George Galloway launches his “Bradford Spring”, but hold the applause just yet

Posted on March 30, 2012

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I get it.

Union bosses are (off the record, of course) saying they’re bracing their members for nine more years of Tory rule. The Labour leader they helped to elect, Ed Miliband, is dawdling in most – if not all – approval polls, and the rest of the party has time and again failed to present a suitable and cohesive response to Con-Dem cuts. People want better from their political establishment.

So George Galloway’s landslide victory in the Bradford West by-election today looks good. The former Respect Party leader has taken on a Labour heartland and come out of it with a 56 per cent cut of the vote, double Labour’s. It looks really good.

Just look at Galloway’s victory speech. In a typically acerbic address after votes were counted, Galloway said: “This is an uprising, amongst thousands of people, many of them young people never involved in the political process before, who have demonstrated in this mammoth majority, a total rejection of the three major parties on the British political scene.”

Everyone knows that Galloway can hold his own. I saw him speak at an event at Stockton Town Hall years ago. There was an electric atmosphere, members of the audience shouting and cheering while he got down to it. As for the Q&A session – which he made sure formed most of the evening – Galloway did not take many prisoners. The same could easily be said for his coup in a grander style – and setting – when he took on the US Senate and most definitely won.

His occasional appearances on BBC’s Question Time are a similar affair. His fire and brimstone Presbyterian-sounding oratory on the evils of Western foreign policy in the Middle East, of the Conservatives’ attacks on those most in need and Westminster hypocrisy can turn an audience anywhere in the country into a cheering rabble of firebrands. It’s impressive to watch, but it can leave a strange taste in your mouth.

After all, old George has kept some seriously dodgy company over the years. As Workers’ Liberty’s Dale Street recalls in this article, Galloway more than lacquered Saddam Hussein’s feathers in the 1990s when he said: “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability and I want you to know that we are with you, until victory, until Jerusalem.”

More timely, and worrying, is Galloway’s support for Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. He called the bloodthirsty dictator “the last Arab ruler” and praised his Syria as “the last Arab country, the fortress of the remaining dignity of the Arabs.” Hindsight is lovely, and George wasn’t the only one to get swept up in Assadmania when he took power in 2000 (celebrated by many in the West as a democratizing influence in the Middle East). But for someone with a more intimate experience than most of Arab politics, these kinds of incidents are deplorable.

There is something to be said for Galloway’s victory. He has demonstrated a traditional Labour seat’s desire for a more progressive leadership while Labour withers away in its centrist grief-hole. The fact that Galloway is back in Parliament means he can speak, and hold others to account, in a way that only he can. We’ll certainly be hearing more in the Commons about Palestine, war crimes and the needs of poor and disenfranchised constituents in Bradford West.

The question we need to be asking is: are we willing to accept any old wind of change, even if it is based on a complex and hypocritical admiration? Or would we rather build support around something a little sturdier?

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Posted in: Politics