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The paradox of George Galloway

It is fair to say that George Galloway is not universally popular.

It is therefore unsurprising that his attendance at a meeting with Ed Miliband was used by the increasingly desperate Blairites as ammunition to undermine the Labour leader. They claimed that Ed Miliband was preparing to welcome Galloway back into the Labour Party.

An article in last week’s Mail on Sunday quotes an unnamed source:

Labour MPs warned their leader against taking such action. ‘Galloway is a traitor,’ said one. ‘It’s naive lunacy for the leader to have anything to do with him. I thought he wanted to get rid of the Red Ed tag. He will rejoin Labour over my dead body.’

Of course, the meeting with Galloway is only one of a number of absurd issues currently being raised by the Blairites to undermine Ed Miliband. As Jon Lansman has remarked:

No sooner had David Miliband announced his departure from British politics than BlairMandelson, Milburn and other assorted “grandees” started to attack his brother, without regard to the impending local elections. Cowardly right-wing shadow cabinet members are briefing anonymously against him on a daily basis too.

The results of the selection process for the short listed London euro candidates is also being challenged, but is about time that the Blairites realised that politics matters, and a candidate like Anne Fairweather who has briefed against extending employment rights to agency workers is not acceptable to many sections of the party, and its supporters.

According to Galloway himself, rejoining the Labour Party was not discussed.

Galloway’s recent meeting with Miliband led to speculation that the Respect MP wanted to return to the Labour party, from which he was expelled in 2003 after criticising Tony Blair over the Iraq war. Speaking exclusively to IBTimes UK, Galloway said he would not go into detail about his discussions with Miliband. “It was a private meeting,” he said.

I categorically say my return to the Labour party wasn’t discussed. I have absolutely no desire to return to the Labour party.” Galloway claimed news of the meeting had been leaked by members of Labour’s Blairite faction, and Tony Blair himself was in on the plot.

Nevertheless, what should really have been a storm in a tea cup about meeting Galloway, has gained wider traction.

The New Statesman reports how shadow international development secretary Ivan Lewis tweeted:

And Mark Fergusson writes:

[Galloway] should be considered untouchable for any Labour leader. There are some places you just shouldn’t go – even for something as important as the boundaries vote. If George Galloway’s is the one vote you need to pass legislation then you need to look at getting the votes from elsewhere – or lose.

This needs a little bit of unpacking. There are two issues to consider,

  1. to what degree George is really outwith the broader labourist tradition; and
  2. to what degree does the Labour Party have to cooperate with supporters of other political parties.

The second point is obvious, it is simply good politics to interact with other politicians for the common good. If Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness can work together, then is Labour’s self confidence and moral authority really so weak that it cannot overlook some triumphalism of George’s in the heat of contested by-elections? Fortunately Ed Miliband is a leader capable of better judgement.

George Galloway was a Labour MP for 16 years, for Glasgow Hillhead and then Glasgow Kelvin; while he has always been a colourful, and sometimes controversial figure, before the Iraq war his Labour Party membership was regarded as unproblematic. So just how broad a church has the Labour Party been traditionally?

Labour has been the main progressive political party in Britain for a hundred years, and is distinguished from European socialist parties by its close and organic links with the trade unions. However, the core, traditional working-class electoral base of the party has never been sufficient to win a general election on its own, and therefore its politics have always been coalitional in both aspiration and reality. Labour has always sought to be a party representing the best interests of the nation, not just of any particular class.

Nevertheless the relationship between the Labour Party and trade unionism has historically set the boundaries to both left and right of what is encompassed by the labourist envelope. It has provided an institutional link with communities of solidarity, and aspirations for social justice; and it has provided the iconography and mythology of an historic and progressive social movement. But while trade unionism seeks to mitigate the rule of capital, it is not necessarily antagonistic to the logic of capitalism itself, and British trade unions have rarely opposed foreign policy, including the historically rapacious role of the British Empire.

While Harold Wilson admirably kept Britain out of the Vietnam war, it is arguable that Tony Blair’s commitment to the objectives of US foreign policy in the Iraq war was regrettably consistent with the thrust of Labour foreign policy since the second world war, and it was the commendable depth of opposition to the war within the party and the unions that was arguably untypical: a new and welcome development.

Galloway’s expulsion from the Labour Party in 2003 was largely for forthrightly advocating anti-war positions that were widespread among people who would normally be targeted as Labour voters. The political phenomenon of the Respect Party is therefore best understood as a broadly labourist party which gave electoral expression to an anti-war political movement that could not find voice through the Labour Party in the particular context of the Iraq War.

It is not in that sense unique, and other minority parties have given expression to political sentiments not easily reconciled with labourism. Respect might be seen as analogous to the Common Wealth Party which won seats in the 1940s; or arguably even Plaid, which is also a largely labourist party but that also gives expression to Welsh political consciousness and aspirations.

