Given his colossal ego, z-list celebrity status and continuing admiration of Stalinist politics, it is hard to imagine a better candidate for biography than George Galloway. However, those who deduce from David Morley’s chosen title, “Gorgeous George”, that the book is irreverent or cutting will be greatly disappointed.
Yes, it is funny to think of the Galloway we all know and love as the twinkle-eyed young man who dreamt of being Foreign Secretary and devoted his youth to organising Dundee Labour Party (having failed to get elected to the heady heights of local councillor). But the scores of pages about the personalities, intrigues and business ventures of Labour in Dundee during the ‘70s and ‘80s are of scant interest to anyone serious about politics.
Indeed, Morley clearly has minimal understanding of socialist ideas and groups- he describes Galloway as a “Marxist” and “working class hero” (as with Fidel Castro), whereas in his lexicon “Trotskyites” are not “Marxists”. This bold allegation is never explained, nor his flat denial that Galloway is a Stalinist. But the most risible case in point comes where Morley tells us that the Workers’ Revolutionary Party - who received over £1 million in payments from Colonel Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein in exchange for fingering communists in the Middle East – “are so extreme in their revolutionary views that even members of the left describe them as ‘left-wing loonies’.
Neither is the writer interested in Galloway’s own failure to join the Socialist Campaign Group while a Labour MP, or own claim to be “not as left wing as you might think”, both severe indictments of his socialist credentials. Morley ignores Galloway’s continuing dismay at the collapse of the monstrous USSR regime, “the saddest day of my life”.
Morley does however defend Galloway’s 1994 audience with Saddam Hussein, in which he told the Iraqi tyrant “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability”. He swallows Galloway’s claim that this address was intended to the whole Iraqi nation – an analysis which jars somewhat with the fact that in the same meeting Galloway gave the dictator a sickly tribute about meeting Palestinians who had named their sons ‘Saddam’. Even if Galloway were “saluting” all Iraqis, the fact that he would say this to the man who monopolised the country’s political life and butchered his opponents might seem like rather a slap in the face for Iraqi socialists.
Much of the biography is a narrative on Gorgeous George’s alleged financial impropriety – reporting legal wranglings of little note but drawing no conclusions – and does not ask why a supposed “workers’ representative” would refuse to draw only a workers’ wage. Morley does devote some pages to the Respect popular front but ignores the many critics – leftist or otherwise - of this project. This despite his interview with SWP leader John Rees, who makes a clear-as-mud case for workers’ management:
“It might be that if you ask about renationalisation you get one answer, but if you ask about continued privatisation you get a very different one, and certainly it isn’t hard to imagine that two steps down the road people may say: ‘Well, if privatisation isn’t working then we have to discuss public provision in some form.’ Neither they nor we want to have the old nationalised industries return, but we do want democratic public provision of essential services, and I would say there is a very, very large constituency for that view.”
And while Galloway’s pretentious mannerisms - Cuban cigars; wearing a coat over his shoulders with his arms out of the sleeves, like a mafia don, ready for a lackey to remove it for him; his pompous sloganeering about Saddam Hussein and Hezbollah – are fine targets for comedy, Morley steers well clear of farce. He instead peppers the book with his own one liners;
“Singers of the stature of Tony Christie had played [at the Labour Club], though whether he knew that some of the gate money was going to the Labour Party, or cared if it might have been on its way to Amarillo, we’ll never know”.
Morley is very much telling Galloway’s side of the story. Even though he is a “maverick”, a “firebrand”, and is “controversial”, Galloway is presented as principled and essentially benign, not like the yes-men in Cabinet who he might have emulated if he were a careerist. Yet Galloway has never been other than a politician, and his politics are far from socialist. He is a carbuncle on the image of the left, and the SWP/Respect would do well to break with him politically.