The timing of a conference this weekend outlining policies and action to bring about a more progressive London could scarcely be better. This week the official figures confirm what those of us in east London can see with our own eyes: that class inequality has increased to Victorian levels even as tens of billions of pounds of public money has gone into banks which remain in private hands.
The result is gold-dripping Croesus characters in Canary Wharf and the City eyeing every council estate and bit of spare land in the East End as a possible development or pied-a-terre, with the current inhabitants an encumbrance to be uprooted and dumped further east. This class gulf is combined with racial inequalities, poor health and other forms of deprivation into a toxic cocktail.
It is set to get worse – and much, much worse if the Old Etonians of the Tory party are to get the chance, as they did in the early 1980s, to unleash their Thatcherite dogmas. And no one should forget – as one representative after another of Blair's war camarilla is hauled before the Iraq inquiry – that Cameron and the Tories backed each and every one of those bloody adventures.
Yet despite the deadening consensus in parliament, on many issues there is a progressive majority – particularly in London. At one point there appeared to be flickers of realisation in the Brown circle that this is so. They flirted with the idea of fighting an election contrasting Tory cuts to necessary public investment. But a peashooter across the bows from the Blairites in the New Year put paid to that.
Now we are to face an election with the three parties pushing various permutations of cuts that threaten to plunge the economy into a second slump even as it flatlines from the first. My party, Respect, will be standing in carefully targeted seats in opposition to that. And we will be working with those who also seek to promote a progressive answer to class inequality, war and racism. If we can win in the three seats where we are best placed – Poplar & Limehouse and Bethnal Green & Bow in east London, and Hall Green in Birmingham – we believe we can make a major contribution to shifting the terms of political debate.
We know, of course, that that will not be enough. That's why we are engaging across the board with those who want to defend traditional Labour values. The argument is overwhelming. We are told that the state needs to be cut back. But it is only thanks to the largest ever state peacetime state intervention in the economy that the world has avoided a greater slump than the 1930s, at least for now.
We are told by one general after another that we will have to be in Afghanistan for five, 10, or even 15 years. Yet scepticism about the war has grown and is set, along with Iraq, to provide a backdrop to this year's general election as it did in 2005. The shrill cries of racism, bigotry and Islamophobia are amplified by the media and all too many politicians, giving credence to the hate-mongers of the BNP. Yet more and more people are living and mixing alongside one another in council wards, schools and workplaces across Britain.
The London elections in 2008 saw a progressive coalition emerge. But it was defeated, not because it was too radical, but because it was dragged down by the failure of New Labour in office. As I said to those on the left who appeared indifferent, or even hostile, as to whether Ken Livingstone would remain mayor of London, quoting Joni Mitchell, "You don't know what you've got 'till it's gone." How many people must now bitterly realise that now that Boris Johnson is busy paving, if not paradise, then certainly over one poor community after another in the capital.
The same should not be allowed to happen now nationally. Those who want a fairer and more just society need to band together and stand on principle. We can do that it movements for peace, social justice and against racism. But we should do it where we can at the ballot box too.
• George Galloway is speaking at the Progressive London conference on 30 January at Congress House, Great Russell Street WC1H, 10am-5:30pm. To register in advance go to www.progressivelondon.org.uk
This article first appeared on The Guardian’s Comment is free on Friday 29th January.