When George Galloway dropped his ban hammer it left me so badly shaken that my socks fell down.
I’m not saying that it was George who blocked me from reading his Twitter feed and, in truth, the elastic had been going in my black Slazengers for quite some time. Yet the reality of the situation amounted to the same: George or somebody close enough to sniff the Galloway cologne (juniper and sheepdip) had decided that I would no longer be able to read his latest tweets. It was like being savaged by a moist paper towelette.
I first learned of my ban last week when I went to see if Galloway could trump his withering response to the news that Jeremy Corbyn was giving MPs a free vote on the question of bombing Syria:
I am sorry to say @JeremyCorbyn4PM has made a fateful tactical strategical and moral error of grave magnitude.
— George Galloway (@georgegalloway) November 30, 2015
It is, I think you’ll agree, magisterial stuff, though also, of course, utterly wrong. Corbyn’s ‘moral error’ was his giving MPs the right to vote on a matter that goes to the very essence of what it means to be an MP. The ultimate power the electorate gives Members of Parliament is the right to send troops into war in the name of defending the homeland. And when it’s a question of war, free votes matter more than political strategy. What greater moral error could there be other than whipping people one way or the other about an issue that might result in the deaths of citizens either abroad or at home?
Whether they voted for or against the bombing of Syria, MPs would have to live with the knowledge that their decisions caused people to lose their lives. These are issues for which MPs rightly earn their pay. They should vote on their principles and never ask others to die for a cause in which they don’t themselves believe. It would be no surprise if George snorted at that. Being a contrarian is why so many people love him and I say ‘love’ when I of course mean ‘have occasion to revile, lampoon, or largely ignore’. About the same time I discovered that my account had been blocked, the lower jaw of former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was descending so rapidly towards the floor that it probably cracked a toe:
It turns out that there are quite a few people in this ever growing community of outcasts. Our only crime is tweeting anything that goes against the Galloway orthodoxy. George, it seems, prefers Middle Eastern style democracies than the flawed version we have here at home, plagued by opinions, debate, and all that pesky cross pollination between differing points of view.
Yet there is a serious point here we should not overlook. Galloway is a firebrand. He’s one of the best in the business of issuing verbal blows and, sometimes, the lower the blow the better. His debate with Christopher Hitchens before the Iraq War is still worth hunting down on Youtube and, in fairness to Galloway, his instincts about the lasting effects of the Iraq War were probably more correct than were Hitchens’ own. Hitchens perhaps believed in people’s angels, Galloway more in tune with their devils. As evidence, I would offer the final words in Hitchens’ 2003 Vanity Fair article ‘A Liberating Experience’:
Iraq cannot go back to Ba’athaism. It is incredibly unlikely to opt for an Islamic theocracy, given a state where no faith or faction has absolute predominance. It is too rich, actually and potentially, to collapse into penury. And it is emerging from a period of nightmarish rule to which anything would be preferable. So dare to repeat, in spite of everything, the breathless question: What if it works?
We are still, I suppose, waiting to see if works but, on reflection, this was a poor reading of a country full of men with bad motives. It’s why it’s so regrettable that Hitchens never had chance to revise his views and explain the cult of Daesh. His death on 15th December 2011 produced from Galloway a sustained piece of vitriol which I would commend had it not come just four days later on the 19th. Vitriol, as Hitchens often demonstrated with gusto, has its place and it would be hypocritical to deny Galloway his chance to indulge his own talents for the black stuff. I offer the opinion that even Hitchens himself would have smiled wryly at the line: ‘Hitchens was the only-known case of a butterfly changing back into a slug.’
I write this to make it clear that I have no objections to dark belches of political rhetoric. Even Galloway’s critics can (and perhaps should) acknowledge that he has been correct once or twice. I will go further and suspect that Galloway is correct more times than his critics would claim, less often than his supporters would have us believe. I’ll leave it to you to decide if he’s striking above or below the average for a stopped clock.
I also concede that, as an orator, at least, the fighter in the red corner has few equals in the modern political game. He has that deliberately slow style that requires huge confidence and bigger ego such that he could shout his way through a brick wall. He knows when to inject passion into words, so they become verbal punches. He also prepares well and has a standard inventory of memorable phrases to which he continually adds new zingers. Listening to Galloway, you can usually sense the approach of a new bon mot. Here it comes, here it comes, here it… And then it lands like a heavyweight landing a punch so lumbering that you’d have to be an equally lumbering heavyweight not to dodge it. And that, I think, is the Galloway secret.
We are not meant to dodge his blows. We are meant to welcome them like a masochist enjoys the first slap. George wraps his fist in leather but expects to feel nothing back. That is not what he is paid to do. He is not in the political game to debate but to leave a mark, a welt, a bruise. In George’s world, people support him without question. We are meant to supplicate ourselves before his broad brimmed wisdom. This is Gandalf the Grey who plunged into the abyss of Khazad-dûm, landed on his head and returned as Gandalf the Black, with a voice like a backfiring drain.
It explains his willingness to block dissenting voices because, you should understand, to block a Twitter account doesn’t just hide what that person writes about you but prevents them reading what you yourself say. In the protocols of social media, the ‘block’ is the ultimate form of censorship and it is only Galloway I know who uses it as widely and as indiscriminately.
“Of course in this country,” he once said of America, “there is freedom of speech but it cannot be an unlimited freedom of speech and other freedoms must trump it, including the freedom not to be terrorised in your own home, not to have your prophet insulted, your religion insulted.”
There, in one ounce of breath, he succinctly expressed the whole problem. And, as usual, he chose the wrong side; the side of dictatorship, authoritarianism, the censorious fatwa, the side of Press TV working under the cloak of the Iranian state.
As we approach the anniversary of Hitchens’ death, I suggest you follow perhaps his fiercest rival on Twitter and say something that is sure to annoy him. Join our happy throng of ‘blocked by Galloway’. Ask him if he believes in debate, democracy, and hearing the occasional answer. Or are we just meant to sit and be servile to a voice so warm and beguiling but rarely raised in defence of a true or meaningful freedom?