In 2003 George Galloway attracted love and hate in measure and when he dared to speak against Tony Blair's one man mission to war he was expelled from the Labour Party after 36 years. With the party in disaray Galloway maintains that we've lost that Labour party of the past and need create a new one and it's with this idea in place that meant that George Galloway is the Designer Magazine's Man Of The Year in the Best Of 2003 Issue. We caught up with George to talk about the highs and lows of a very eventful year.
Q: George, you're Man Of The Year in the Designer Magazine Best Of 2003 issue, with Tony Benn and Michael Moore close behind. You are to use in quotation marks "the voice of the opposition". Personally speaking you've faced such extremities of opinion your whole career, but none more so than this year.
A: It's been a very turbulent year. A year that's gone between leading a march of 2 million people and being smeared in a dirty tricks operation by various newspapers, some of which are making me a very rich man in the libel courts. It's been, you could say, a rollercoaster of a year.
Q: You've always attracted this extremity haven't you?
A: Yes. I think if you stand against the prevailing orthodoxy's which is what Dr Johnson said is "the grimmest dictatorship" then you inevitably risk controversy. But if the price of avoiding controversy is remaining silent about things you believe in or saying things that you don't believe in then that's not a price i'm prepared to pay.
Q: For many people the year 2003 will be remembered as the year the people made their voices heard louder than ever before and yet they still got walked over on.
A: I think there's an increasing dysfunction in British democracy. Fewer people than ever before are voting in elections, but more people than ever before are marching in demonstrations and coming to public meetings. I'm speaking at public meetings somewhere in Britain every night of the week including Saturdays and Sundays and there are hundreds at every meeting. It's not that people are apathetic or uninterested in politics, it's that they're uninterested in the mainstream political parties. I think that British politics is living in a bubble and there are millions of us outside getting ready to prick it.
Q: It doesn't seem that 2 years ago there was this level of support or attendance at public meetings.
A: No, that's right. I spoke on a bitterly cold night in Leeds a few days ago and there were over 300 people there. 3 years ago there would have been 50 or 60 people there. So I think that there's no doubt that that dysfunction is the biggest question in British politics, how do we get a democracy worthy of the name? It's my view that whole sections of the British population is locked out of politics because no-one in the mainstream political system is speaking for them. The Anti-War movement, the pensioners, the students, the Muslim community - nobody is speaking for them and yet they are millions!!!
Q: And then I guess people go to extreme left or extreme right organizations / parties for direction?
A: One of the dangers of that vacuum is that the foul attractions of fascist organizations like the BNP are given a free run on the streets. Well we intend to challenge that with our new Unity Coalition we've founded which seeks to unite all these forces that are locked out and give them a focus in the elections for Europe in June of next year (2004).
Q: If we could focus on something that Michael Moore wrote in the "Dude, Where's My Country?" book. He stated that he feels Tony Blair was responsible for the war as George Bush is an idiot and Blair is fairly intelligent man. Would you agree with that?
A: I do agree with that. I think the idea that Blair is Bush's poodle is fundamentally wrong. In fact Blair is a cold criminal, the co-head of the disaster which that they have dragged us into and because he's a smarter and better educated man that makes his contribution even worse.
Q: Words that have been used to describe Blair many times before by many different people - Nazi, murderer, dictator. Do you feel these are appropriate descriptions?
A: Not Nazi because that's a very specific charge and shouldn't be loosely used, but I certainly think he's a criminal and a liar. And the fact that he's a liar is now indisputable, he's been caught out lying by the Hutton Enquiry and it's clear that he lied about the reasons for the war. He's either a fool or naive. Fool or naive he's not fit to be the leader of Britain!!!
Q: As someone of my age, 25, I grew up with my parents staunch Labour supporters and when the Election was won we were all celebrating and then just a few months later we realized it wasn't going to be the big change we expected.
A: And reached it's nadir, although perhaps not the nadir perhaps there is worst to come, in David Blunkett's speech proposal yesterday to seize the children of asylum seekers as a kind of latter day King Herrod. If that's Labour then i'm a Dutch man. The truth is this is an Anti-Labour government, not a Labour government.
Q: And you'd stuck with the Labour party all your life until you'd been expelled.
A: 36 years. One always felt it would be wrong to walk away and leave these highjackers in control, but that decision was made for me. Mr Blair wants free parliaments so much that he wants to export them abroad, but he doesn't want a free parliament at home. He wants free speech in Bagdad, but not at Westminster.
Q: The Labour Party is completely a dictatorship now isn't it?
A: He's completely in command. You saw the Labour Party Conference in Bournemouth - 7 minutes rapturous standing ovation tears rolling down their cheeks. In fact if Blair hadn't told them to sit down, they'd be standing yet.
