I can’t profess to being a massive fan of George Galloway. I admired his brilliant performance at the US Senate. I agree with many of the positions he has taken on Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel, and other foreign policy issues, as well as his fierce criticism of the Labour Party. It was gratifying to watch his defeat of the contemptible Blairite clone Oona King at Bethnal Green in 2005.
In a political system riddled with careerists, stooges and on-message opportunists, Galloway’s oratory, anger, charisma and commitment reveal the dearth of these qualities among so many of his peers, particularly amongst the Labour Party that expelled him.
Nevertheless Galloway has the whiff of a demagogue and a different kind of opportunism, and charisma is always something to be wary of when wedded to political ambition and too much ego. For all the typically cynical attempts by New Labour and others to smear Galloway – and by association the anti Iraq war movement in general – because of his opposition to the Iraq war, Galloway’s outspoken criticism of the crimes, disasters and hypocrisies of British/Western foreign policies in the Middle East has sometimes been accompanied, in my view, by an uncritical attitude to rulers and regimes that it would have been better to keep at arms length.
Despite these reservations, his victory in the Bradford West byelection was a terrific achievement for the left – and a major blow to a moribund, dithering and lily-livered Labour Party leadership that remains as fixated on focus group politics and media spectacles as its predecessors.
Labour lost a safe seat where it had a 5,000 majority with a 20 percent drop in votes. But the Tories also lost 20 percent, while the Lib Dems lost their deposit – something they absolutely deserve and one can only hope it is repeated elsewhere.
On the day of the byelection, Ed Miliband and Ed Balls were at a Greggs shop in Redditch, Worcs for a proletarian photo-op, grinning like two clowns as they brought two sausage rolls in a brazen and pathetic attempt to capitalise on Cameron’s equally pathetic ‘mis-remembered’ pasty and demonstrate that they were somehow more ‘in touch with ordinary people’ than Lord Snooty and his Pals.
Well it doesn’t take much to do that, but nor does it prove a damn thing. Unfortunately this kind of infantile, hollow symbolism has become the stuff (fluff?) of UK politics for too many years. The more politicians strike such contrived poses and attempt to prove how ‘ordinary’ and ‘in touch’ they are, the more similar to each other they seem – and the more phony and manipulative.
The least that can be said about pasties is that they are not the most searing issue, and their short-lived significance is one of the more absurd manifestations of a political system rotten with careerism, corporate lobbying, and media spin, which invariably seems to act as a facilitating agency for those at the top, while ignoring those at the bottom.
The Bradford byelection victory is a clear and unequivocal rejection of this kind of politics. This is not how it has been portrayed of course. No one can be surprised to find the Islamophobe uber-brat Douglas Murray in the Spectator arguing that Galloway’s victory has ‘ tragically demonstrated that sectarian politics are now alive and well in Britain.’
In the Telegraph, Andrew Gilligan takes a similar line, reaching deep into his bag of smears to claim that Galloway’s victory is ‘contaminated with the politics of religion’. Gilligan even has the gall to cite Galloway’s job as ‘ a presenter for the Iranian regime’s state-controlled Press TV channel‘ as proof of his links to ‘radical Islam’ – even though he himself once presented a show on…Press TV!
Chutzpah doesn’t even begin to describe it. For Murray and Gilligan, it seems, Muslim voters can only be ‘sectarian’ or ‘fundamentalist’ and motivated by religion. Further to the left (I use the term relatively), the Guardian‘s Patrick Wintour also reported initially that ‘ the seat’s Muslim community had decamped from Labour en masse to Galloway’s fundamentalist call for an immediate British troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and a fightback against the job crisis,‘ before subsequently removing the word ‘fundamentalist.’
Elsewhere the self-styled ‘Blairite cuckoo’-turned-Telegraph blogger Dan Hodges has laughably attributed Galloway’s victory to Ed Miliband’s supposed swing to the left. In Hodges’ view, Miliband has ‘flayed the bankers, bashed business and tried to eat the rich’, thereby paving the way for Labour’s downfall and the onward march of ‘George Galloway and his ghost army of hard-Left insurgents‘.
To which one can only reply ‘say whaaat?’ In a more sober analysis of Labour’s campaign, John Mann, Labour MP for Bassetlaw, acknowledges on Labour List:
‘ what was particularly disconcerting was having no Muslim doorknockers, no Urdu speaker, no Hijab wearing woman talking to Muslim women voters. Indeed that abiding memory was of a terribly deprived area where Galloway supporters, often in traditional dress codes rallied their voters. If you had sent a group of such people to Bassetlaw to door knock, they would have fitted in as effectively as we did.’
Maybe, but then maybe not. There is no doubt that Galloway won because he and his Respect campaigners were willing and able to mobilize a predominantly Asian and Muslim constituency that is routinely vilified and ignored. But he was also able to really engage and communicate with these voters on issues that the Labour Party is terrified to go anywhere near; Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, cuts and jobs.
Contrary to the smears, these are not uniquely ‘Muslim’ let alone ‘fundamentalist’ issues, even though the constituency that voted for him was predominantly Muslim. Galloway described himself as ‘old Labour’ during the campaign, and this description clearly did not do him any harm.
Personally I doubt that Bradford will be the start of the ‘peaceful democratic uprising‘ that Galloway has called it with his usual hyperbole, because Bradford West can hardly be considered a mirror of the country as a whole.
But it is nevertheless a stunning achievement and another stake in the dark heart of New Labour. It shows that disenchantment and disgust with mainstream politicians do not have to be commensurate with an abandonment of politics altogether, and that sometimes even the most marginalized and excluded sectors of British society can break the mould of media-driven machine politics.
And boy do we need more of that.