x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

British cat with nine lives, George Galloway, slinks back into limelight

George Galloway has lurched from controversy to controversy over the years, and somehow emerged unscathed from far more damaging incidents.

Why George Galloway, the firebrand British politician, signed up for the reality television show Celebrity Big Brother in 2006 still continues to mystify most political commentators.

Perhaps it was because at the time the Cuban cigar-loving Scot was still coasting on a wave of popularity following his shock by-election victory in the east London constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow.

Possibly he believed the popular show would be the ideal forum to further promulgate his anti-capitalist views to a young and impressionable audience.

Unfortunately for Galloway, and much to the relish of the many enemies he'd cultivated over the years, it was not to be and his political diatribes were largely edited out by the show's producers.

Instead, the prevailing memory of his appearance on the show is a toe-curling one.

For one of the tasks undertaken by Big Brother housemates, he was asked to mimic a cat. And he did, purring gently and feigning lapping milk from a fellow contestant's cupped hands, much to the amusement of the British public.

He was first ridiculed for his antics and then criticised for ignoring the needs of his constituents by appearing on the show and Galloway ended up quietly seeing out his Parliamentary term, before standing down at the 2010 election. Many suggested that was that - the end of an infamous political career and an ignominious moment as a reality TV star.

Yet, last week Galloway returned to centre stage after romping to an emphatic triumph at the Bradford West by-election, appearing from nowhere to defeat the incumbent Labour Party with an astonishing majority for his independent Respect party.

"This is the most sensational victory in British by-election history," he bombastically declared in his acceptance speech, before proclaiming that his win heralded a "Bradford Spring".

Predictably, Galloway has copped a whole new barrage of flak from the British press, especially after he seemed bewildered as to which city he'd actually triumphed in, announcing on Twitter that he was: "Shattered but happy after Blackburn triumph."

As a man whose character has taken a constant knifing throughout his political career, this must have bounced easily off his teak-like hide. Galloway has lurched from controversy to controversy over the years, and somehow emerged unscathed from far more damaging incidents.

As well as his Celebrity Big Brother faux pas, allegations have included misappropriating funds from charities he's been involved with, being an ardent anti-Semite and of pandering to the likes of Saddam Hussein, Muammar Qaddafi and Bashar Al Assad.

However, the fact is that Bradford West, just like Bethnal Green and Bow, has a significant Muslim population. Although Galloway is of Roman Catholic persuasion himself, his success has often depended on positioning himself as the self-appointed defender of oppressed Muslims across the world.

And these credentials do stand up to scrutiny. He fiercely opposed both Iraq wars and the current conflict in Afghanistan, while his support for Palestinians has remained steadfast.

He also garners respect among this community by claiming to live a virtuous existence. As one of his recent election leaflets started: "God knows who is a Muslim. And he knows who is not. Instinctively, so do you."

His Labour opponent, Imran Hussain, was a Muslim. But in these times of economic hardship in the UK, which have hit minority communities in provincial northern cities such as Bradford particularly hard, Galloway's success also rests on his proven ability to rouse popular anger against the establishment.

While the powers-that-be may denigrate him as a dangerous demagogue and an opportunistic egomaniac, by targeting issues close to the heart of the UK's Muslims, Galloway refuses to go quietly into the night.

Politically, and like the kitty he once impersonated, George too seems to have at least nine lives.