The weapon of law

There was no debate on Iraq for a strangely haggard-looking George Galloway to sing his usual song to on Question Time tonight but I am sure he will think he came out of the programme pretty well with ample opportunity provided for his populist demagogary.

I’ve noted a few times how the media tend to let the anti-war movement define their own role and leave them unquestioned, describing Stalinists and SWPers as ‘peace activists’, and it was the same with Galloway’s presence on the BBC’s premier political programme.

The Labour, Liberal Democrat and Conservative representatives all faced scrutiny of their parties positions and actions during the programme. Not once did Galloway face a single question about RESPECT’s policies or organisation.

Its not a question of bias, as some would claim, but more a neglect of duty due to lower interest in his party. Although I find it hard to believe that the representative of the UK Independence Party will get through next week’s programme without a single challenge to his party’s position.

Oddly, Galloway’s most forceful moment in terms of his undoubted rhetorical skills, was on the Terri Schiavo tragedy. It was odd because Galloway’s position was absolutely identical to that of George Bush. That doesn’t automatically make it wrong of course although it would have been interesting to see how he would have reacted to an observation that he shares the views of his fellow Christian.

There was one moment of tension in the programme however. It came when there was a discussion of Tory MP Howard Flight’s sacking. Galloway, eager for a cheap laugh, said that he sympathised with Flight as he too had been expelled from his party and that “Comrade Flight” was welcome to apply for membership of RESPECT. Ho-ho.

But Margaret Hodge broke the joviality when she challenged Galloway’s description of his ‘martyrdom’ by offering the audience the reality of why he had been expelled, which of course has nothing to do with his opposition to the war, a position he shared and shares with scores of Labour MP’s.

Hodge had barely begun her explanation when an agitated Galloway intervened and warned that “I hope you aren’t going to libel me” and rather predictably used the presence of a Telegraph journalist next to him to bring up, yet again, his successful suit against the newspaper.

To her credit, an otherwise unimpressive Hodge wasn’t intimidated and outlined exactly why Galloway had been expelled from the party. To which the Scotsman responded with melodrama, announcing: “You have just libelled me. You have libelled me on national television”. Dimbleby, rather embarassed by the spectacle quickly changed the subject.

Of course Hodge was absolutely correct. The big lie of the Respect leader, repeated far too often in the media, is that he was sacked for his ‘brave stance’ on the war. In fact this report from the Guardian outlines exactly why he was expelled and the hundred or so other Labour rebels were not.

It was clear from Galloway’s intervention that he wanted to stop the truth getting out on national television but Hodge stood her ground. Nonetheless his outburst at the end of the segment will have served to con some into believing that Hodge’s words were an outragous slur.

Thankfully Galloway is not in a position to silence people in the way of the dictators he so admires. Unlike his “hero” Fidel Castro he can’t lock up his critics.

But nonetheless he uses the threat of legal action to intimidate and to make his opponents and the media wary of uttering any criticism of him – and it clearly works.

Like much of Galloway’s routine, it is an old trick. “Marxism teaches the necessities of using law as one of the means of the struggle”.