the cat that got the cream (and avoided the ginger beer)

31 03 2012

David Broder remembers one of George Galloway’s less glorious moments

In the aftermath of the ‘Bradford Spring’, I thought I’d share a brief recollection of one of my few face-to-face encounters with George Galloway.* It took place amidst a controversy pretty typical of Galloway’s career, where in the face of a straightforward case of socialist principle he instead jumped to defend the Iranian régime.

Four years ago, Galloway was in choppy waters. Having stretched the SWP’s loyalty to him to breaking point with his ‘outspoken’ views on sexual morality and his bizarre Big Brother appearance, in November 2007 he split their Respect venture as to still further exert his authority over it. Nonetheless standing in the May 2008 London elections (though still an MP), he was keen to stay in the media spotlight and thus made an appearance on Channel 5′s The Wright Stuff.

At that time there was a news story about Mehdi Kazemi, a 19 year old Iranian whose boyfriend had been executed by the régime for ‘sodomy’. Kazemi was resident in Britain but his asylum application to the Home Office had failed, since only in 2010 was being gay recognised as a sufficient reason to stay in this country (on account of the British state’s view that gay people in Iran could lead a normal life through ‘discretion’).

A campaign was launched in Kazemi’s defence, including a demonstration outside Downing Street that I helped to organise along with NUS LGBT and OutRage!, and the case won significant media coverage, making the front page of the Independent. This pressure would ultimately lead to Kazemi being granted asylum. Nonetheless, as the controversy raged, Galloway struck an unsympathetic posture in the newspapers review on The Wright Stuff. While the main target of the campaign was in fact British asylum policy, Galloway averred that it was an attempt by the ‘pink contingent of imperialism’ to demonise Iran. In fact, he told us, Kazemi’s teenage boyfriend was hanged not for homosexuality but for ‘sex crimes against young men’, an outrageous and utterly unfounded attempt to smear his name with implications of paedophilia. Of course, the ‘sex crime’ in question was homosexuality, the young men being the couple’s own peers.

Disgusted if unsurprised by his statements, I did at least have the opportunity to raise the issue face-to-face at Galloway’s election rally at SOAS the next day. After listening to his incoherent potted history of the Labour Party’s betrayals (Galloway was not actually on the left of Labour prior to his expulsion from it) I was keen to ask a question from the floor. The chair knew me and my politics so refused to recognise my raised hand, though Gorgeous George’s speech had apparently not roused similar interest for dialogue among any of the other attendees.

Instead, I simply took it upon myself to interrupt the silence and mounted an extensive exposition of Galloway’s longstanding record of rejecting women’s and LGBT rights and the Stalinist roots of much of his politics, which was of course rather gratifying. Surprisingly enough, having initially not allowed me to speak at all, the chair did not shout me down, as I would have expected, so after five minutes or so I began to run out of things to say. I’d iterated various instances of his homophobia, implied he was a loyal servant of Tehran and Damascus (what’s worse, without even being in their pay, he did it voluntarily) and said he couldn’t work with the left without trying to dominate it – was any further comment really necessary?

Fortunately Galloway saved me from simply tailing off, standing up from his chair and making a confident, politically-sharp rejoinder to my criticisms. He bellowed “I bet you my house against your jacket (!) that in six weeks I’ll be elected to the London assembly”. It was, indeed, a very nice jacket, one that I since lost by leaving it at the dry cleaners’ when I was in Italy. Unfortunately, much like the actual punchline to Julian Clary’s fisting Norman Lamont/red box gag, my reply to Galloway was drowned out by the mocking laughter his challenge provoked among my own comrades. But, for the record, I asked him which of his many houses I’d actually be getting.

The Portuguese villa would have been nice. Particularly as Respect did, after all, muster a paltry 2.4% in the London Assembly vote, leaving him less than halfway to getting elected. Instead the final Assembly seat went to the BNP’s Richard Barnbrook, who I would later douse in two litres of Idris fiery ginger beer at the top of the escalator at King’s Cross station. I guess you could say that these lashings and lashings of sweet, fizzy nectar provided a certain sense of closure for this sorry episode.

