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Home > People

The Times They Are A-Changin'

George Galloway was expelled from the Labour party for opposing the war. Now, as he prepares to stand as an anti-war candidate for London in the European elections, TFT asks him about his new Respect Coalition, his views on Iraq, and why he crops up so frequently in the papers

2 April 2004

You were instrumental in the founding of the Respect Coalition, and you're standing as their London candidate in the European elections in June. How will the Coalition avoid falling apart through backbiting and schisms?

Obviously, it's something we're watchful for, but we are a coalition, not a party, so it's easier. No one is asked to abandon what they believe in, but they are asked to leave some things at the door. We calculate there are roughly 80 per cent of things upon which we can agree, and so far that is working. But the predilections of the British left are very well-known.

You're standing on an anti-war ticket. What do you think will happen next in Iraq?

Well, more of the same. We're in a swamp and we're going to sink deeper and deeper into it.

At what point do you think the US started to regard Saddam Hussein as a danger?

In 1989, at the Arab League summit at Amman in Jordan, when Saddam made a speech saying that if Israel attacked any Arab country, Iraq had the means to burn half of Israel. The US then decided Iraq had gotten too big for its boots. Of course, they had built up Iraq's power in the preceding eight years.

With a one-million-strong army, all mod cons, and the President making blood-curdling threats, Iraq moved from friend to foe. The US was waiting for the excuse to deal with Iraq, and Saddam very foolishly gave it to them with the illegal invasion of Kuwait in 1990.

Why do you think he did that?

All Iraqi politicians, from the monarchy in the 1930s onwards, regarded Kuwait as having been taken from them, so it wasn't surprising that an Iraqi leader had that ambition. But to act on it was madness.

Also, there was Iraq's debt at the end of the war. The loans needed to be repaid. Kuwait was over-producing oil to help drive down the price at a time when Iraq needed it high. This presented itself as an opportune moment to ‘take Kuwait back’, as Saddam would put it. It was an act of extraordinary madness. In any democracy, he would have paid for it with his political life, but of course, there was no democracy.

Was this the worst thing about the Ba'athist regime?

It was the double error - of gargantuan proportions - of invading Iran in 1980 and then invading Kuwait in 1990. Both of these were gigantic calamities, which were paid for by the people of Iran, the people of Kuwait and the people of Iraq.

Why do you think the charges against Katherine Gun were suddenly dropped?

The Government lie to Parliament, apparently routinely; they lie to the public on many many occasions; but the penalty for telling lies in a court is to go to prison. They didn't fancy that.

You've accused Jack Straw of co-signing Sheikh Ahmed's death warrant by pushing for the EU to classify Hamas as terrorists. What status should they have in the international community?

Hamas is a Palestinian national resistance movement, analogous to the organisations fighting for freedom in Kashmir.

The Christian Science Monitor reported that you were in Iraq's pay. But the documents from 1992 they'd found were forgeries. How did they get published?

It's a Pulitzer Prize-winning, internationally-renowned newspaper, so you assume that the quality of the fabrication was relatively high. It was only really the analysis of the age of the ink that comprehensively proved them to be forgeries. My complaint is that they should have made these checks before they published the story, not several months afterwards.

But they can't check the date of the ink on every document they see.

Oh, I think they can. If they're going to accuse an elected parliamentarian of taking $10m from the Iraqi regime, that's a pretty serious allegation. And they've paid very dearly in the courts and with their reputation for not having done these checks. I could produce a document right now implicating you in anything, but for someone to publish that, they have to have evidence.

When you mentioned that Bin Laden was once a client of Reagan and Thatcher, you were accused of being a conspiracy theorist. How would you distinguish...

Who has accused me of that?

It was in response to an article you wrote in the Scottish Mail on Sunday...

I'll do the search for that allegation myself. I'm an anti-conspiracy theorist. I'm the person who tells everyone else to stop indulging in conspiracy theories.

When Richard Littlejohn called you a "cocksucker", was this part of the general trend describing pro-Arab commentators as gay, or...

...He was just being rude, I think. He's rude to most people. I didn't lose any sleep over it. The Sun, as an organisation, is bitterly hostile to that which I stand for. I can tolerate abuse, but that was pretty near the bottom.

And why did Julie Burchill accuse you of stealing knickers?

Well, I don't know. It made me quite a bit richer, so I suppose I should almost be grateful, but I'd be grateful if people didn't base an attack on a lie.
I don't know if it came out of the fevered nether regions of Julie Burchill's mind or if someone misled her.

Who really stole the pants?

It was definitely Ron Brown. He was convicted of it.

Do you think your positive statements about Castro detract from your influence as a critic of the war?

You seem to assume that I care about the attacks on me. I really have to disabuse you of that. I don't even pause to wince. I'm too busy. I analyse things based on my 50 years of life, and more than 30 years of political life, and I tell people honestly what I think. That's why I'm standing in this election and we'll see how I do.

You know, I take Enoch Powell's view that for a political figure to complain about the press is like a ship's captain complaining about the sea. It's just there. It just has to be traversed as efficiently as possible. Where I draw the line is people telling lies about me.

I'm ready for the most base attacks, but I won't allow people to tell lies about me. I won't allow Julie Burchill to say I broke into somebody's house, trashed their flat and stole their knickers, when I didn't.

Finally, you're a big Bob Dylan fan. Any lines you've been singing to yourself in the last year?

I've been Tangled Up In Blue on Desolation Row, but The Times They Are A-Changin'.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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