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George Galloway and his own British Spring

By Binoy Kampmark - posted Tuesday, 3 April 2012


A looney, inhabiting a distant planet. A bomb thrower. A parliamentary absentee. Many things have been directed at George Galloway of the Respect Party, a few deserved. But when it came to his astonishing success in the polls in the Bradford West by-election, the pundits were stunned. The electoral result – Galloway winning with a majority of 10,140 – never registered on any pre-vote pattern. The conservatives were barely visible on the electoral count. Labour did only marginally better, this in a seat that the party has held for 40 years.

Galloway has always been something of a dynamite politician, incendiary and bound to blow up at any given moment. The Muslim vote has always been high on his calculations, given his anti-war platform. His victory in the inner London constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow was largely due to that presence. His performance before American Senators in May 2005 over the allegations that he had profited from illegal oil sales to Iraq earned him plaudits from followers of the John Bull spirit. Yes, he had met Saddam Hussein as many times as had Donald Rumsfeld, with one vital difference: Rumsfeld was interested in selling weapons; Galloway was interested in ending ‘sanctions, suffering and war’.

He then, even as an MP, decided to participate in the cringe-worthy ‘Celebrity Big Brother’ the following year, where it was noted that geopolitics proved less relevant than gynaecology. In all of this, his Parliamentary attendance came to light, being at the bottom three per cent of all MPs in terms of attending votes. 

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Such reasons make Galloway an easy target, a force that is mocked and feared in the same breath.  There are those such as Abhijit Pandya (Daily Mail, Apr 1) who claim that Galloway’s triumph ‘is a vindication for, above all people, Enoch Powell.’ Powell is rendered something of a guru, a wise man on the pitfalls of immigration who was ignored when he warned the Heath government of the racial conflicts in the US that would in time come to haunt Britain. On April 20, 1968, Powell made his famed ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in Birmingham: ‘Like the Roman, I see “the River Tiber foaming with much blood”.

For Pandya, Prime Minister Heath failed to heed the warnings, giving Britain the Galloway dividend – ‘a product of classic third world, unassimilated, rabble-rousing, engineering of election results.’ Welcome, Britain, to the reality of ghettos, where failed cultures and rampant unassimilated third worldism congregate. Bradford is a world of segregation, where advocates of Sharia law can be heard in number. Across Britain, groups such as the Muslim Public Affairs Committee and Operation Black Vote are insisting on voting along racial lines. Pandya’s Britain is a gloomy one.

A few have made nervous remarks that the race card has been all too readily played. The Muslim vote was courted, wooed and shaped. As Galloway himself quite rightly said when asked whether he was dallying in some racial courtship, Labour had itself put up a Pakistani Muslim candidate.  Presumably they were courting a vote they could not, at the end of the day, nab?

While the racial context strikes a note of fear in some quarters, the other realities are more substantive. Economically, Bradford is depressed. Youth unemployment lies at double the British average. Regional Britain is mired in recession. The war on poverty is what matters here. That, it seems, is going to be compounded by the assaults on public spending, which previously stepped in to compensate for the retreat of the private sector in the North. The Tory mantra on this is that the private sector will surge back once the axe gets to work on public expenses.

In the final wash-up, the reasons for the Galloway victory are probably many. An anti-war message was very much present – for Galloway, the main one. It was a vote against the Labour ‘austerity-lite’ program. It may well prove, in time, to be a ‘fluke’. None of this takes away from the rumblings this victory has caused. Britain’s political parties best take heed if they wish to avoid the consequences of the Bradford Spring. 

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About the Author

Binoy Kampmark was a Commonwealth Scholar at Selwyn College, Cambridge. He currently lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne and blogs at Oz Moses.

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