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18 responses

3 04 2012
Max Farrar

Very entertaining – and important article: I didn’t know that GG has a record of homophobia, nor had I heard of his invention of the ‘pink contingent of imperialism’. So please post the chapter and verse, cos I suspect his Respect buddies will be coming our way soon.

4 04 2012
Henry

I am surprised by this story as Galloway as always been a very capable defender of his beliefs. He isn’t usually prone to simple ‘politically-sharp rejoinders ‘.

“Galloway voted in support of the equalisation of the age of consent for homosexuality (which was then 21 years) with that for heterosexuality at 16 years.[89] He also voted against a reduction of the homosexual age of consent to 18.[90] He voted in favour of permitting unmarried and gay couples to adopt children.”

Doesn’t sound like an homophobe to me. There is a rather unpleasant witchhunt going on against Galloway at the moment, from Melanie Phillips to the Commune. It is all rather unpleasant.

This article contains a fundamenatl dishonesty imo, if we can’t rely on the bottom up commune to seek the truth then we really do live in a world of no hope! Disappointing.

5 04 2012
davidbroder

Hi Henry,

So what’s your analysis of his statements on Iran? Like in the video?

Does the fact that people with terrible politics like the Daily Mail criticise him therefore mean that he shouldn’t be subject to scrutiny?

5 04 2012
6 04 2012
Matthew

David
The other one about Galloway that shows something of the man is his view that he can’t possibly live on less than £150k per year. At the 2004 Respect conference his then bag carriers the SWP together with the ISG voted down a resolution calling for representatives to receive no more than the “skilled workers’ wage”

7 04 2012
Henry

I think Galloway’s view is that Iranian law is for Iranian people to decide. My view is that he believes the press stories of Iranian state oppression are a co-ordinated attempt to implant on the public a belief that something must be done about this rogue state. So it forms part of the war propaganda, he believes well meaning activists are aiding the war. I happen to agree with him on this.

Galloway’s record on gay and lesbian rights are something he should be proud of. And Galloway is never one prone to simple put downs, he always articulates his position very well, he is a noted debater. Even his worst enemies admit this.

So this story has a fundamental dishonesty to it.

Now when I come to a site like the commune, which claims to be for a bottom up transformation of society I don’t expect to see articles like this. If I can’t trust this site to tell me the truth, who can I trust. Very disappointing.

7 04 2012
nothingiseverlost

“which claims to be for a bottom up transformation of society” – here, I think we might have found the reason why they’re not too keen on uncritically championing career politicians/minor reality TV celebrities, or the Iranian regime for that matter.
And are “press stories of Iranian state oppression” just propaganda invented by Western government, or is it true that the Iranian government carries out repressive policies? If the latter, should we hide that away as an inconvenient truth, or should we be honest about it?
And do you agree with Galloway’s view that “Iranian law is for Iranian people to decide”? And do you think that’s what happens at the moment? Do you think that British law is something that British people get to decide?

7 04 2012
Henry

“And do you agree with Galloway’s view that “Iranian law is for Iranian people to decide”?”

I have not reached judgement on this yet. If we had a strong international working class organisation then I would no. But in this world a no means imperialism has the right to intervene. The rule of might is right prevails.

“Do you think that British law is something that British people get to decide?”

No not really. Though elections do influenc politicians. I certainly don’t believe the fight for universal suffrage was a complete waste of time. Also, with Maude’s idea for Britain becoming a tax haven and neo liberal politicians from all sides accepting that the wealthiest have to be flattered, i.e. Billionaires decide British laws, it may not be a bad campaign slogan, “Let British people decide British law”.

