sassa Posted September 16 Report Share Posted September 16 Saddam and me He's Saddam Hussein's sole friend in Westminster, believes the collapse of the Soviet Union was a tragedy and thinks his party has been hijacked. Doesn't it ever get lonely being George Galloway? Simon Hattenstone Monday September 16, 2002The Guardian George Galloway pulls up a chair, and hitches up his very smart trousers. He's wearing a fresh suntan, having just returned from a holiday in Portugal. Galloway is never seen without a tan. Galloway, also known as Gorgeous George, is beautifully coordinated. The pale blue eyes match the pale blue shirt and suit. He sits confidently, thighs splayed, his checked tie hanging long and suggestive between them. In recent years, the Labour MP for Glasgow Kelvin has become Britain's champion of the Arab world. Some regard him as a thorn in the government's side, others dismiss him as a laughing stock, discredited as an anti-war voice by his readiness to cosy up to Saddam. As you read this, he should have arrived in Iraq with a handful of journalists on his latest mission to convince the world that Iraqis are human beings too. Last month he also went out to meet Saddam in Iraq, and he wrote up the interview for the Mail on Sunday. He revealed how Saddam had offered him Quality Street chocolates, told him how much he admired British buses. He also said how shy and retiring the Iraqi dictator was. The account may have been widely ridiculed, but Galloway is probably the only British politician who would be granted such an audience. Why didn't he accept one of Saddam's chocolates? "I never eat sweets, my dear. Never." In his article, Galloway also related how Saddam commented that he had lost weight since their last encounter a few years ago. Galloway smiles when I mention it. "He didn't have a chocolate either, which is interesting. But everyone else wolfed them down, so I got the impression that the tin doesn't get brought out all that often." The British public may have been astonished that the Iraqis were scoffing Quality Street, but Galloway says that just reflects our ignorance. "Tariq Aziz [iraq's deputy prime minister] puts HP sauce on every dinner. There's HP sauce every time you sit down with him. That's one of the ironies of the whole thing. When I was demonstrating outside the Iraqi embassy against the regime, British politicians and businessmen were inside doing business - trade and arms deals. Iraq is the most Anglophile of all the Arab countries with their HP sauce, their Quality Street, their red London buses and three-pin plugs." Galloway is quick to remind you that he, and his comrades on the left, were among the first to condemn Saddam's human rights record, even if the chief motive was that the country had become a virulently anti-communist puppet of America. Until 1991, Iraq was the only Arab country he'd not visited. "I wouldn't have been allowed in. I was a known opponent of the Iraqi regime because I was with the left, and the communists in Iraq who were shattered and sent into orbit in the late 70s." He says his political position is no different now than it was then; that while there are so many politicians marching across the ideological spectrum without explanation, he has stayed put. What is that position? "I am on the anti-imperialist left." The Stalinist left? "I wouldn't define it that way because of the pejoratives loaded around it; that would be making a rod for your own back. If you are asking did I support the Soviet Union, yes I did. Yes, I did support the Soviet Union, and I think the disappearance of the Soviet Union is the biggest catastrophe of my life. If there was a Soviet Union today, we would not be having this conversation about plunging into a new war in the Middle East, and the US would not be rampaging around the globe." I tell him how much I like his suit. He looks pleased, and thanks me. I ask him what make it is. He shows me the label to the jacket - Kenzo. Is that a designer label? "It's famous, but not top of the label." I later discover that you can't get much more "top of the label" than Kenzo. Galloway is known for his suits, for his fat cigars and expensive cars. And the money from the Mail helps him enjoy his lifestyle. Even your friends say you're on the vain side, I say. "Well if that means do I take care to look my best before I leave the house in the morning, if that's vanity, then I'm guilty of it." He says his father, God rest him, was the same, and what's wrong with a little self-respect? His friends also accept that he is unusually accident-prone. Trouble has followed him most places he has gone. The classic case was at War on Want, which he raised from an unknown, impecunious outfit to being a major charity. At the same time, he was accused of fiddling his expenses and philandering. While an independent auditor cleared him of dishonesty, he admitted to coming away from a business trip to Greece with "carnal knowledge" of more than one woman, despite being married at the time. That was when he earned the soubriquet Gorgeous George. Since 1991 he has lived with Amineh Abu-Zayyad, a Palestinian scientist. Meanwhile, many of his enemies admit that he is smart, one of the most eloquent speech-makers in the commons, and charming. Do people still call him Gorgeous George? "No. Formerly. The artist formerly known as Gorgeous George." So what happened to GG? "Too old now, mate. Too old," he says with a mix of regret and relief. Does he think the name did for him as a serious politician? "It's better than being called Ugly George. No, I never considered myself gorgeous. But I don't think I ever looked like a traditional politician. I never dressed in the way your traditional politician dressed and I don't live a sackcloth and ashes life. So I think I was always slightly unusual." He says