However, despite the broad affinity between Galloway’s underlying politics and the labourist tradition, the last ten years has seen a widening and acrimonious divergence. This is partly the unavoidable to-and-fro of adversarial elections, but it has been exacerbated by a number of factors.

Firstly, Galloway’s intial election victory against Oona King in Bethnal Green took place in the near aftermath of the war where feelings were raw; and the attachment of many Muslims to the anti-war message of the Respect Party in the area also intersected with other local tensions, not helped by historical divisions in the Tower Hamlets Labour Party. It was this election that evoked the visceral dislike of Galloway from some of Labour’s more tribal loyalists.

Secondly, George Galloway has a high political profile bigger than his party, and has needed to build his own brand for both political and commercial reasons. George Galloway “the celebrity” is a media construct quite separate from the living, breathing and humanly fallible man himself. He has to maintain a payroll of aides and helpers, and since he left the Labour Party he has not worked within a disciplining framework.

George is always under intense scrutiny and there is harsh unforgiveness if he ever misspeaks or misjudges a situation. His remarks about Julian Assange’s allegations of rape were ill considered and poorly expressed for a man of his verbal talents; but not much more ill-considered than Tony Benn’s. Yet it started a moral panic against Galloway, where few were prepared to defend him.

It is further complicated because Galloway’s electoral USP is to hark back to the divisions in British society that were thrown open by the Iraq war; but not only the Labour Party, but also most of the electorate has moved on.

George is a robust politician, and he understands more than most the ruthless nature of the game. It is a contact sport, and the fact that the simplistic, media-created simulacrum of Galloway has become a pariah is not a fair reflection of the real life George Galloway, a man of considerable talent and principle. And for those who do vilify George, can they genuinely believe that Galloway is worse than the war criminals who lied about non-existent WMDs, and precipitated Britain into an illegal and amoral war in Iraq?

16 Comments

  1. Congratulations Andy on a fair minded article on George Galloway. Be careful, if you are a member of the Labour Party you’ll be up for the beaks, locally or nationally.The expulsion of Galloway from the Parliamentary Labour Party was the act of a vengeful reactionary clique who were prepared to use any means to rid the P.L.P. of an embarrassment, whose only crime was to expose the illegality of the Iraq war, and the shameful lying propaganda campaign on W.M.D. and the so called socialists in the Labour Party who trooped through the lobbies in support of the illegal war of “Dubya” Bush and his lickspittle Tony Bliar. A couple of names spring to mind about that craven infamous act. Clare “Bomber” Short, so desperate to cling onto Cabinet membership she distorted herself in so many different ways that ever decreasing circles came to mind. Chris Mullin then M.P. for Sunderland South, ex editor of Tribune who had distinguished himself by leading the campaign for the release of the Birmingham 6 and their eventual pardoning; and many other progressive causes in his days at Tribune, but on achieving government office(as minister for moving deck chairs) The actions of these two so called lefts(and numerous others who I haven’t time to discuss) who in the time honoured practice of selling principles for goverment jobs compare vastly with the honourable position of the late Robin Cook who was prepared to resign on a matter of principle.
    Having followed Galloways column in the Daily Record for a number of years, Gorge comes over as an Old Labour man, firmly on the left and a staunch supporter of trade unions and all working class causes, which is why he is detested by New Labour and the Coalition and its media lackies. Yes a man with flaws but a fearless campaigner for peace and progress(and a very good guest on Question Time who is prepared to get stuck into the Tories and their pathetic puppy dogs in the Coalition, instead of the gutless anodyne, anaemic New labour apparatchiks the Shadow Cabinet sends to represent Labour)
    For these reasons and a few others. I was proud to support Galloway financially and physically in his successful campaign for election to parliament in the Bradford West bye-election. It meant that there was at least one M.P.in parliament prepared to campaign for peace in the near and far East, and for a just and honourable solution for all parties.

  2. Gerry says:

    George Galloway: his horrific rape comments, his vile sucking up to Islamic fascists, his hysterical and unbalanced Israel-hatred, and on and on…yes he is vile and beyond the pale: “socialism” for him is one long self-aggrandising ego-boost, everyone decent can see that…

    Miliband should never have given him the oxygen of publicity, on which he fixes…Galloway is the best recruiting sergeant AGAINST the left, ever!

  3. Rod says:

    “Galloway is the best recruiting sergeant AGAINST the left, ever!”

    A significant section of the Bradford West electorate appear to think otherwise.

  4. Dan says:

    “His remarks about Julian Assange’s allegations of rape were ill considered and poorly expressed for a man of his verbal talents;”

    Please don’t engage in waa-waa I’m so oppressed “feminism”.

