A recent election to the parliamentary seat of Bradford, in the north of England, has caused alarm in British political circles. The election was won, not by a candidate from any of the major political parties, but by George Galloway of the Respect party. Galloway is well-known as a leftist gadfly with a tendency to buffoonery, an eye to the main chance, and a record of public obsequiousness toward Saddam Hussein. He flirts with Islamism and has been suspected of corruption, but he always wins his libel actions against newspapers. He has been married four times, thrice to Muslims.
No one can say that the resounding defeat of the main political parties (Galloway received 56 percent of the vote, the Labour candidate 25 percent, and the Conservative 8 percent) was undeserved. Almost everyone in the country, of whatever political stripe, now believes that the British political class is unprecedentedly corrupt, opportunist, careerist, and uninterested in the national welfare. No one minds, then, that the main parties should have been humiliated.
But not by Galloway. This is the second parliamentary seat with a large Muslim electorate that he has won at the expense of the political establishment, principally that of the Labour party (both seats were traditionally Labour). He has done so by mixing left-wing ideas with vaguely Islamist sympathies. The very name of his party, Respect, is worrying if one has an ear for language. In street parlance, “respect” has the connotation not so much of obedience to the law so that everyone may go safely about his lawful business, but of the inspiration of fear in others such that they leave me alone even when I’m doing something illegal or unpleasant. “Intimidation” would probably be a better name for the party.
When the election results were announced, Galloway exclaimed, “All praise to Allah!,” to which his supporters responded, “Allah! Allah!” But the biggest cheer went up, at least according to the Guardian’s report, when he exclaimed: “Long live Palestine!”
Four days later, in the same newspaper, the political commentator Seumas Milne wrote that “the central thrust of Galloway’s pitch in Bradford was in fact about cuts, tuition fees, unemployment, poverty and the decline of a city.” This is a little like saying that when some of the people of Bradford marched through the streets calling for Salman Rushdie’s death after the publication of his Satanic Verses, they were protesting against the magic realist school of fiction.