearly nervous at the hustings, a little too tentative. His Twitter handle reads “Here for climate justice, social justice, peace, walking. cycling, trains, trans, digital, bins,” and he did respond to the transphobe question from the floor at the mosque hustings as “dog-whistling”. Sam’s most recent post declares that if elected “I will speak up for cats!”

Joking aside, in these grim times when the election is a distraction as well as a time to focus political discussion among those who usually avoid the issue, a vote for Sam would also contribute to an argument for an ecological dimension if not explicitly for “ecosocialism,” and for proportional representation, an electoral mechanism that would boost the voice for those excluded from debate between elections.   

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Ian Parker is a Manchester-based psychoanalyst and a member of Anti*Capitalist Resistance.

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