Who’s Even Listening To George Galloway Anymore?
Students seem to be the only audience the MP has left
George Galloway’s appearance at UCLU Debating Society last night showed just how irrelevant the Bradford West MP has become.
“It’s the people you don’t want on”, mused opposition speaker David Wardrop in his summary speech at last night’s debate on global security, “that mess up the whole thing”. Wardrop was referring to membership of the UN Security Council, but may as well have been talking about UCLU Women’s Officer Beth Sutton, who made a combative, angry and impassioned cameo at the beginning of yesterday evening’s proceedings.
Her protest, justified or not, and the general performance of the MP she was heckling, ended up telling its audience a lot more about where George Galloway’s career is going than the state of the UN Security Council.
The Bradford West MP’s attempt at a steely and impassive response to cries of ‘rape apologist’ and ‘scumbag’, which, among other terms of endearment, kicked things off, instead left Galloway looking lonely, withdrawn and every one of his 59 years. That’s opposed to what UCLU Debating might have expected when they booked him, which was probably a mixture of golf-club populism, Technicolor oratory and a cat impersonation or two. Indeed, the politician had little to offer beyond a vague and largely unsubstantiated monologue on the Arab-Israeli conflict delivered in a weird syncopated rhythm, as if he was trying to get his George Formby on. There was no passion; none of the panache, wit or bluster that even those who were happy to admit that they couldn’t stand him had come to see.
Here was a greying crooner, treated with a weird, curious reverence by his audience, proving that he couldn’t sing anymore. He did some unplugged versions of our old favourites, the ones about Blair and Iraq and illegal settlements in the Palestinian territory – without any style to mask their lack of substance.
The situation in the Middle East is appalling and needlessly brutal. Complaining that the UN Security Council is a hangover from the end of WWII (without recognising the irony of your fedora) to an audience of student debaters isn’t a right or noble step to take if you take yourself seriously. Innocent people on both sides are dying, and both sides need strong voices. George Galloway, a parody of himself, should not be one of them.
My mum saw Gary Glitter perform at Newcastle University in the late eighties, and explained it to me by saying that if you were playing to students that you were either on your way up, or washed up. Galloway is unlikely to get a Mercury Prize nomination anytime soon. Last night proved that he is a man of political inconsequence, abusing his captive audience in Bradford to mount a nostalgia tour for an ego that was once relevant. The sad truth is that, save for some of the sadder corners of the disaffected left, students are the only audience that will still give Galloway the responses that he needs: misplaced admiration and angry pariah-bashing.
Beth Sutton meant what she said and her protest wasn’t entirely without justification, but need she have bothered? If she and UCLU had cancelled the event, which was entirely within their power, Galloway would have been denied the oxygen of publicity that makes misguided people sympathise with him and demand that his tired and incendiary rhetoric be heard. In any case, he added little to a pedestrian debate. It was telling that many of the floor speakers were dedicated debaters anyway, and a boring Galloway got next to nobody excited.
Despite his lacklustre performance in debate, events like last night’s do nothing but further mythicise Galloway as a lone renegade, a straight talking anti-establishment firebrand, rather than further marginalising him for what he is. And he is a bad MP desperately clawing at the arse end of his career.