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Earning with Respect: George Galloway does Belfast

Gerry Fitzsimons

9th November 2005

George Galloway is the Respect Unity Coalition MP for Bethnal Green and was elected in May 2005 by defeating the Labour candidate. Following his appearance at the US Senate he has become more widely known and is currently on a tour of Ireland to sell his book. On Thursday the 3rd of November he appeared in Belfast as part of the Belfast Festival at QueensUniversity

From the very start Galloway said that he would not be talking about Ireland, though he said he supported Irish unity but made clear later that some of his best friends were Unionists and that he sat next to them in the House of Commons. He did not know the Rev Roy Beggs the ex-Unionist MP (‘aren’t they all reverends?’) in the biblical sense, but he did admire his sense of humour – a quality as yet undiscovered by the public. 

The Galloway event was significantly introduced from the platform as a ‘performance’ and perform he did. With funny stories and comic observations making up the majority of his act, he regaled the 1100-strong audience like a polished music hall turn, the highlight being an account of losing his dog ‘Gordon’ on London’s Clapham Common. Galloway is the latest in a line of political comedians that have allied themselves to the British Socialist Workers Party, who make up the core of the Respect Unity Coalition.

However, there was serious comment about ‘the swamp’ – the conditions of war and hate that have been festering in the Middle East for over fifty years now since the creation of the state of Israel. His comment that al Qaeda were the mosquitoes that grew from that swamp was well taken by the audience, as was his observation about the American founding and support for the Taliban. 

He gave a nod to the point that the Arab masses are not fond of dictators, but he made no direct reference to the political life that they lead and who was doing, or not doing, the leading. Rather he confined himself to referring to ‘Muslims’ and ‘Muslims who understood’ and were simply aware of the true class nature of Saudi Arabia and Britain’s and America’s role there and throughout the region. This was the formulation he used in his account of the fact that British Intelligence and the British military were now training Colonel Gaddafi’s forces in the war against terror, which Galloway thought ‘Muslims’ would not be surprised to learn, a non sequitur that left the audience somewhat puzzled.

One thing that certainly does not perturb George Galloway was the increasingly sorry state of the left and it has to be said the state of socialist organisation generally. This was indeed evident by the quality of the activity of the Socialist and Environmental Alliance (the miniature local version of the Respect party) who did not make their presence felt save for one lone individual giving out a small badly-designed leaflet on climate change. The only other visible political presence was from the Workers Party which consisted of three individuals agitating about the plight of their leader Sean Garland, who is facing extradition to the United States on counterfeiting and money-laundering charges.

At questions these different strands of disarray and the quality of socialist organisation were drawn together in an arresting image. A questioner asked, ‘Since the advent of Blair and New Labour wasn’t it the case that Socialism has gone into the shredder?’ Galloway thought for moment, raised his finger, looked at the questioner and said slowly, ‘That’s a very interesting question’. He then summarized the different achievements and states of socialism ranging from Keir Hardie the first Labour MP, elected over a hundred years ago for the same constituency which he now represented, to the ‘socialist states’ as they once existed in Eastern Europe. ‘Were they better than the capitalist states?’ he asked.

After a short pause he turned and faced the audience and said with a glint in his eye, ‘I think you can best judge them on how they do breakfasts. If you wake up in a state-run hotel like in Bulgaria you know you’re in for a bad experience as far as breakfast is concerned.’ One of his worst breakfasting experiences apparently, was in a state-run hotel in Syria. This conjured up images of a robust defence of his visits to such regimes on the grounds that he didn’t admire everything they did – especially breakfast.

All of which should be no surprise as Galloway had earlier made it clear that he was ‘not particularly left wing you know’. His party was after all a collation of various elements, and he did not share all of its views. He may or may not be giving such a clear indication at every performance, on what the ‘S’ in R.E.S.P.E.C.T now stood for. But at least his allies are now aware of what they have to do to earn George Galloway’s respect: don’t skimp on the breakfast!



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