  5. Gerry says:

    Rod – Galloway’s appeal in that constituency is to Islamic extremists and misguided students: even the chair of his “party”, a headscarfed Muslim woman, felt forced to resign after his reported misogynist comments…

    He – like Nigel Farage – has enormous self-publicity talents, but his “socialism” is really Islamic sectarianism … [second half of this sentence moderated due to lack of factual substantiation]

  6. Rod says:

    Gerry: “Galloway’s appeal in that constituency is to Islamic extremists and misguided students”

    Sorry mate, you’ve gone completely over the top. Perhaps you’d be more at home on a conspiracy theory-themed blog?

  7. John p Reid says:

    Gerry, I’ve never heard George endorse Luftur Rahman, didn’t respect put up in tower Hamlets a mayoral candidate?

  8. Gerry says:

    John – yes Respect did put up a candidate there: since that election however, Rahman has cultivated close ties with Respect, mainly through their shared backer, the Islamic Forum Europe which runs the local East London Mosque, the one featured in that famous Dispatches C4 programme, promoting hardcore sharia, gender apartheid and other horrific things: no conspiracy theory, but hard fact.

    And Rod – those were the characteristics of his vote in Bradford West, sadly: Islamic extremists and students, similar to those who voted for him in Tower Hamlets…and in both constituencies there are lots of both groups.

  9. Rod says:

    Gerry: ” those were the characteristics of his vote in Bradford West”

    All of a sudden 18,341 Islamic extremists and misguided students pop up in Bradford West and vote for Galloway?

    I don’t think so.

  10. Rod; I was in Bradford West for the best part of a week, I just couldn’t get on polling day. The ward that I was working in was in the Tory end of the constituency, I wasn’t fortunate to get to any of his meetings barring one outside a supermarket, and to be honest I was bowled over by the result, my assesssment of the poll in my limited knowledge of it was that G.G. would have lost narrowly or, at best, maybe scrape in by a few hundred votes.The fact that he swept in by a massive 10000+ majority tells me that that was no campaign based on sucking up to Islamic fascists(Galloway has an honourable record opposing fascism throughout his political career/life) but as in Bethnal Green fighting against an opponent that is/was nothing but a machine poltician completely out of touch with the lives of the ordinary members of their respective electorates.
    The clown who compares Galloway to Nigel Farage relly wants to go back to the drawing board and start to learn something about politics. Galloway has been a campaigner for ordinary working people from his days in Scotland,booting that renegade Roy Jenkins out of Glasgow Hillhead,to beating the utterly reactionary New Labourite Oona King in Bethnal Green. Farage is a bigger Thatcherite than Thatcher herself, his policies are further to the right than even this vicious gang of class warriors in the coalition that is slashing the welfare,benefits, public spending, of both local and national government, not only to appease the bankers and credit rating agencies, but also to achieve the Torie’s long cherished aim of reducing the state to a provider of nothing but a minimum safety net. On every statement that Farage and UKIP make they say they would go further than Cameron and Osbourne. Compare that to Galloways defence of benefits, wages and employment.

  11. Gerry says:

    Francis – you miss the point: BOTH Farage and Galloway have thrived because of their enormous self publicity talents and egos, their anti-Westminster appeal, and their extremist populisms.

    Farage is an even more extreme Thatcherite and Galloway, as i said, appeals to islamic sectarianism of the worst kind, mixed in with anti-Western hate and rhetoric..how can someone who calls themselves a “socialist” blatantly go round the local mosques, as he did in Bradford West, allying with the most reactionary, misogynist, homophobic and sectarian forces in those communities, who then mobilised their followers to vote en masse for him?

    They were NOT voting for a “socialist alternative” Francis..Respect and its leader only break through when they are allied with hardcore Islamic extremists, of which, sadly, there are very many in some constituencies…

  12. Gerry; I certainly don’t think that I missed the point.Since the 1st gulf war Galloway has proved that he has always campaigned for a peaceful solution to the problems of the middle East(though no pacifist, he) and pointing out that that America’s desire to control the then ,vast oil resources of the region(while still vast, though diminishing)and correctly in his analasys of the danger that Israel through its desire to deny the Palestinian people a just solution to their situation, and acting as the U.S. policeman in the occupied West Bank, he has gained the support of all progressive Islamist people in the middle East, Europe and the rest of the world, and therefore has no need to rely on the support of the reactionary elements of the Muslim/Islamist world,IMHO. Of course he visited Mosques throughout the constituency and maybe past the boundary’s of the constituency, the mosque is the best place to get through to the Muslim community in any town or city.Oh, and by the way, are you going to tell me that there aren’t reactionary, hardcore mysogynist, homophobic, sectarian forces in the non Islamist community; you don’t have to go to Belfast or Glasgow to find these elements in society, I’d suggest that you wouldnt have to leave Bradford or West Yorkshire. Also Galloway must have attracted a fair section of the non Islamist electorate to have gained a massiive majority like that, and IMHO, will retain his seat at the next election.

