Wednesday, May 18, 2005

 

Gorgeous George goes to Washington

George Galloway is in the best traditions of British political mavericks. People like Tom Driberg specialised in issues like Korea while the veteran Fenner Brockway banged on endlessly about independence movements in the empire. Galloway has not made it easy to like him, however. He has always been a swashbuckling loner who has done what he wanted, however controversial and has liberally distributed writs to those who have dared criticise him. His least lovable action, perhaps was his infamous 'Sir, I salute your courage, your strength and indefatigability' speech to Saddam Hussein in 1994. He subsequently claimed he was addressing the Iraqi people and not its then president. But why then, George, did you begin your statement with the singular 'Sir'? For this, and other acts perceived as sympathetic to the Iraq regime, he was dubbed by wits as 'The member for Baghdad Central'. Undaunted he continued to indulge his penchant for controversy and, when the Iraq War went pear shaped managed to attract the attention for which he has probably always craved.

Galloway left the Harris Academy in Dundee at 16 to work in a tyre factory. At the precocious age of 26 he became Labour chair in Scotland and then chair of the charity War on Want. From there, not without some controversey already, he entered parliamentary politics when he won Glasgow Hillhead from Roy Jenkins in 1987. It was soon clear Labour had a natural orator of some strength on its side-some saw a future foreign secretary even- but at the same time he was something of an unguided missile. His campaign against sanctions imposed upon Iraq was acceptable but when Labour interpreted some of his utterences in 2003 as incitement to British soldiers to disobey orders, he was expelled from the party. He immediately set up the antiwar Respect Party and wiped the smirk of Tony Blair's face by sensationally winning Bethnal Green and Bow on 5th May.

His appearance in the Senate, albeit in front of a committee which mostly had not turned up to hear him, was in the best traditions of his style: readymade headline excoriations delivered without notes and without pause. He has a natural gift for vituperative condemnations but here it seemed he had right on his side and, I have to confess, it felt good to hear this fearless autodidact biting huge lumps off the world's only superpower. It was also a clash of styles: the churchlike atmosphere of the Senate invaded by the street fighting ruffian from the much less deferential legislative chamber this side of the pond. He may be the star in the movie of his own life(complete with what looks like a false tan), but yesterday he was, undeniably, a star.

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