A few thoughts on Galloway’s victory in Bethnal Green & Bow, below the fold. More detailed psephological analysis, including how me and Martin Baxter got it so wrong tomorrow, but somehow the BG&B result seemed more important to me than the rest of the election.
Yes yes yes and how the betting markets got it so right, are you bloody happy now James.
The thing one needs to understand about George Galloway is that his nickname, “Gorgeous George” is, as they say on the left, no coincidence. If you don’t know who the original “Gorgeous George” was, have a look at this potted bio. If you’re interested, have a look through this excerpt from Roland Barthes “Mythologies” on the subject of professional wrestling, for a bit of context.
Thanks, welcome back. That’s the whole point of Gorgeous George. He’s in many ways an utterly reprehensible character; friend of dictators, self-aggrandising, supporter of a lifestyle seemingly out of proportion to his income, frequenter of the libel courts, stirrer of racial tensions, etc etc. But, he does put on a hell of a show, and that’s why he won in Bethnal Green.
The Bangladeshis and poor whites who live in that area (it’s just around the corner from a bank I used to work in so I know it a little bit) are not daft. They work in the garment trade, an industry which is not notorious for its fools. They must be aware of the plain facts; that Oona King was a very hard-working constituency MP, that she was not unsympathetic to issues that concerned Muslims (her main claim to fame before the election campaign blew up was that she had compared Palestinian living conditions to the Warsaw Ghetto and called for a boycott of Israel) and that Galloway is going to spend most of his time as MP for Bethnal Green and Bow doing what he spent most of his time doing as MP for Glasgow Kelvin; wandering round the country, making speeches to extreme-left audiences and not showing up in the House of Commons. The major effect of electing Galloway over King on the constituents will be that in general, they will have to put up with somewhat worse housing conditions over the next four years, and that the task of dealing with the labyrinth of local government bureaucracy which blights their lives will be that much more difficult as they will not get their local MP’s involvement on anything like as timely or systematic a basis.
And yet still they voted for him. Why? To ask the question is either to answer it, or to admit that you have no real understanding of the nature of working class politics in the UK. They voted for Gorgeous George for the same reason that the Glaswegians voted for him again and again, with ever-increasing majorities. Because he puts on a bloody good show, and more importantly, because he gets right up in the faces of the people at the top of the tree.
You see, it’s entirely laudable and sensible to vote for someone who will spend morning noon and night tirelessly plodding away making incremental gains on your behalf and trying to smooth over one or two of the little inconveniences that make life slightly, but tangibly and materially, more difficult to live. The sensible thing to do would be to continue to vote that way, and hope for gradual and marginal progress toward a better tomorrow for our grandchildren.
But that’s living small. Living small, in the sense of knuckling down and grinding away at a system which is based on a hierarchy that has you at the bottom of it, accepting your place in that hierarchy and beavering away at the task of making your position at the bottom of the pile as tolerable as possible. And I think that the main lesson from Michael Marmot’s work is that living small, over the long run, will kill you as sure as heart disease. In general, incremental improvements are the only way to a better future. But for the health of the soul today, sometimes you need to live large. And if the only way to live large is to vote for a George Galloway, a Derek Hatton or a James Michael Curley, then from time to time, then so be it. The purpose of professional wrestlers is to provide a spectacle of grotesque chaos while laughing in the face of the normal order of things, and the purpose of a certain kind of socialist politician is very similar. It’s not grown up, it’s not sensible and it’s not constructive, but it is exactly the kind of impulse on which any hope of a genuinely different society has to rest.
If the Bangladeshis of Bethnal Green & Bow want to chuck away eight years of New Labour in order to give a good old “eff off” to Tony Blair, then I say good luck to them. And furthermore, I say “bollocks” to anyone on the “decent left” who has the temerity to lecture the actually existing working class on what some imagined “decent working class” of the mind should be hoping and dreaming. Just as Galloway’s own nickname is not a coincidence, I’d suggest that the name of his party, “Respect” was not chosen by accident, and to claim that his election simply smacks of “communalism” isn’t, as far as I can see, showing a lot of it.
See, I can’t stand George Galloway; I’ve always despised the man. But that’s the whole point of Gorgeous George. You’re not meant to like him, any more than you’re meant to like Mick McManus, Giant Haystacks or Ravishing Rick Rude. But if Gorgeous George’s name is up on the marquee, then I’m not going to blame anyone else for going to see the wrestling show. And that’s why I cracked open the election bubbly to raise a glass to Gorgeous George’s victory; not for the sake of celebrating the victory of the only politician in the UK who I think genuinely deserves the label “pseudo-left”, but rather for the sake of celebrating that entirely laudable condition of the human spirit which his victory represents. A condition which might, indeed be summed up rather well with the three words “courage, strength and indefatigability”.