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    George Galloway: Latest comeback for a political maverick

    • By Brian Wheeler & Jennifer McKiernan
    • BBC political reporters

    Image caption,

    Rarely seen without his trademark hat, George Galloway’s eloquence is legendary among supporters and opponents

    Few politicians can whip up a crowd – and generate controversy – quite like George Galloway.

    In a career spanning four decades, he has been hailed as a hero of the anti-war left, ridiculed as a reality TV contestant and elected to Parliament seven times for three different parties.

    The 69-year-old’s latest political comeback, in Rochdale, shows he has not lost his appetite for a fight – or his talent for riling his opponents.

    As he has done in previous by-elections, he mainly targeted his message at Muslim voters, promising, in this case, to be a powerful advocate for Palestinians in the conflict between Israel and Hamas.

    But he also took aim at the entire political and media establishment.

    “There’s not much I can do to stop Netanyahu but I have the right to try and stop Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer from collaborating in it,” he told a meeting in Rochdale during the campaign.

    “And that’s why they are so unhappy – the politicians, the media are so unhappy about the prospect of me returning to Parliament at the end of this month because they know that I will enter the chamber of the House of Commons like a tornado and I will shake the walls for Gaza.

    “They know it, they fear it and that’s why you should give it to them.”

    This kind of combative rhetoric is Mr Galloway’s trademark.

    To his critics and opponents, he is dangerous egotist, someone who arouses division.

    He views himself as part of the international struggle for socialism and against imperialism – in particular US imperialism – and a staunch opponent of Zionism. He has described Israel as an apartheid state and called for it to be dismantled.

    Despite rumours he has converted to Islam, he is strongly connected to his Irish Catholic roots and has stressed the importance of having a big family. He has fathered six children and he married his fourth wife, Putri Gayatri Pertiwi, in 2012.

    Image caption,

    Winning in Bradford for the Respect Party in 2012, George Galloway beat Labour MP Imran Hussain

    Born into poverty in Dundee, in 1954, Mr Galloway worked on the production line at Michelin tyres, where he first became active as a trade unionist.

    In 1980, he was involved in flying the Palestinian flag from the offices of Dundee Council, and was involved in the twinning of Dundee with the West Bank town of Nablus. In 1983, he became the general secretary of charity War on Want.

    He was elected to Parliament for the first time in 1987, as the Labour MP for Glasgow Hillhead, where he quickly gained a reputation as a left-wing firebrand,

    In the 1990s, he was heavily criticised for meeting Iraq’s leader Saddam Hussein and telling him – in a much-repeated clip – “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability”. His multiple visits to the region during the period led to him being dubbed the “member for Baghdad Central”.

    What many supporters see as his finest hour – and what he said at the time was the best day of his life – came in 2005, when he gave evidence to a US senate sub-committee.

    He branded claims he had been given credits to buy Iraqi oil by Saddam Hussein as the “mother of all smokescreens” to cover the “crimes” committed as part of the invasion of Iraq. He accused senators investigating the UN Oil-for-Food programme of being “cavalier” with justice, saying they had “traduced” his name.

    He had, by this time, been expelled from the Labour Party over his stance on the 2003 Iraq war.

    Labour accused him of bringing the party into disrepute after he said British troops in Iraq should refuse to obey orders, saying that those orders would be “illegal” because the UK/US invasion of Iraq was “illegal”.

    Joining the fledgling anti-war Respect Party in 2004, he stormed to an unexpected victory in Bethnal Green and Bow, in East London, in a tense campaign and, at times, bitter campaign.

    With his profile at an all-time high, he then took the decision to enter the Celebrity Big Brother house.

    For many, the enduring image of Mr Galloway is of him dressed in a leotard, pretending to be a cat and licking pretend milk out of actress Rula Lenska’s hand, while purring.

    He got his share of ridicule over his appearance on the show, but it did not appear to do any long-term harm to his political career.

    After losing Bethnal Green and Bow in the 2010 general election, he stood in the 2012 Bradford West by-election, winning it with a landslide 56% of the vote and a 37% swing from Labour to Respect.

    It was one of the biggest upsets in recent electoral history but he lost the seat at the 2015 general election.

    More by-elections would follow – including a defeat to Labour in Batley and Spen in 2021 after another ill-tempered campaign – and a 2016 run at the London Mayoralty, which saw him come 7th.

    Image caption,

    George Galloway joined the Respect Party in 2004 and was its leader from 2013 to 2016

    Less often seen on mainstream media now (he is not a fan), he became skilled at using social media to get his message out.

    He also harnessed his oratory skills as the presenter of a phone-in programme, which was called the Mother of All Talk Shows, as well as a presenter on the Kremlin-backed news channel RT, which was taken off-air in 2022.

    Mr Galloway’s strident style breached Ofcom rules on impartiality on multiple occasions on both stations in 2018 – three times for failing to provide balance on the Skripal poisonings and, on Talk Radio, for bias over antisemitism. He was later sacked by the station for a separate social media post deemed antisemitic.

    Mr Galloway’s latest electoral vehicle, the Workers Party of Britain, is a self-conscious throwback to the traditional socialist values espoused by the Labour Party of his youth. He is aiming to recruit 50 candidates to send a message to Sir Keir Starmer – a man near the top of his enemies list – at this year’s general election.

    But, in the meantime his return to the House of Commons, for however long it lasts, will be nothing if not riveting.

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