George Galloway’s time has come

Mar 8, 2024
Newly elected MP for Rochdale, George Galloway, speaks to the media outside the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, London after he was sworn in following his victory in the Rochdale by-election last week. Picture date: Monday March 4, 2024. Image: Alamy PA Images / Alamy Stock Photo

George Galloway is a British MP again, and it’s the moment he’s been waiting for. His victory in a Rochdale by-election, he told Labour leader Sir Kier Starmer, ‘is for Gaza’.

Galloway has been an advocate for Palestine ever since he visited Beirut in 1977 and decided to ‘devote the rest of [his] life to the Palestinian and Arab cause’ [several quotes: Wikipedia]. He will make the catastrophe in Gaza a prominent electoral issue for the British elections on 28 January 2025.

This is Galloway’s fourth political comeback after being out of parliament for nine years. First elected for Labour in 1987, he has stood in four different constituencies. He was expelled in 2003 for opposing the UK joining the Iraq war, but two years later, representing Respect – the Unity Coalition, he defeated a Labour candidate in East London. After losing twice as an independent in 2017 and 2019, he formed the Workers Party of Britain and lost again in 2021.

Galloway won convincingly this month after Labour withdrew its candidate Azhar Ali who proposed – as others have done – that Israel knew of Hamas’ plans and allowed it to attack from Gaza on 7 October 2023. That puts the ‘firebrand’ Galloway in a more moderate position than usual. However, he vehemently disputes Israel’s claims about Hamas killing babies and raping women, calling those who propagate such accounts ‘war criminals’.

The highly articulate son of a Scottish engineer trade unionist and an Irish woman who was a cleaner and factory worker, Galloway joined War on Want in the late 1980s, and wrote eye-witness accounts of the 1985 famine in Eritrea. He opposed the 1991 Gulf War in Kuwait, and spent Christmas 1999 with a fellow Christian, Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz in Iraq. He went on later to lead the 2009 Viva Palestina aid convoy to Gaza during an Israeli blockade.

As vice-president of Stop the War Coalition, Galloway was arrested in February 2001 with other MPs for protesting at a nuclear base in Scotland. In 2003 he was the only MP who spoke in the Commons about human rights in Iraq, and he told Abu Dhabi television that Prime Minister Blair and President Bush had ‘lied to the British Air force and Navy’ when they promised a quick and easy victory in Iraq. ‘The best thing British troops can do’, he said, ‘is refuse to obey illegal orders’.

Galloway became a great showman in his black fedora, presenting MOAT, the ‘Mother of All Talk Shows’ on TalkRadio from 2006 to 2019, with listeners enjoying his openness to wide-ranging opinions, and his unvarnished vernacular, until he was dismissed. In 2004 he called Labour a ‘blood-spattered, lying, crooked group of war criminals’, and said George W Bush was the world’s ‘biggest terrorist’. He won libel cases against Robert Maxwell’s Mirror Group, the Telegraph, the Christian Science Monitor, and Al Mada in Iraq. No-one in a fight with George, said one of his War on Want colleagues, ever walks out with a win.

In 2005 Galloway told the US Senate he met Saddam Hussein the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld did. The difference, he said, was that America’s future Defence Secretary was selling guns, while Galloway was trying to bring an end to ‘suffering, sanctions and war’. He also informed the Senate of alleged illicit payments from the UN Oil for Food program.

Galloway has stood for the UK Parliament four times. He has also been married four times and has six children. Three of his four wives have been Muslims. He doesn’t drink alcohol. He recounts sexual abuse by a British colonel when he was 12 years old for his later reaction against homosexuality: ‘ostentatious rapacious heterosexual promiscuity’. To a journalist’s question about what he did during the War on Want conference in Mykonos, Galloway replied: ‘I travelled and spent lots of time with people in Greece, many of whom were women, some of whom were known carnally to me. I actually had sexual intercourse with some of the people in Greece’.

For decades, Galloway has attacked Zionism and campaigned for the Palestinians in Gaza. In 2015 he supported Jeremy Corbyn – another opponent of nuclear weapons – for the Labour leadership. After Corbyn was voted out, he declared that the Israel Lobby had ‘destroyed the Labour Party. It’s an amazing achievement’. His broadcasts were aired on Russia Today (RT) from 2003 to 2022, and he blames the West for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Yet Galloway, the political maverick, claims to be socially conservative: in 2016 he campaigned with Grassroots Out, a pro-Brexit group, and in 2019 he supported Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party.

In a speech in London, Galloway declared, ‘Today [2008-09], the Palestinian people in Gaza are the new Warsaw Ghetto’. For that, he was accused of ‘moral equivalence’, for equating Israel’s attacks in Gaza with the Holocaust. He walked out of a debate at Oxford in 2013, where a Jewish student was his interlocutor, saying ‘I don’t recognised Israel and I don’t debate with Israelis’. The following year, he abstained from a vote in parliament to formally recognise Palestine because it also included recognition of Israel. Galloway supports a one-state solution.

The effect he will have in the Commons will be interesting. If he’d been elected to the Australian Parliament, he might have shocked both major parties into demanding an end to the genocide, as the ICJ requires. He might have moved a motion to have Australia defund and deweaponise the Israel Defence Force. Without an Australian Galloway, who else will?

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