George Galloway has tragically demonstrated that sectarian politics are now alive and well in Britain. The other week Ken Livingstone appeared at a London mosque and promised to make London a ‘beacon of Islam’ and last week went on to dismiss Jews as unlikely to vote Labour because they are ‘rich’. Now we see Galloway flying in to one of the country’s most divided areas to sweep the Labour party aside in what he has termed ‘a Bradford spring.’
Much can — and should — be said about this depressing, and predictable, turn of events. But for now I’d just like to make two quick observations.
The first regards the ‘Bradford spring’ phrase. This cannot be allowed to go uncommented upon. Of course Galloway is the type of politician — like Livingstone — who can get away with anything. But even for him that phrase gives chutzpah a bad name.
Whatever the final results across the Middle East and North Africa, during the ‘Arab Spring’ the peoples of the region have risen up in popular moments to overthrow the dictators who have held power over them. The snag is that Galloway has invariably been on the side of the dictators rather than the people who are trying to overthrow them.
In Iraq he famously told Saddam Hussein, ‘Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.’ Saddam Hussein killed more Muslims than any other leader in modern times.
In 2005 he turned up in Damascus to praise the insurgency in Iraq, met Bashar al-Assad and told the Syrian people afterwards, ‘I was very, very impressed. … Syria is lucky to have Bashar al-Assad as her President.’ The citizens of Homs and other Syrian cities may well feel otherwise.
And, of course, in recent years he has turned to Saddam’s old enemies, the regime in Iran, having worked for Press TV, the propaganda arm of the Iranian government which was recently stripped of its broadcasting license by Ofcom. Galloway was content with working for this propaganda outfit whilst it was gunning down the Iranian people on Iranian streets in the aftermath of the ‘Green Revolution’. Shortly afterwards, when Galloway performed a fawning interview with the dictator of Iran himself, Galloway started by telling the grinning ‘President’ Ahmadinejad, ‘I have police protection in London from the Iranian opposition because of my support for your election campaign. I mention this so you know where I’m coming from.’ Indeed.
All other aspects of the comparison aside, had any kind of ‘Spring’ come to Bradford it would have heralded the popular overthrow of George Galloway, not his election.
Which brings me to my second point. Galloway is right about one thing —this is certainly what happens when the mainstream parties take their voters for granted. Over recent days Westminster politics has been dominated by a discussion about pasties and a wholly fake personality competition about which party leader had eaten one most recently. Every time Westminster politicians try to appear closer to the people they end up seeming more remote. To that extent Galloway has done everybody a favour. He has reminded us that beyond the increasingly silly and similar Westminster politics there are murmurs going on in this country which the mainstream parties would be very foolish indeed to continue to ignore.