that people are desperate for politicians with a bit of life to them, and that is why Ken Livingstone triumphed as London's mayor. Doesn't he feel out of place in the Labour party? Well, he says, he is less isolated than he was. "I certainly feel I have far more friends in the Labour party than I had four or five years ago. Basically the Labour party was hijacked. It was one of the most successful hijackings in political history, but I believe the passengers are taking back control of the plane." Just look at the numbers who are anti-war, who are coming over to his side, who are telling him he was right all along, he says. Perhaps. But what was he doing in the Labour party in the first place? Well, he says, Labour was a broad church, and he loved the language and rituals of the Labour movement. "I was a very close friend of John Smith who had always been on the right of the party and I'd always been on the left, yet we were close friends. I think that was because we were both Labour people." He tells me of the time he returned from Iraq in 1994 to an unsurprising carpeting from the whips having told Saddam "Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability." Galloway has always claimed he was addressing the Iraqi public rather than the leader, and that it was most infelicitous to use "you" instead of "youse". Whatever, he was sitting alone in the members' tearoom, when Smith walked in. "John came into the room clutching his tray, picking his things. All the bright young things were sitting upright hoping that he would come and sit beside them. I, because I was slightly embarrassed by the row and upset if I'd upset him, put my head in the Evening Standard hoping that he would go past me and sit with someone else. Of all the people in the tearoom, in the epicentre of this row, the day after the bollocking, John Smith came down and sat opposite me to the evident dismay of the other suitors, and proceeded to sit with me for an hour, which ended with tears running down both our cheeks and laughter as Smith went through, for the umpteenth time, his court circuit stories. And he didn't even - I swear to you on my my child's life - he did not even mention the row which had transfixed the media." So what point was Smith making by not mentioning it? "Blood is thicker than water." He says he feels rage - a word he likes - at the way Smith has been airbrushed out of Labour history. "Our headquarters were called John Smith house. No longer. Then we moved to Millbank and there was a John Smith suite in Millbank and now we've moved again and there's not even a John Smith chair. And it's openly stated now by Mandelson and others that we lost the 1992 election because of John Smith, and that we would not have won the 1997 election had John Smith not died. Now that's first a perversion of history, and second a great insult to his memory, and to those who loved him. If John Smith had lived, we would now be in the fifth year of a Labour government. That is the difference." Sure, he says, they would certainly have their rows as they always did, but that's politics. "There would be disagreements within a family whereas the people running New Labour have nothing to do with our family. They are complete strangers. They are here today, and will be gone tomorrow." He accepts that there is no way back with Blair. I ask him whether he's ever been tempted to toe the line. Years ago, he was regarded as a future cabinet member. He smiles, and tells me about his dad, an old-fashioned trade unionist, somewhat to the right of him. "Even my father said to me, 'Why don't you hide your views, then one day when you're up there you can surprise everybody by pulling your views out of the hat like a rabbit?'" He stops. "This is a foolish analysis of politics," he says sharply. "What is the point of a political life if it's based on a lie?" Anyway, he says, he's only 48, younger than Blair, not finished yet. We're looking at the photomontage on his wall. Heroes and family. John Lennon sits at a piano wearing his "People for peace" armband. What a man, he says. "Imagine is the socialist anthem. I believe in every word of it." We pass on to Che Guevara, whom he calls his ultimate hero. Why? "Because he sacrificed everything for the revolutionary cause, to liberate the world. And because he was a person with poetry in his soul." What's Churchill doing there, with his two-fingered salute - hardly your classic leftie icon? "I think Churchill was the British man of the millennium because without him we would have been overrun by fascism." It takes Galloway back to war with Iraq. However much devastation Saddam wreaks on his people, he says, it will be be nothing compared to war. Yes, but surely Saddam isn't as cuddly as he made him out to be in his interview? "I could come back and conform to the stereotyping of dictators. I could have said he had a brutish handshake, but he didn't. I could have said that he was bombastic and loved the sound of his own voice, but that was not true. I believe in telling the truth as I find it. Which is not to say that he's not a brutal dictator. He is a brutal dictator." He wants to see his regime replaced by a democratically elected government. He says he would have loved to have used whatever influence he has to help Blair and Bush to a resolution, but he's convinced it's too late now. On the way out, I spot a letter on the wall that Harold Pinter sent him after he'd written an article lambasting the government. Dear George, Cracking article. Right behind you as you know. Fuck 'em, and you can tell that to the chief whip. Yours, Harold. He reads the last line aloud. "Fuck 'em, and you can tell that to the chief whip." And he laughs. Quote Link to comment Share on other sites More sharing options...
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