Socialist Worker

George Galloway: ‘Let’s drive Respect to victory in May’

Respect MP George Galloway spoke to Socialist Worker about the impact of Big Brother, campaigns in Tower Hamlets and the council elections

Issue No. 1986

George Galloway has been at the centre of campaigns in his constituency, such as this housing meeting last year  (Pic: Guy Smallman)

George Galloway has been at the centre of campaigns in his constituency, such as this housing meeting last year (Pic: Guy Smallman)


It's like keeping up with a force of nature as we scoot from one engagement to another in George Galloway’s constituency of Bethnal Green & Bow in east London.

A meeting with campaigners over the Crossrail project, which will devastate the Brick Lane area, back to the constituency office and then to meetings with local Bengali newspapers – all punctuated with phone calls over issues such as housing, the crisis facing the Royal London Hospital and, of course, the ongoing war in Iraq.

“It’s great to be back in reality,” says George, “a much more vibrant reality than anything the producers of Big Brother could conjure up.”

Birdsong

So what of the Big Brother experience and the deluge of coverage about his appearance?

“Well, I had three aims. The first was to raise money for the charity Interpal, which feeds and clothes Palestinian children in the parts of Gaza where few others dare tread.

“The second was to use the earnings from the show to employ two more constituency workers – adding to what is almost certainly already the largest team of any backbench MP offering a service to their constituents.

“Those two have been achieved. The third aim was to project radical political views to a wider audience, which is usually turned off by politics.

“Time will tell whether that has been fulfilled.

“In the immediate wake of Big Brother there are different views. Some people, including close friends, make a broadly negative assessment of the balance sheet.

“I respect and understand that. But I must honestly say my own assessment is more optimistic. It’s a judgement call. Sometimes you make good judgements, sometimes not so good. As I say, time will tell.

“And even if people think, on balance, that it was a mistake, then I’d ask them to put that in the context of everything I’ve done including, in recent years, being expelled from New Labour over opposition to the war and taking that message to the heart of the beast, the US senate.”

But surely the decision by the show’s producers to censor his political statements must have undermined his ability to reach a new audience? “I’m very cross with the producers for that,” he says.

“They persuaded me to take part by promising that I would be free to speak.

“Then you discover that the chief executive has gone on the BBC Politics Show and admitted that they are blanking out political discussions with birdsong.

“Their argument about party political balance doesn’t wash. One of the discussions they censored was over the misrepresentation of Muslims in most of the Western media. What possible reason could there be for blanking that out?”

There was, however, no shortage of hostile media attention over his appearance. “Yes, there was a deluge,” he says.

“I regret that I didn’t do more to prepare Respect supporters for that. I know that many people who work extremely hard for Respect have had to face that coverage – and wrapped up in it a New Labour witch-hunt – over the past couple of weeks.

“I understand the pressures they’ve faced and I’m extremely grateful that they have not buckled under them.

“And, of course, you don’t go through a witch-hunt without sustaining some damage. But I strongly believe that New Labour has overplayed its hand.

“If we are so irrelevant, a one-man band, as they like to pretend, then why all the attempts to discredit us?”

Effective

“And the stunts they’ve tried to play are backfiring spectacularly. For example, they lied when they said there was a crucial vote in parliament last month over the Crossrail development. There was no such vote.

“When there was a vote – on 19 July last year – I was not only one of just 24 MPs to vote against it, I also made what is acknowledged to be the most effective speech against it.

“The bill is being driven through by New Labour MPs. And they’ve been given the green light over the last two years by the New Labour council in Tower Hamlets.

“So in cynically raising the Crossrail issue, New Labour has galvanised the campaign against its own proposals and that will carry over to the council elections in Tower Hamlets in May – where Respect is the only party firmly opposed to the scheme.”

A glance at the office diary shows a packed next three months. “Of course,” he says, “There’s the weekly constituency surgery.

“There’s a host of local issues over which we are not only representing people, but also drawing them into campaigns that can win. I’m proud of the impact we have already made in derailing the council’s plans to sell off housing.

“Then there’s the gathering storm around Tony Blair’s New Labour which means great possibilities for Respect to break through in many areas in May.

“And there’s the little matter of the collapse of Western imperialist policy in the Middle East. The reality for George Bush and Blair is that the election of Hamas means that another of their propaganda props has been knocked away.

“The people who tell us they are bringing democracy to Iraq are telling the Palestinians that they have a right to elections only if they choose a government amenable to Washington.

“So great is the disaster of Iraq that I fear Bush may be tempted to widen the conflict by attacking Iran.

“This all means the Stop the War rallies and the demonstration on 18 March need to be firmly in all our sights.”

To join Respect or to get involved in campaigning activities, phone 0870 850 1978. Respect has now moved offices to 9 Club Row, London E1 6JX. The e-mail address remains office@respectcoalition.org


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Features
Sat 4 Feb 2006, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 1986
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