George Galloway is always a useful barometer for gauging the climate of sectarian and reactionary politics in Britain. In 2005 he quit his Glasgow constituency to fight for election in the London borough of Bethnal Green and Bow - one of London’s most deprived and divided constituencies.
Galloway’s entire period as a Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow was typified by unavailability. More important to him than the concerns of his constituents were the agitations of the Middle East and South Asia.
Much of this involved his dedicating considerable amounts of energy to the Viva Palestina campaign about which Galloway is now becoming increasingly embarrassed. After presenting Hamas officials with money in Gaza - a criminal offence in many Western nations - he now insists he did no such thing.
The Globe and Mail reports Galloway as now insisting, “I didn’t give any money to Hamas, I gave it to the ministry of health in Gaza to pay for the salaries of the doctors and nurses who hadn’t been paid. By the way, we’re talking about 20 odd thousand pounds, not millions. It’s a symbolic donation. I gave it to the ministry of health in Gaza and I’m proud to have done so.”
It is a remarkable statement, offering a pirouetted view into the parallel universe Galloway so often seems to occupy. Several Arab television stations broadcast his speech at the time, and it remains widely available on the internet. What Galloway actually said was, “I, now, here, on behalf of myself, my sister Yvonne Ridley, and the two Respect councillors - Muhammad Ishtiaq and Naim Khan - are giving three cars and 25,000 pounds in cash to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Here is the money. This is not charity. This is politics.”
Politics, not charity. There is no mention of paying doctors or nurses in Galloway’s triumphalist speech.
Similarly, Viva Palestina claims to have raised Â£1 million for the Palestinians of Gaza. However, a report by the Charity Commission states, “based on information obtained from PayPal and the IBB, the [Charity] Commission was able to identify only approximately Â£180,000 as having been raised for the Charity. If the website’s claims were accurate this raised concerns that approximately Â£820,000 was unaccounted for.”
Galloway has some explaining to do - as will all those who vote for him next week.
After a bitter campaign, in which Galloway highlighted the voting record of the incumbent, Oona King, over the Iraq War - she had voted for it - he managed to win the seat with a majority of just 823. In the process, however, he also overturned King’s existing majority of 10,057. In a bilious acceptance speech Galloway told the audience, “Mr Blair, this defeat is for Iraq and the other defeats that New Labour has received this evening are for Iraq. All the people you have killed and all the loss of life have come back to haunt you and the best thing that the Labour Party can do is sack you tomorrow morning.”
That kind of dog-whistle politics underscored his entire campaign. Now, his supporters are trying to recreate a similar upset in the neighbouring constituency of Poplar and Limehouse - another traditionally safe Labour seat - where Galloway is standing in next week’s election.
Galloway’s supporters are already conforming to type. They are busy highlighting the decision of Jim Fitzpatrick, the incumbent in Poplar and Limehouse, to walk out of a segregated Muslim wedding last year. At the time Fitzpatrick explained, “It perhaps demonstrates that there is a degree of intolerance -- certainly exclusion rather than inclusion, which we are trying to build in the East End. Certainly the vast number of my Muslim constituents who've contacted me have expressed sympathy that I was placed in this predicament”.
In this case Fitzpatrick may have chosen the wrong battle - highlighting gender segregation at a private event, rather than the multiple public ones where similar restrictions are imposed. Nonetheless, however, what really upset his opponents is his outspoken criticisms of the growing influence of the Islamic Forum of Europe (IFE) in East London.
Fitzpatrick appeared in Andrew Gilligan’s authoritative documentary exposing the IFE’s tactics for Channel 4 earlier this year. He told Gilligan “They [the IFE] are acting almost as an entryist organization, placing people within the political parties, recruiting members to those political parties, trying to get individuals selected and elected so they can exercise political influence and power, whether it’s at local government level or national level.”
Although analysts predict Fitzpatrick will hold on to his seat, it is likely that Galloway will significantly damage his majority. Yet, constituents in Poplar and Limehouse would do well to scrutinize Galloway’s record as a member of parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow before voting for him.
In 2006 when parliament was debating the Crossrail Bill - a new rail line that runs straight through Galloway’s constituency - he was unable to vote. His absence was due to his participation in the reality show “Big Brother,” where he remained for several weeks. While there, he made viewers cringe by role-playing a cat licking cream from fellow contestant, actress Rula Lenska's, hands.
Later, when Galloway left the reality show he still failed to attend parliament for the Third Reading of the Crossrail Bill in the House of Commons.
Labour’s then Chief Whip Hilary Armstrong condemned Galloway’s decision to participate in the show. “Something serious could happen here today and no-one can contact him, he could not say or do anything - and that to me seems a bit strange for someone who is, and has wanted to be, a publicly elected official,” she said.