Gorgeous George returns

George Galloway was delighted to be back — but was anyone delighted to see him?

Artillery Row

“I swear by Almighty God,” George Galloway began, surprising those of us who had assumed he recognised no gods before himself. He was clutching a holy book, but we couldn’t see what it was. The Bible? The Koran? His own memoirs?

He had walked in flanked by Peter Bottomley, the Conservative who as the longest continually serving MP is Father of the House, and Neale Hanvey of Alba, the party that splintered off the SNP. Under rules introduced in the seventeenth century, a new MP needs two sponsors. Jeremy Corbyn had originally promised to be one of them, but, according to Galloway, had realised at the last minute that “he’d forgotten that he had a longstanding engagement”. Corbyn’s sudden discovery of his calendar may have been prompted by a realisation that his friend’s particular flavour of demagoguery doesn’t go down well in Islington North.

As it was, neither of Galloway’s sponsors looked terribly thrilled to be there

As it was, neither of Galloway’s sponsors looked terribly thrilled to be there. The new member was received in what we’re obliged to described as a stony silence. The Speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, was enthusiastic enough, but he needs all the friends he can get these days. They exchanged a few words and a handshake after the oath, and then Galloway marched onwards and out of the chamber. He had places to be.

He was thoroughly enjoying his day. Earlier he had been lunching with aides in Portcullis House, where a couple of Political Editors had sidled over awkwardly to greet a man who, whatever his other flaws, knows how to deliver headlines. MPs largely avoided him, except for Andrew Bridgen, who had a long chat, presumably sensing that here was a man who might be interested in hearing theories that the mainstream media won’t tell you.

After the swearing in, there was a press conference outside St Stephen’s Gate. So keen was the new MP for Rochdale to grant us an audience that he arrived early. “This is a lot of attention for a backbench MP,” he announced, self-satisfaction oozing from every pore. Of course, Parliament is no place for the modest, and any election victor is entitled to feel pleased with themselves, but this might be the place to quote Galloway’s author profile on Amazon: “Mr Galloway is widely regarded as the finest public speaker of his generation and is known as such world-wide.”

Even if the tribes of the Amazon Basin do not, in fact, pass the evenings quoting Galloway speeches to each other, he is undoubtedly a good orator. He has the knack of seeming to be speaking softly while actually projecting to the back of a crowd, of seeming friendly even when his words are loaded with menace, of gliding past tricky points while appearing to be frank.

His opening statement was a little rambling, taking in his desire to restore the fortunes of Rochdale’s football team, to get the town a maternity hospital, its own postcode and, for some reason, a prison. He has a lovely way with words if you don’t pay too much attention to their meaning.  

There was quite a lot on the situation in Gaza, which he compared to the Holocaust. Asked about Ukraine, he explained he didn’t have time to go into the subject (he would speak for several more minutes) but that “I will absolutely oppose the ironclad consensus for war across the two frontbenches in this parliament.” This is one of these statements that sounds superficially as though the speaker is an advocate for peace, until you realise that what he’s against is Ukraine defending itself. It wasn’t the Labour frontbench that tried to capture Kyiv two years ago.

Several times he told us that our presence was the sign that he was on the brink of a greater political triumph. The assembled sketchwriters could only wish that other political parties, who often try to keep us away from their events, also thought this. 

Galloway has a curious attitude to the press. He was obviously delighted with the attention, but he began each answer with a denunciation of the news outlet that had asked the question, listing some slight or other. For an apparently cheery man, he nurses an awful lot of grudges. 

He assured us that he had been “well-received by the staff” of Parliament, the implication being that the oppressed men and women in the building regard him as their friend and champion. It is of course their job to be nice to MPs. 

But Galloway wouldn’t comprehend so simple an explanation. He has come to Parliament to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives and quite possibly the recovery of sight for the blind. It was not a moment too soon. “We stand at a very dangerous crossroads in our country’s affairs,” he said. It was, he explained, perhaps the most critical moment in our history since 1940. Unfortunately, he went on, “there’s no Mr Churchill in this picture.” There was no one “able to step forward and steady the ship of state.”

What was that, George, no maverick political figure exiled by his party but now suddenly at this moment of crisis available to take the helm? Surely one name came to his mind. If so, he was too modest to tell us who it could be. But let’s hope it’s someone who looks good in a hat.

Enjoying The Critic online? It's even better in print

Try five issues of Britain’s newest magazine for £10

Critic magazine cover