It’s rare that an election result leaves you with a sense of giddy, disbelieving glee, but there it was in black and white. Galloway, George, Respect (George Galloway) Party, 37,007 votes. Walker, Sophie, Women’s Equality Party, 53,055 votes. Once you took second preferences into account, Walker and her newly formed feminist movement beat Galloway and his band of Islamists by almost 100,000 votes.
This result is so striking, and so perfect, because Galloway is one of those old-fashioned socialists whose attitudes towards gender equality are distinctly retrograde: it is the man’s job to further the revolutionary cause and the woman’s to provide dutiful comradely support. Indeed, while he may not be the only misogynist in British politics, he is certainly the most notorious. Famously, he claimed that what Julian Assange was accused of was not rape ‘as anyone with any sense can possibly recognise it’: it was merely ‘bad sexual etiquette’. ‘Not everybody needs to be asked prior to each insertion,’ he added, prompting the then leader of his Respect Party, Salma Yaqoob, to resign in disgust.
Then there was the vicious and viciously personal campaign he sanctioned against Naz Shah, the Labour candidate, in the Bradford West election in 2015: part of what Dawn Butler, chair of the women’s Parliamentary Labour Party, called his ‘ugly track record in opposing Labour women’.
The most important thing is not, however, that Galloway has been beaten by the feminists, but that he has been beaten full stop. Not just beaten: humiliated. He ended up in seventh place, with just 1.4 per cent of the vote, a result so crushing to his ego that he didn’t even bother to turn up for the count.
This turn of events should come as no surprise to Spectator readers. Back in January, I pointed out in this magazine that, while Galloway still had a formidable media and social media presence, he lacked even the basics of a successful campaign. Respect had no money, no membership, and no organisation. In the most recent accounts it filed, the party declared a grand total of £1,947.42 in assets, plus an unknown sum in an account it couldn’t access because the bank wouldn’t let it. Its registered headquarters had been turned into a tanning salon.
Galloway is in no danger of disappearing from public life. There are still unsavoury people who are prepared to pay him large sums to host their television programmes: during the last parliament, he raked in almost £400,000 from Russia Today, Iran’s Press TV and the Beirut-based Al-Mayadeen. Mainstream shows like Question Time will probably still book him too, because he’s a born performer, and a guaranteed source of drama.
But the lesson of London is that the approach he’s depended upon to date is no longer working. It was, to be fair, a brilliant strategy: he would find a Muslim-majority area with genuine and legitimate grievances – over the Iraq war, or the corruption of local political elites – and whip up those grievances with all his might. This won him stunning victories in Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005, and Bradford West in 2012.
The thing was that once Galloway was in power, the feeling would grow among his constituents that he cared rather more about the greater glory of George Galloway than their welfare – and that it was all very well making speeches about Kashmir and Palestine, but it would be nice if the local MP could do something about bin collection and leisure centres and other rather more mundane concerns. Triumph in one election was, in both instances, followed by disaster in the next.
And here’s where Galloway has a problem: he’s running out of Muslims. Or rather, he’s running out of Muslims who aren’t wise to his tricks.
His strategy in London was to persuade religious voters that Khan – despite being called, er, Sadiq Khan – wasn’t a proper Muslim, and to persuade left-wing voters that he wasn’t a proper Corbynite, either. Hence the tweets labelling Khan ‘a rancid traitor to his faith and to any conceivable definition of Labour’ and accusing him (in a line borrowed from Lenin) of supporting his party leader ‘as the rope does the hanging man’.
The problem was that Galloway’s former constituents in east London weren’t having any of it, and nor was anyone else. Gorgeous George may be like a virus, seeking out points of infection in the body politic – but those who are forced into long-term proximity tend to become inoculated against future outbreaks.
It wasn’t just the mayoral race. It was notable that the precise moment at which the tide swung in the battle between Vote Leave and the GO movement to be the official voice of the Brexit campaign was when Nigel Farage unveiled Galloway as the latter’s secret weapon: walkouts in the hall were matched by a widespread shudder among respectable Eurosceptics. Similarly, his tentative attempts to take over from the disgraced Lutfur Rahman as the face of Muslim sectarianism in Tower Hamlets were scotched by Rahman’s own supporters.
Galloway is, the Spectator reported, keeping his battlebus full of petrol. He may appear on various fringe Brexit platforms, or put on his armour of righteousness when the Chilcot Inquiry finally reports. He has talked up a bid to succeed Khan in as MP for Tooting, even though the seat’s demographics guarantee another humiliation. His comrades Ken Livingstone and Seumas Milne – claimed by Galloway as his ‘closest friend’ – would like him back in the Labour Party. But rather more members of the Parliamentary Labour Party would like him dead in a ditch, and have told Jeremy Corbyn so.
As long as there is publicity to be sought, George Galloway will be with us. But his humiliating, catastrophic, hilarious come-uppance this week shows that he’s no longer a political force: he’s a political joke. For a man so puffed up with self-regard, it is the cruellest of fates – and the most deserved.