View all newsletters
Sign up to our newsletters

Support 110 years of independent journalism.

  1. Comment
22 June 2021updated 04 Apr 2022 7:49pm

George Galloway’s disgraceful record shows he is no friend of progressives

The Batley and Spen by-election candidate is an opportunist who has spent his career lauding tyrants.

By James Bloodworth

British by-elections have a habit of throwing up eccentric characters. But in the case of Batley and Spen and George Galloway, the contest has itself a pugilistic, bombastic, Ba’athist apologist whose entire career is a byword for controversy.  

Galloway, who was a Labour MP from 1987-2003, has been on the political scene in Britain for almost 40 years. During that time he has said and done things that would have terminated the careers of almost any other politician. Perhaps most notoriously, in 1994 Galloway met Saddam Hussein – the Iraqi dictator presumably taking a break from having his opponents burned alive in acid baths. In the ensuing meeting, Galloway praised Saddam, “your excellency”, for his “courage”, “strength” and “indefatigability”. 

Galloway would later describe himself as a supporter of the Ba’ath Party and the Iraqi people but not of Saddam personally. Yet his record when it comes to tyrants is long and varied. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union – which Galloway described as “the biggest catastrophe of my life” – the Dundonian has scoured the world for an absolute ruler to fill the space in his mind once occupied by the geriatric occupants of the Kremlin. 

For a short while Galloway appeared to have found that person in Saddam. “Just as Stalin industrialised the Soviet Union, so on a different scale Saddam plotted Iraq’s own Great Leap Forward,” wrote Galloway in his autobiography. Galloway was expelled from the Labour Party during the Iraq war in 2003 after calling on British troops to “refuse to obey illegal orders”.

In the years after Saddam was deposed, Galloway’s “search for a tyrannical fatherland”, as the late Christopher Hitchens once phrased it, continued. Galloway heaped praise on the Iranian despot Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Iranian-run Press TV. He lauded the leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, and the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. He also found time to write an obsequious book about the Cuban dictator Fidel Castro – one of the few foreign books you can purchase in Cuba. 

Few expect Galloway to win in Batley and Spen on 1 July, where he is standing for election six years after losing his seat as Respect MP in Bradford West to Labour’s Naz Shah (a contest during which he accused Shah of lying about her sexually abusive forced marriage when she was 15 years old).

Yet Galloway’s main goal in Batley and Spen appears to be to damage the incumbent Labour Party by eroding its support base. An unashamed champion of former party leader Jeremy Corbyn, Galloway is gunning for Corbyn’s successor. “If Keir Starmer loses this by-election it’s curtains for Keir Starmer,” he declared in a recent campaign video posted online. 

[see also: The threat of Labour defeat in Batley and Spen shows the party is facing a perfect storm]

Galloway’s electoral strategy is characteristically opportunistic. Rhetoric around “Zionism” sits incongruently alongside invective aimed at winning over socially conservative working-class voters. The latter, Galloway recently tweeted, are fed up of “anti-Brexit woke liberal identity-politics [and] cancel-culture mania”.

Yet despite his long-standing public image as a firebrand left-winger, Galloway has never been “woke”. He voted for Brexit in 2016 and embraced Donald Trump’s former strategist Steve Bannon a few years later. Galloway holds what are euphemistically called “old-fashioned views”. He opposes abortion and caused a storm of controversy in 2012 after commenting that the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who at the time was wanted on charges of rape in Sweden, had merely engaged in “bad sexual etiquette”. “Not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion,” Galloway added.

Nevertheless, Labour strategists are reportedly worried about Galloway’s appeal to Batley’s sizeable Muslim population through his rhetoric on Palestine and Kashmir. This is remarkable, in a sense, considering Galloway’s long-standing admiration for various dictatorships, some of which are ruthlessly persecuting their Muslim populations. To take one example, in 2020 as reports were emerging that upwards of a million Uyghur Muslims were being persecuted in Xinjiang, Galloway went on Russian state television to claim that there were “no concentration camps in China”.

He may be adept at pseudo-radical posturing, but Galloway’s politics are simultaneously hypocritical, unpleasant and outmoded. As if to underscore the second point, the deputy leader of Galloway’s new “Workers Party” is Joti Brar, vice-chair of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), a far-left groupuscule notorious even on the British revolutionary left for its uncritical support of North Korea and the Stalin-era Soviet Union.

But there is also something remarkably contemporary about George Galloway. His politics may be antiquated but his longevity is a testament to the sheer persuasive appeal of bluster and rhetoric. Whatever else might be said about the man, he can certainly be eloquent. 

It is said that we live in a populist age. Perhaps, then, we should have paid more attention to this puffed-up, fedora-sporting demagogue during our 40-year exposure to him. Had we done so, we might have been better prepared for the arrival of a new generation of populist blowhards before they were able to cause so much chaos.

[see also: Populism without the people]

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU

Content from our partners
Data science can help developers design future-proof infrastructure
How to tackle the UK's plastic pollution problem – with Coca-Cola
The hard truth about soft skills

Select and enter your email address Your weekly guide to the best writing on ideas, politics, books and culture every Saturday. The best way to sign up for The Saturday Read is via saturdayread.substack.com The New Statesman's quick and essential guide to the news and politics of the day. The best way to sign up for Morning Call is via morningcall.substack.com Our Thursday ideas newsletter, delving into philosophy, criticism, and intellectual history. The best way to sign up for The Salvo is via thesalvo.substack.com Stay up to date with NS events, subscription offers & updates. Weekly analysis of the shift to a new economy from the New Statesman's Spotlight on Policy team.
  • Administration / Office
  • Arts and Culture
  • Board Member
  • Business / Corporate Services
  • Client / Customer Services
  • Communications
  • Construction, Works, Engineering
  • Education, Curriculum and Teaching
  • Environment, Conservation and NRM
  • Facility / Grounds Management and Maintenance
  • Finance Management
  • Health - Medical and Nursing Management
  • HR, Training and Organisational Development
  • Information and Communications Technology
  • Information Services, Statistics, Records, Archives
  • Infrastructure Management - Transport, Utilities
  • Legal Officers and Practitioners
  • Librarians and Library Management
  • Management
  • Marketing
  • OH&S, Risk Management
  • Operations Management
  • Planning, Policy, Strategy
  • Printing, Design, Publishing, Web
  • Projects, Programs and Advisors
  • Property, Assets and Fleet Management
  • Public Relations and Media
  • Purchasing and Procurement
  • Quality Management
  • Science and Technical Research and Development
  • Security and Law Enforcement
  • Service Delivery
  • Sport and Recreation
  • Travel, Accommodation, Tourism
  • Wellbeing, Community / Social Services
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how New Statesman Media Group may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
THANK YOU