  13. Gerry says:

    Francis – your last post 100% makes my point

    Galloway – as you write- has always shared the hardline islamist narrative on the middle East,the US, and Europe, which is why islamic extremists vote for him en masse in Bradford West and Tower Hamlets.

    Nothing to do with anti-austerity, anti-cuts or a socialist alternative, Francis…

    And call me old-fashioned, but as a democratic socialist I will never be alliance with people who believe in gender apartheid in society, who reject freedom of speech and expression as evidenced even way back in 1990 in Bradford in the whole horrific Salman Rushdie/fatwa murder crisis, who support blasphemy laws and punishment for so-called apostasy, who advocate for the spread of sharia law in the UK and worldwide, who believe not only that homosexuality is sinful but that it should be punished by death as is the case in many Islamic states…

    Galloway is in alliance NOT with decent groups like British Muslims For Secular Democracy, but with hardline, hardcore , patriarchal Islamic extremist groups…he may well retain his seat in 2015, but with backers and allies like that I will not be celebrating that possibility.

  14. Gerry;Hope that this isn’t going to go on forever, because I believe we are exhausting this seam, but possibly not quite yet.
    IMHO,Galloway has always taken a just, progressive line on the middle East, and on the struggle of the Palestinian people for a solution based on U.N. resolutions calliing for a two state solution,and on a just,lasting solution for both Israeli and Palestinian peoples.What he has opposed is the construction and extension of the Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, and the increasingly rightwing policies and appeasement of the West Bank settlers of Israeli governments of the last 30 years, along with the brutal suppression of the Palestinian people in the occupied West Bank and Gaza, during and long after the infitada’s. For the record. before you or someone else tries to distort my position, I support the right of Isreal to exist and its right to live in peace with its neighbours, and a just and honourable solution to the crisis that has always seemed to exist since the creation of the State of Israel. With maybe the forlorn hope that the forces of progress and socialism will prevail in Israel and its neighbours, which I have always taken to be the position of Galloway.
    If I am not mistaken,Galloway called for the removal of the fatwah issued by Ayottolla Homeini on Salmon Rushdie;no doubt you will correct me if I am wrong.
    Whenever I come across anyone saying they are democratic socialists or social democrats, I always think of the remark of V.I. Lenin “They are neither socialists nor democats” and by golly the Labour Party and many other European S.D.P.s have proved the veracity of those words over the years.
    Gerry while your detestation of Galloway may be sincerely held; could you answer me a question that has always been on my mind?How can you be opposed to Galloway yet still support the likes(this may be a presumption on my part, but in my experience usually follows) of Frank Field an obnoxious Judas imho, who is prepared to help Cameron and the coalition in the implementation of their class based austerity programme, or Liam(no money left)Byrne, John Spellar(someone who makes Bliar look like a socialist)Kate Hoey, Lord Mandelson and a host of others in th P.L.P. who, imho are nothing but Tories or Lib/Dems or what was the S.P.D. and will wreck a Labour government that would try to follow a midly reformist social democraticprogramme.

  15. Ric Euteneuer says:

    It should – but it doesn’t – beggar belief that the Conservative press, Progress and Blairites in general smear Miliband for this. You can be sure if Miliband had asked Galloway to rejoin, he (Gorgeous George) would be shouting it from the rooftops.

    It does show how increasingly desperate this bunch of soi-disant ‘progressives’ are and how much more at home they would – and should be – in the Liberal Democrat or Conservative Party.

  16. Gerry says:

    Francis – I have been always been on the left of the party, and don’t support the policies of Liam Byrne et al.

    I am also old enough to have been actively involved in the 1983 election when I supported and campaigned on that wonderful but unsuccessful socialist Labour manifesto

    Put simply: i cant stand supposedly “left” politicians like Galloway being in open and clear alliance with hard-right religious extremists, just because they have a common enemy: the US, the West, Israel. If someone – as all Islamists do -reject womens equality, freedom of speech expression, and support hideous concepts of blasphemy and apostasy, then a socialist should never be in any way allied to them.

    Put simply, to me the answer to most issues, is democratic socialism, wealth redistribution, social equality, social justice, economic justice..to islamists the answer to all issues/problems lies in their interpretation of a 7th century book, the Koran. The two – socialism and Islamism – are, and should be, polar opposites!

    But I appreciate your arguments, and the time you have taken in posting them…lets see what happens in 2015.

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