On Galloway and championing him, I don’t mind an honest critique of Galloway (including the positives of Galloway’s victory) but this is a dishonest piece, it attempts a bit of suggestion. It is like a Derren Brown trick. I expect something more from a site that portrays itself as bottom up socialism. When I visit this site I expect honesty.

I think this article undermines the whole Commune and ironically it was probably the need to keep up appearances (by attacking a minor celebrity etc) that made you suspend your critical analysis. Shame.

7 04 2012
davidbroder

“this is a dishonest piece”

Your argument is pathetic. If he lamely defended his position, you can hardly just stick your fingers in your ears, close your eyes and wail that the story is impossible, since he’s such a great debater. Perhaps you also don’t believe that he went on Big Brother, met Saddam and praised Assad, since these also belie the image of him you paint.

Equally, you cannot deny what he says in the video is homophobic simply by boasting that he has a great voting record (in fact, mainly a record of not showing up for votes) on gay rights.

No, you want bottom up socialism… as expressed through loyalty to career celebrity parliamentarians. You seem to think “critical analysis” is to be found in the “honest critique” of…celebrating “the positives of his victory”.

Galloway’s attempts to defend the Iranian régime from claims it murders gay people, and in doing so smearing the name of a young Iranian man by claiming he committed sex crimes against teenagers, was itself homophobic, and I and many others are not ashamed to say so.

The extent or angle of Western press coverage of gay rights in Iran may sometimes be intended to help build support for war, but many such stories are nonetheless true, and something for us to be very angry about (since when did LGBT become the ’cause’ of Republicans and not the left?).

If you really think that when the likes of OutRage! made a big deal out of the Kazemi case, pointing to the inhumanity of the UK borders régime , and Galloway was right to play down the problem and excoriate the victims of Iranian state repression, you must have a screw loose. In fact those who actively opposed the deportation did far more to expose the hypocrisy of the West towards ‘human rights’ than did Galloway.

And yes, Iranians should be able to run their society without imperialist intervention but “the Iranian people” is not the same thing as the Iranian régime. If you think régime behaviour is “their culture” (typical Orientalism/essentialism) then maybe ask yourself whether it’s also the “culture” of Iranian gay people.

7 04 2012
Henry

No I think critical analysis should **include** the positive aspects, a protest against austerity politics etc. I don’t mind a bottom up socialist site arguing against Galloway’s old Labour socialism from above, that I would aspect. What I resent is the dishonesty on display here. My view is that Galloway’s victory was probably an isolated incident but I do believe there is a level of dissatisfaction with the prevailing neo liberal wind that the Galloway campaign successfully tapped into. And I think if RESPECT does make more gains this would be a good thing as it may force a shift in direction by the labour party.

Galloway’s record on homosexuality is clear from his voting record, he believes in equality for homosexuals. This was not made clear in your dishonest piece.

Galloway has decided that after the mass murders in Iraq, Afghanistan etc he will do everything in his power to prevent such action in Iran, which would make Iraq look like a Sunday morning picnic. Galloway, being a man of action, isn’t just happy to sit writing objective interpretations of the motives of the actors involved, he decides to actively enter the stage and affect events. He doesn’t just want to interpret the world but to change it. Whatever way you want to spin it, the anti Iranian stories are designed to beat the war drums and reduce opinion against any war. It is part of the softening up exercise. Every imperialist war involves this process. So I think Galloway’s strategy is correct. I have no problem with people taking issue with this strategy.

Galloway is known for his great oratory and debating skills, even his enemies concede this. To be honest I can’t really blame him for fobbing you off when you come out with claptrap such as “he was a loyal servant of Tehran and Damascus”. Personally I would have just rolled my eyes.

I must admit I thought the commune was above all this bullshit. Now I know different.

7 04 2012
David

Your allegation of dishonesty is false and pathetic.

“anti Iranian stories”

Again you identify ‘Iranian’ with the Iranian régime (like a true neocon) and again fail to reply to any of the points in the article or the video on Galloway’s statements on gay rights in Iran. If OutRage! respond to an appeal for help/solidarity from a man whose boyfriend has been executed, then they are beating the war drums, are they?

