One of the most interesting aspects of George Galloway’s by-election victory in Bradford last week has been the wholesale gnashing of teeth on the part of the London-based commentariat, who, in the process of trying and failing miserably to get to grips with the result and its whys and wherefores, have endured paroxysms of agony. From the asinine and embarrassing TV interviews conducted with Galloway in the immediate aftermath by Sky’s Adam Boulton and Channel 4’s Cathy Neuman, to a plethora of newspaper columns and blogs ranging from the absurd ramblings of perennial Blairite stooge, the unearthly John Rentoul writing in the Independent, to the excreta of the ever-rabid Melanie Phillips in the Daily Mail, the subtext implicit in the reaction of the nation’s most prominent TV anchors and newspaper columnists, bag carriers for the right wing consensus that dominates the mainstream media, is that, to paraphrase Bertolt Brecht, the people of Bradford West, in voting for Respect, have lost the confidence of the government and therefore the government should dissolve them and appoint another one.
The virulent dislike of George Galloway by each of the aforementioned, and various others, has dripped from every syllable of every word spoken to and written about him since the election. But no one should be under any illusion. This hatred runs deeper than Galloway the man. It extends to his politics and the constituency he represents – downtrodden and demonised communities that dare raise their heads to challenge the status quo on its own terms and win. Within this group politicised Muslims come in for special treatment.
But this wholesale fear and hatred of the declassed and downtrodden in society is nothing new. In fact, it is a common thread running back throughout history, wherein elites and their vocal lackeys have met any stirring of society’s ‘lower orders’ with unmitigated vitriol and condemnation. Whether it was Edmund Burke excoriating the French masses for daring to rise up and make a revolution in 1789 with his warning that “the tyranny of a multitude is a multiplied tyranny”; or whether it was the hatred of the elites towards the Petroleuses of the Paris Commune or the Chartists in this country, not to mention the abject horror which greeted the Russian Revolution, the Establishment and its bag carriers in the media have never failed to meet the politicisation and/or rebellion of the poor and alienated in society with anything other than revulsion.
Only last year we had the near universal outpouring of shock and indignation over the riots, mirrored in prison sentences that left no doubt who makes the laws and in whose interests they are made. Now, with Galloway successful in providing a political and democratic conduit through which the same demographic can register its refusal to remain ignored and unrepresented on the margins of society, you would think he’d just committed a heinous crime.
How many other politicians can you think of whose success at the polls would be met with the avalanche of negative column inches that his has these past few days? Sectarian, demagogue, self-serving, maverick, opportunist, populist, dangerous, divisive, dishonest, suspicious, colourful – these are the adjectives that have been attached to him in the immediate aftermath of one the most emphatic by-election results in electoral history.
This of course won’t come as a surprise to those on the left. But when the vitriol emanates from commentator who is identified as being part of the left, the broad left that is, alarm bells should start ringing.
Mehdi Hasan is political editor of the New Statesman magazine, a publication which consistently succeeds in making left wing politics and progressive ideas sound about as exciting as non league football in January. Regardless, Mehdi, recipient of the Oxbridge education required of the nation’s most prized opinion formers, has been able to establish himself as one of the select few voices of the left deemed acceptable by the mainstream – in other words completely non-threatening and politically benign. But to judge by his analysis of Galloway’s by-election victory, it is hard to resist the conclusion that he’s spent too many editions as a guest on Question Time sitting next to the aforementioned right wing hack, Melanie Phillips.
For example, in a blog piece that appeared on the NS website on March 30, he writes
“I am no fan of Galloway or his sectarian, far-left, self-serving politics…”
But worse is the piece he wrote for the Guardian, which appeared a couple of days later. In it he vents his anger this time not at George Galloway but the Muslims who voted for him.
“…why is it that most British Muslims get so excited and aroused by foreign affairs, yet seem so bored by and uninterested in domestic politics and the economy?
From the march against the Iraq war in 2003 to the demonstrations against the Danish cartoons in 2006 and the protests against Israel’s attack on Gaza in 2009, British Muslims have shown themselves perfectly willing to take to the streets to make their voices heard. But how many times have they, individually or collectively, joined rallies over issues that affect our daily lives: from the reforms of the NHS to the future of local schools; from the lack of social housing to rising energy bills and train fares?”
This essentialising of an entire community in two paragraphs, hectoring them for in his view failing to integrate in a manner satisfactory to his own Oxbridge- polished sensibilities, is usually the narrative of the right.
Further on in the same piece, he writes
“Muslims do not lack for opponents or antagonists; those who want to portray us as foreign, alien, un-British, are growing in number. We should not be handing them a club with which to beat us. In fact, the best way of overcoming Islamophobia and suspicion is for British Muslims to broaden, not narrow, our political horizons, to get involved in our local communities, to show our fellow citizens that we care not just about events in Palestine and Pakistan, but Portsmouth and Paisley too.
How can Muslims complain about our rights, our freedoms, our collective future, if we aren’t engaged in the political process across the board as active British citizens? We have an obligation, as Britons and as Muslims, to fully participate in local and national debates and not to stand idly by.”
Writing here as a Muslim, while blaming the victims of Islamophobia for Islamophobia, Hasan manages to combine moral cowardice with contempt towards his less domesticated co-religionists for their, erm, backward antiwar politics? His inability to understand that Bradford West was a by-election in which austerity stood front and centre alongside Britain’s participation in a dozen years of brutal and ever more costly wars in the Middle East, with Galloway making the all important link between the two, is a withering indictment of his political degeneration.
In time honoured fashion, he leaves the best till last.
“We have allowed ourselves to be defined only by foreign policy and, in particular, by events in the Middle East for far too long.”
Yes, Mehdi, how inconvenient that you find yourself spending more and more time between appetizer and dessert at the dinner parties you frequent in North London lamenting the inability of Muslims to just ‘get over it’ and learn to ‘know their place’.
Fortunately the overwhelming majority within the Muslim community of Bradford West, along with the thousands of non-Muslims who voted Respect last week, know better. Indeed, in inverse proportion to the horrified reaction of a reactionary media, whose ranks it has to be said Mehdi Hasan comes close to joining with his own shoddy analysis, the people of Bradford West have succeeded in putting to the sword the idea that there is no alternative.