George Galloway hails ‘Bradford Spring’

George Galloway surprised many when he won his MP bid on Friday in the small English borough of Bradford West.

Surprising many, George Galloway emerged a victor on March 30 in the bid for the Bradford West MP seat [GALLO/GETTY]
Surprising many, George Galloway emerged a victor on March 30 in the bid for the Bradford West MP seat [GALLO/GETTY]

George Galloway has had more comebacks than Muhammad Ali.

It looked like his political career was over when he was expelled from the Labour Party in 2003 for his scathing comments about the Iraq war.

Instead, he relocated from Glasgow to London’s East End and won a remarkable victory on an anti-war ticket in Bethnal Green, overturning a 10,000 Labour majority.

Then, when he failed to hold the seat in the last general election, most commentators counted him out again. But the 57-year-old Scot with a fondness for Cuban cigars is back up and fighting.


In the wee small hours of Friday morning, he delivered a knockout blow in Bradford West, coming from nowhere to win the seat with a huge 36 per cent swing.

Galloway claimed in his victory speech: “This is the most sensational victory in British by-election history”. 

He wasn’t quite right about that. Winnie Ewing got an even bigger swing of 38 per cent when she won Hamilton for the Scottish Nationalists in 1967. But it was certainly an impressive result.

Early life

Galloway was born in a tenement flat in a working class district of Dundee.

The city on Scotland’s east coast has a strong socialist tradition and, after a spell working in a tyre plant, he became a full-time Labour Party organiser.

His enduring political passion has been the Palestinian and Arab cause.

In his biography, he describes how he first learned about the injustices committed against the Palestinian people from Sa’as Jabaji, a representative of the General Union of Palestinian students at Dundee University.

Later, he visited Palestinian fighters in Beirut and was transfixed by the Arabic music in the cafes and the whiff of revolution in the air.

Many on the Scottish left during this period shared his strong internationalist commitment. Among the most significant was the late Bill Speirs, a gifted trade union leader, who was a strong influence on Galloway’s intensive involvement in the Palestinian struggle.

Dave Moxham worked closely with both of them. He was Galloway’s parliamentary assistant and is now Deputy General Secretary of the Scottish Trade Union Congress.

Moxham told Al Jazeera: “I always felt that his outlook was significantly shaped by what he perceived to be the historical crimes of the British Empire – whether in respect of Palestine, Iraq, Kashmir or other countries. 

“Believing that UK parliamentarians have a duty to right such perceived wrongs are his key justification for the sheer volume of time he has spent on international issues over the years.”

Aged just 26, he was the youngest ever chair of the Scottish Labour Party and a rising star.

In 1987, he made it into parliament as the MP for Glasgow Hillhead, a constituency that spanned the Clyde shipyards and the yellow sandstone mansions of the city’s wealthy west end.

It was traditionally a Conservative seat and he had to beat Roy Jenkins, a national figure in British politics and former Cabinet minister.

Galloway faced an almost immediate scandal over his conduct at a conference in Mykonos, in Greece. 

Speaking at a press conference, he admitted to journalists: “I travelled and spent lots of time with people in Greece, many of whom were women, some of whom were known carnally to me.”

The tabloid press dubbed him “Gorgeous George” and the story was splashed on all the front pages.

‘Gorgeous George’

The left-wing firebrand is a brilliant orator, but his words are not always well chosen.

Just a few years after the first Gulf war, in January 1994, he caused outrage when he was filmed telling Saddam Hussein: “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.”

He claimed that the praise was intended for the Iraqi people collectively, not the dictator, and accused the media of misrepresenting him.

His talents were put to better use when he famously turned the tables on the US Senate Committee that falsely accused him of taking backhanders from the former Iraqi dictator.

The Scots politician used his appearance on Capitol Hill in 2005 as a platform to launch a scathing attack on US policy.

Responding to criticism about his meeting with Hussein, Galloway told the Senate: “I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as (former US secretary of defence) Donald Rumsfeld met him.

“The difference is Donald Rumsfeld met him to sell him guns – and to give him maps the better to target those guns.

“In everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right, and you turned out to be wrong – and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1,600 of them, American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies.”

Moxham comments: “George often surprises people when they first meet him as his brash and spiky public persona belies a quieter, courteous and often self-effacing personality off camera.  

“Possibly the most important single attribute explaining his success is the quality of his memory which is virtually photographic in relation to the spoken and written word and, along with his passion, explains in large part his success as an orator.”

Few people predicted Galloway’s triumph in Bradford.

Only one national newspaper bothered to send a reporter to the count and leading bookmakers Ladbrokes say they lost more money on the result than any previous by-election ever.

After his victory, he tweeted to supporters: “Long live Iraq. Long live Palestine, free, Arab, dignified. George Galloway MP.”

There’s no doubting his courage or ability, but there is a sense of unfulfilled potential about his career. 

His performance before the US Senate gave us a glimpse of a man who could have been a great Foreign Secretary. Instead, he is just a voice on the sidelines.

Along with Jim Sillars, another fiery left-wing orator with working class roots, he is one of Scottish Labour’s lost sons.

For now though, he’s hailing his very own “Bradford Spring”.

You can follow Andrew McFadyen on Twitter @apmcfadyen

Source : Al Jazeera

More from Features
Most Read