Ah, but of course, Galloway “being a man of action, isn’t just happy to sit writing objective interpretations of the motives of the actors involved” – ah, here we go, what we need is not ideas, politics, strategy, understanding, just “action”. Why even comment here? Just go and chuck a brick through a window. R-r-r-adical

7 04 2012
David

The invocation of Galloway’s anti-war stance is also a canard because he is no more anti-war than I or we are. The fact that he is an apologist for the Iranian régime does not enhance his anti-war credentials.

7 04 2012
David

Also, Henry, I remember your comments on the riots

“The working class have proved to be totally incapable of transforming society in any progressive way, the lumpen elements cannot afford to wait for these vegetables to stir into life.

“The looters have shown more initiative and more consciousness than the rest of society. The ‘workers’ are the reactionary bribed tool of the tabloid media.”

So I’m guessing you cheerlead every passing bandwagon, in lieu of the working-class, who have let you down, and who you think are a bit thick?

8 04 2012
Anti-Smear Tactician

It’s well known that Galloway often didn’t bother to vote in parliament, spending most of his time speaking at anti-war meetings in UK and internationally, as the vote of one independent MP would rarely be decisive (he did once miss a vote on an anti-terrorism measure where it was close as he was on a speaking engagement in Ireland for which he was wrapped on the knuckles by his own party)

However, The Commune’s attempt to smear Galloway as homophobic won’t wash. As a Scottish Labour MP Galloway was one of the few MPs to vote for the equalisation of the age of consent, was invited to open a Glasgow LGBT Centre on the basis of his public advocacy of gay rights, was one year named gay-friendly MP of the year by Stonewall, publicly campaigned for the repeal of Section 28 and condemned Cardinal Thomas Winning etc etc

Here he is once again live on radio speaking out against homophobia as a Respect MP: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mZnMIa6UN0Y

I personally cringed when I heard Galloway (well known for using colourful tones of phrase) at an anti-war demo used this phrase to describe how the issue of gay rights was being used by liberals as a trojan horse for western intervention in Iran – “The khaki war machine now has its pink contingent and its purpose is the same, to bamboozle the public into going along with mass murder in Iran” – but to smear Galloway as homophobic is unacceptable.

8 04 2012
Henry

The reason I commented was to show disappointment at the dishonesty on show from a site I had regarded as above the kind of bullshit you get from the usual suspects. I should have known better.

Most left wing blogs (whom I regarded less favourably than this one) have provided a balanced response to this story, you have joined the worst elements in providing idiotic slanders. At least we now know where this site sits in the scheme of things.

13 04 2012
Shamsul alam

All the discussion are very fruitfull

13 04 2012
nothingiseverlost

Henry, I’m having some difficulty understanding your definition of honesty and dishonesty here. If you could answer a few questions, that’d really help clear things up.
1) Was Mehdi Kazemi’s boyfriend executed for sodomy, as, f’r instance, this article from the Independent claims: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/a-life-or-death-decision-792058.html ? Or was he executed for “committing sex crimes against young men”, as Galloway clearly states in the video embedded above?
2) If Mehdi Kazemi’s boyfriend was indeed executed for being gay, and Galloway claims that he wasn’t, does that make Galloway honest or dishonest?
3) If Galloway was indeed being honest about the Iranian regime’s murder of a gay man, is the honest thing for socialists to do to talk about his dishonesty openly, or to pretend it didn’t happen?

As for Galloway being a homophobe: I don’t think Galloway’s a consistent, principled homophobe like the nutters trying to run adverts on London buses, but he clearly thinks it’s acceptable to slander murdered gay men as sex criminals. The Commune appears to disagree with him on the subject. Which side are you on?

13 04 2012
nothingiseverlost

* Question 3 was meant to start “If Galloway was indeed being dishonest”. Oops.




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