Until recently George Galloway was a name known only to a few UK citizens who took the trouble to follow UK politics fairly closely. However, since his recent televised appearance in front of a US Senate Committee, George has become much more well known. He is having at least fifteen minutes of fame, and he may have more to come.
For those who don't know, George is a 50-year-old Scotsman who since 1987 has been a Member of Parliament. Originally he was a member of the Labour Party, but he was expelled from the Party in 2003 and since then has helped to form a new political party, known as Respect. It was while standing as a candidate for Respect that he was elected to Parliament in the 2005 election.
There is lots of info on the web about Gorgeous George, as he is known in some quarters (he likes to dress well), and if you want to know masses of detail you could start here. But before discussing his 2004 book, I'm Not the Only One, I want to sketch in just a little of the background.
First, George was an MP for Glasgow for many years, and Glasgow is a tough city. There are lots of people in Glasgow whom you would not wish to offend at ten o'clock on a Saturday night, after everyone has had an opportunity to sink a wee dram or two. In fact you would be ill advised to offend some of them at nine o'clock on a Sunday morning. And that is the arena in which George flourished. So be warned. You mess with George at your peril, as the Senate Committee found out.
Second, George is an extreme left winger (particularly by American standards). He is not a man who has ever toed the Party line in every particular, but I don't think he would complain if you described him as an old-fashioned socialist. He might complain if you called him a Marxist, because Marxists tend to be somewhat fixed in their thinking, and George can sometimes surprise you with his views. But in general his political preferences lie several miles to the left of today's UK Labour Party, and about three hundred miles to the left of the US Democrats.
For years George has had something of a knack of falling out with authority, in whatever form, but he is more than capable of defending himself. In an age when politicians are increasingly remote (by their own choice) from the voters, George has no aversion to audiences and does not fear the criticism and heckling which such audiences are likely to offer to the speaker. On the contrary, he is described as one of the few great orators in contemporary life, and he appears to enjoy the cut and thrust of live debate more than most.
From the very beginning, George was opposed to the war in Iraq, a country in which he has spent much time and knows well. And this has not made him a popular person, at least in government circles. Thus when documents surfaced in Baghdad which appeared to implicate him in various forms of dishonesty and corruption, a number of UK newspapers, and a US Senate Committee, were pleased to draw them to public attention.
George denied all these allegations, and he took steps to defend himself, either through the law courts or through speaking to people direct (e.g. the US Senate). So far the score is about George Galloway 10, enemies of George 0; with bruises.
If you want to read the full text of George's statement to the US Senate, you can find it here. And it is well worth reading. But now I want to turn to George's book.
From the very beginning of I'm Not the Only One it is clear that George is not an admirer of Tony Blair, the present leader of the party that George grew up in. In fact, he despises Blair, describing him in the Foreword as 'drowning under a sea of incompetence and deceit.'
The first chapter is entitled 'The Boys in the Bubble' and it describes the way in which modern politicians have isolated themselves from unpleasant contact with unwashed voters by taking refuge in the Westminster bubble. In the US, the equivalent term, I believe, is the Beltway.
Those at the top of UK politics, says George, are liars. You know that Blair is lying 'because his lips are moving.' (You begin to see why George got kicked out, don't you?) Later in the book Blair is described as a 'blood-soaked criminal'.
Most of this first chapter is devoted to enumerating the worst of Blair's lies, and George ends by saying that it is 'a national duty to bring about the political end of this war-mongering, principle-shredding, mendacious malodorous rancid crew. Blair must go.'
Which is, I am sure you will agree, plain speaking.
Before long, George begins to give us a short history of his political life, and perhaps one of the keys to understanding him is this statement, which he made, I think, in 1980: 'Whatever the consequences for my own political future, I intend to devote the rest of my life to the Palestinian and Arab cause.' Which, he says, he has more or less done. He has come, he says, to love Iraq as a man loves a woman.
Well, you can see immediately how a man with those intentions and attitudes would not be popular. After all, in both the UK and in the USA, the general preference is to favour Israel over the Arabs and the Palestinians; and those who speak for the other side are likely to come under considerable pressure.
For page after page, George Galloway exposes the fatuity and ignorance of both UK and US politicians, particularly in respect of the not-yet-found weapons of mass destruction. But from a UK viewpoint it is perhaps George's pen portraits of the Labour Party leadership which are the most fascinating.
For a start, many of the current leaders have a history of membership of the communist party, or at any rate a record of working for it. It would be fascinating to know what the FBI and CIA make of these people.
Dr John Reid, for example, currently the Secretary of State for Defence, is a 'former communist, former nationalist, former Irish republican, guitar-playing, chain-smoking alcoholic.' Reid's PhD was on the history of the Marxist-Leninist African republic of Benin. He himself claims to have been, at one time, the leading theoretician of the UK Communist Party.
Gordon Brown apparently also has a PhD, which is news to me, and rather raises the man in my estimation. But he rarely uses the title.
Peter Mandelson is also a former communist, sufficiently active to have generated his own MI5 file. David Blunkett (currently Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) is another man from the ultra left; he was leader of South Yorkshire's 'People's Republic'. Alan Millburn was a supporter of the International Marxist Group. And so on.
The penultimate chapter outlines the political standpoint of the new party, Respect, and the final chapter calls for a bursting of the Bubble.
All in all I learnt a great deal from George's book. And although my own views are somewhat to the right of centre, on most issues, I find myself in agreement with many of the points he makes.
In particular, he is absolutely correct when he says that politicians constantly claim to be listening to the public, but in fact deliberately keep themselves remote. In the recent election, some candidates were reportedly hardly seen in their constituency at all, because they knew that if they appeared in front of an audience they would have to answer some difficult questions.
It is this remoteness, coupled with the hypocrisy and incessant lying, which has generated in many British people a deep-seated contempt for politicians. More power, then, to the George Galloways of this world, who are at least trying to restore a little sanity.
Meanwhile, perhaps it is worth noting that the energetic George has recently involved himself in the establishment of a new publishing company, known as Friction. The list will be mainly political but it will also offer some fiction. But don't deluge him with mss, please. George has more than enough on his plate already.