Sunday, Jul 14, 2024 | Last Update : 08:15 PM IST

  Opinion   Columnists  08 Mar 2024  Farrukh Dhondy | How Galloway won UK byelection with his Israel-bashing; put Labour in a fix

Farrukh Dhondy | How Galloway won UK byelection with his Israel-bashing; put Labour in a fix

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Mar 9, 2024, 12:00 am IST
Updated : Mar 9, 2024, 12:00 am IST

Maverick politico George Galloway won the House of Commons byelection in Rochdale, leveraging his reputation as a supporter of Muslim political causes

George Galloway. (Image: Twitter)
 George Galloway. (Image: Twitter)

“The first time you saw the sea

You asked ’where did this water come from?’

You waded in as the waves ran free

You asked father and God, but both played dumb

Only later you learned creation is strange

Though there have been ‘answers’ throughout history

From the Bible to Darwin, they are a range

Of explanations -- which still leave the mystery.”

From The Cool Rasul, by Bachchoo

George Galloway, a maverick politico, won the February 29 House of Commons byelection in Rochdale with an overwhelming majority.

The Labour Party, recently scoring heavily in the polls and winning every byelection (bar the one in Uxbridge, West London) by huge majorities, would see this is as a desperate loss. Only they didn’t, because they didn’t have a Labour candidate in the race.

Their former Labour candidate, Azhar Ali, was disowned by the party for remarks he made about Israel -- which amounted to claiming that Israel had connived in the Hamas attack on its own civilians and on the carrying-off of hostages in order to have a case for bombing and invading Gaza.

Azhar Ali was playing to the gallery of Muslim voters. So was Mr Galloway, but with a difference. In his victory speech, wearing his hallmark fedora, Mr Galloway crowed over his characterising the war in Gaza as genocide, which Labour refuses to do. Saying: “Keir Starmer, this one is for Gaza...”

Mr Galloway, a roving Scot, has no connection with Rochdale or by residence or religion with the other constituencies in East London or Bradford. Yet he briefly represented each of these owing to the Muslim vote which he nurtured and got.

Since the war that George W. Bush and Tony Blair waged on Saddam Hussein, Mr Galloway has built himself a reputation of being a supporter of every injustice against any Muslim population including, he says, Kashmir.

In his youth, Mr Galloway was in the Labour youth movement and in 1994 was an MP for a Glasgow constituency.

When Mr Bush and Mr Blair launched the second Iraq war on Saddam Hussein’s regime, Mr Galloway journeyed to Iraq, and, in an audience with Saddam, was filmed obsequiously greeting Hussein as though he was the humble subject of a benevolent monarch.

The clip didn’t go down well in Britain. Tony Blair and Labour sacked him.

Gentle reader, let me say that I absolutely opposed the invasion of Iraq and the toppling of Saddam Hussein, as Mr Galloway did, but perhaps not for the same reasons. I had no respect or obsequious feelings for Saddam, having read convincing reports of his cruelty, assaults on Shias and Kurds and his threatening behaviour in the Middle East. Inexcusable.

Even so, any acquaintance with the forces, rivalries -- historical, religious and territorial -- in the Middle East should have alerted Mr Bush and Mr Blair to the fact that they were setting out to kill the cat that kept the rats at bay.

Their elimination of Saddam’s dictatorial, reprehensive regime set loose the death cults of ISIS and all the turmoil that has beset the Middle East since.

Having been expelled from Labour, Mr Galloway exploited the shared antagonism of the Muslim immigrant populations of Britain towards the ill-judged invasion, in which hundreds of thousands of civilians died, to get elected in Muslim-dominated constituencies. It worked in Bethnal Green, east London, later in Bradford and now in Rochdale.

His championing of Muslim political causes has not only won him three British elections, it pulled in a strange accolade.

Some years ago, gentle reader, I was invited as a writer to read my latest translations of Rumi at the Karachi Literary festival. Of course, dozens of international writers were invited to the festival -- distinguished novelists, poets, dramatists and scholars from around the world.

But -- wait for it -- who was invited by this literary festival as the chief delegate and guest of honour?

(No, not W. Shakespeare, not even posthumously).

Gosh, you got it! None other than the fedora-clad George Galloway. Literary chief guest at a literary festival? Yes, of course! That 1,000-word diatribe against the Labour Party in some obscure left-wing British propaganda-sheet as literary qualification?

No, no… the Karachi fest lit panel are not that naive -- they know their Naipaul from nappy-rash, however much they may have disdain for both. In this instance, it was clearly politics trumping literature.

It often does, but in the opposite way -- witness the punishment of Solzhenitsyn and Pasternak?

The embarrassing moment for me, in that festival, was when on the first night all the writer delegates were invited to a party at the British Council. We gathered in the hotel lobby and were herded into coaches which were to take us to the celebrations.

Just before our coach was about to set off, the organiser of the festival stepped into it and announced “Where’s Farrukh? George Galloway wants Farrukh to go with him in the chief delegate’s limousine to the party.” The whole coach hooted in derision.

I was astounded. Of course, I knew George vaguely from the past but this was unexpected. I left the coach to very sarcastic comments and rode with George in the special limo.

He greeted me as though we were old pals and then proceeded to berate me for the fact that my twins had easily obtained admission to Haberdasher Aske’s secondary school whereas his daughter had to go through two governors’ appeals. It was a smug but entertaining non-political ride. Or was it?

Tags: george galloway, house of commons, byelection, labour party