Q: The State visit of Bush a few weeks ago with millions of pounds spend and whole Towns closed down awaiting his arrival. What do you believe Blair received for his special friendship?
A: Well nothing and more importantly neither have the British people. Not the steel workers who lost their jobs because of the Steel tariffs, not the parents of the nine detainees held in what the Lord Staines said yesterday was flagrant denial of justice in Guantanamo Bay, not the Anti-War movement whose opposition to the war was danced upon by these two war criminals in London, sadly not the Queen who had more than enough on her plate already without being visited by the Toxic Texan.
I think that whilst we have no problem with a special relationship between the British and American peoples, we do have that. We just don't want this special relationship which is the kind of special relationship that Ms Lewinsky had with the former president...unequal, unedifying, undignified and with one party constantly on their knees.
Q: And it's a friendship that had placed the whole world against the UK?
A: Indeed. Mr Blair has put us in the front ranks of the hated.
Q: For young people we've got a President who stole the election, a Prime Minister who changed the face of the Labour Party. It's an incredibly bleak time for young people today.
A: In a way, but I think that young people are in the movement we've built in overwhelming numbers. School students walking out of school despite threats of discipline, the number of young people at public meetings is enormous and the overwhelming profile of the demonstration against Bush was young. I don't think young people are opting out of politics, I think they're just opting out of the mainstream political system. So we have to build an alternative and that's what were trying to do.
Q: When you were younger you had heroes. You've still got pictures of Lennon and Che Guevera on your office walls. There's a sense that to a certain extent young people don't have any heroes. Would you agree?
A: I'm not sure about that. I think there was a period of about 10 years where ideology was a dirty word, but I think that the Anti-Globalisation Movement, the World Social Forum , the European Social Forum in places like Genoa and Paris last week and Brazil and elsewhere. Young people are finding their own channels to apply themselves politically, but what they don't have yet is representation in the political mainstream and that's what our unity coalitions hopes to offer.
I honestly feel things are changing. Lets take the student field for example. I was a speaker in meetings in the Seventies when students were, if you forgive the phrase, revolting and then they were revolting in a different way in the 90s. They were revolting because all they concentrated on was drink and parties. But I think that they're coming back now.
Q: Like Tony Benn, who is also interviewed this week, you're one of the few people who has actually met Saddam Hussein. Tell us about when you met him?
A: I met him twice, the same number of times that Donald Rumsfeld met him. The difference was that Rumsfeld was there to sell him guns and give him maps so that he could target the guns better. I met him the same number of times trying to avoid war and sanctions and I certainly think that that was right to do. Anybody looking at Iraq today has to in their heart at least, even if they're not prepared to say so openly, realize that at the very least this has been a monumental blunder.
Q: What did you think after meeting him? Did you impressions change at all?
A: I thought the same afterwards as I did before, that he was a brutal dictator. But the Iraqi people are the only people qualified to choose their leaders. The last people in the world qualified to choose their leaders are the British and American imperial forces who have invaded their country and now seek to employ puppet leaders, stooges, to govern the country in the interests of America and Israel.
Q: Muslims living him Britain have definitely had their opinions changed by this whole debacle.
A: I think that 2 million British Muslims will be amongst our strongest supporters in the elections next June. I feel that they have loyally supported the Labour party and look what they have had in return - scapegoating, smears, questions about their loyalty, questions about their attitude to terrorism and the mass bombing and murder of their co-religionists elsewhere.
Q: And all this has been happening whilst the working classes are going to be starved of an education with the plans to raise the cost of tuition fees.
A: The Orwellian double speak of all this is breath taking. In the name of what the government calls access and fairness, they are going to place a £3000 albatross around the necks of people going to our best universities. If that's not a lockout of the ordinary people of the country from the temples of education I don't know what it is. Already students are leaving university and colleges with debts of between £15,000 and £20,000 worth of debt and this is going to make it worse. This from a cabinet where everyone of whom got a free education at one of our top universities and got a grant for doing so.
Q: Do you believe the Labour Party can get it back to what it used to mean?
A: I don't believe there are enough good people left in the Labour Party and I don't think the democratic space for them exists for them to do so even if there were. I think we've lost that Labour party and we need to make a different one. Blair has a messianic wish to pull out his sword and fight everybody at home and abroad. And it's going to lead the Labour Party to disaster. The Queens speech yesterday alienated 3/4's of the country and this 18 months before a general election. There's kind of a madness about it. It's like the charge of the light brigade - guns to the left of me, guns to the right, on and on and ride the gun at 600.
Iraq is the Elephant in the corner of the room that Mr Blair doesn't want to mention and it's not going to go away. I said that this would be the political death of Mr Blair before the war and it's written all over his face. More over I think it will be the death of George Bush and Berlusconi and Aznar - the four main war leaders will all be out by the end of 2004.
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