What an interesting time George Galloway has had in the four weeks since wearing perfectly-matched false smiles he and I shook hands after our less than friendly disagreements on a panel in West Belfast. Just a few words out of turn and his Respect party is in trouble.
Of course he had mostly performed well on the panel. Apart from being a gifted debater, Galloway is brilliant at playing to the gallery. The audience was largely republican and therefore shared his views on the Middle East. It is one of the oddities of Northern Irish politics that republicans are venomously anti-Israel and loyalists madly pro. The day after our meeting, the West Belfast Festival was hosting Palestine Day.
He had brought with him the extremely attractive fourth Mrs Galloway, thirty years his junior, and an imposing man who described himself as the ex-Palestinian ambassador to Belfast and sat in the front row interrupting anyone whose sentiments he disagreed with. Mainly me. I expect he was one of the many who hissed when I suggested that next year they might invite an Israeli and hear another point of view.
What was interesting, though, was the discovery that Galloway is his own worst enemy. When a brave woman who identified herself as a member of an Irish-Israel group asked a civil question, he said something unpleasant along the lines that if the other members were of her calibre, it was no wonder the group was so small. When asked about gay marriage a tricky question for a Left-winger with a devoted Muslim fan club he went into a rant about the hypocrisy of Iris Robinson, the unionist politician who famously described homosexuality as an abomination on religious grounds and was then revealed to have been having an adulterous affair with a 19-year-old. He dwelt so long and so grossly on this that even that audience became uncomfortable.
But that’s George Galloway. He’s a bully. And he can’t hide it.
I had watched him on Celebrity Big Brother six years ago, and although like all right-thinking people I was repelled by his imitation of an amorous cat, what had stayed with me was him being denounced as a bully by a couple of youngsters. Fortuitously, as I had been seeking ammunition other than his penchant for dictators to use against Galloway in debate, a friend had pointed me to Craig Brown’s One on One, which transcribed the scene where Preston, from a boy band, took on Galloway because he was jeering the washed-up, recovering alcoholic Michael Barrymore with the refrain: “Poor me, poor me, pour me a drink.” So I was able to share with the audience that this was of a piece with his treatment of the questioner and the disgraced Iris Robinson.
So there’s my tip for anyone nervous of appearing with him. He can’t hide his intrinsic nastiness for long.
Galloway was in Indonesia when the Assange carry-on began, and in his weekly self-aggrandising podcast he explained that the allegations even if true did not constitute rape. His female editor at Holyrood, a Scottish magazine, fired him. Salma Yaqoob, his protégé who is now the Respect party leader, denounced his views as “deeply disappointing and wrong”. Not being a man to bow the knee to anyone, Galloway refused to recant, so Kate Hudson, the impressive Respect candidate for Manchester Central in the forthcoming by-election, has resigned. “I cannot in all conscience,” she said, “stand as candidate for a party whose only MP has made unacceptable and unretracted statements about the nature of rape. To continue … would be in effect to condone what he has said. That is something I am not prepared to do.”
To add to Galloway’s troubles, his choice of language about sex was stomach-churning: “I mean,” he explained, “not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion."
The guy is creepy. And, like Assange, he’s become a creepy joke. On Facebook, the question “Who would you rather be stuck on a desert island with, George Galloway, or Julian Assange?” caused much heart-searching. (Assange won. Just.) In West Belfast I had briefly wondered would it be better to be on a desert island with Galloway or with Gerry Kelly, the unrepentant vicious ex-terrorist and Old Bailey bomber who sat on my left. Kelly won.
Today, having heard me mention I’d debated with Galloway, a 14-year-old-friend of mine looked at his cat performance on YouTube. “What did you think?” I asked. ‘Yechhhhhhhhhh!” she said. “Creepy, creepy, creepy.”
Now that the women in Respect have got that message, Galloway may yet find himself on a deserted political island.