Morning Report 5/6/05
Yelling 'Bliar! Bliar!' In a Crowded Theatrical

Anti-war venom lands Blair's harshest critic Galloway an upset return to Parliament

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Respect

Break out the campaign: George Galloway's poster child

This may not be much solace to the U.S. anti-war crowd, but finally a politician ran on an anti-war plank and wasn't forced to walk off it. But what a candidate!

george-galloway.jpg George Galloway (left), the reviled and libeled Scottish MP who was thrown out of the Labor Party for telling Arab TV that Tony Blair and George W. Bush were "wolves," has fully revived his political career by storming back into Parliament.

What a campaign! Galloway ran in a heavily Muslim constituency in London's East End and played his anti-war stance to the hilt. He formed a new party, called it Respect, and that's what he got, after a brawling battle.

A 2003 profile of Galloway in the Mail on Sunday gives a good, brief look at his stormy career. Then there was a vicious libel against Galloway, linking him to illegal payments by Saddam Hussein. The Christian Science Monitor broke that "story"—and was proved wrong, by the way.

And what an opponent! Oona King, the sitting MP, was a new darling of the Labor Party, referred to as one of "Blair's Babes." And she backed Blair on Iraq. In the heaviest irony, King is the daughter of a black American, Preston King, who fled to Great Britain in the '50s as a civil-rights activist and draft dodger from the racist South and became a respected academic.

Like a majority of her former constituents, King is a person of color. But her mother is Jewish, and so is she, and that can't have helped her. Here's how the BBC described it this morning:

    She was media savvy and a high-profile MP for some of the poorest people in the country.

    But eight years on, those constituents have punished her closeness to the Prime Minister—not over the bread-and-butter East End issues of jobs and housing—but over her support for the war in Iraq.

    And so it was to the cheers of his supporters that the new member for Bethnal Green and Bow declared: "Mr. Blair, this is for Iraq."

Everyone knew the campaign was going to be bitter. King was firmly aligned with Blair and Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer who is likely to succeed Blair as Labor's prime minister.

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Labour Party

Half-right: Oona King with Gordon Brown in a Labor campaign pose.

Galloway, of course, was Blair's harshest critic. He had mobilized more than a million protesters against the war during a 2003 rally. He threw everything at King, and so did other people, as Richard Alleyne of the Telegraph (U.K) reported on April 11:

    The campaign for what promises to be one of the most bitterly contested parliamentary seats got off to an explosive start yesterday when the MP Oona King was pelted with eggs and vegetables as she attended a memorial to Jewish war dead.

    Miss King, 37, the black Jewish Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, was attacked as she joined mourners to commemorate 60 years since the Hughes Mansions Disaster, when 134 people, almost all Jewish, were killed by the last V2 missile to land on London.

    The eggs missed her, but one hit a war veteran, Louis Lewis, 89, in the chest and an onion struck Richard Brett, a bugler from the Jewish Lads and Girls Brigade who sounded the Last Post at the ceremony.

"The Jewish Lads and Girls Brigade"—there'll always be an England. Anyway, King was angry, but as the story pointed out:

    The incident demonstrated how high feelings are running in the east London constituency, which has 55,000 Bangladeshi Muslims, more than half its electorate, most of whom bitterly opposed the war in Iraq.…

    Even though [Galloway] has no connections to the constituency—his former seat is 400 miles away in Glasgow— he hopes that personal animosity towards Miss King will help him overturn her 10,000 majority.

    Yesterday's display of hatred proved he may be on to something. Even a police van called in to make sure the ceremony remained peaceful was pelted with eggs.

    The incident also showed the changing face of the East End. Back in 1945 when the bomb struck, the area was predominantly Jewish.

    But since the war most of those have moved out, and been replaced by Muslims.

You can't read too much into Galloway's win. After all, Blair's party won what amounts to a third term.

But the back story is fascinating. Talk about truth and reconciliation. The saga of Preston King has that and more. Robert Fikes Jr., laid it out on the African American Male Research site in 1999:

    It was 1956 when Preston King, son of a prominent black Albany, Georgia, businessman and civil rights leader, returned home from studying abroad. It was then that his all-white draft board, which had previously granted him a deferment, discovered King was black and started addressing him in correspondence as "Preston" instead of "Mr. King."

    Fully comprehending the racial implications of the draft board's action, King, who was quite willing to serve in the military, reacted by notifying the board that he would refuse to respond to any correspondence from the board addressing him as "Preston."

    In 1958, he returned to study at the London School of Economics, where he eventually earned his doctorate. When he arrived in the U.S. in 1960 he was promptly arrested, tried by a segregated jury, and jailed for 18 months as a draft dodger. Out on bail while his case was being appealed, he left town and made his way back to England where he has remains to this day, stripped of his American citizenship.

    Recently, the federal judge who sentenced King admitted that the trial had been thoroughly compromised by racial bias, that "race was everything" and, knowing this, the all-white draft board and trial jury acted in accord with the conventions of the old South.

In early 2000, Bill Clinton granted a pardon to King. That April, Clinton hosted King and his family at the White House. As a fawning story from Howard University noted at the time:

    Preston's homecoming was a riveting chapter in the story of a great American family and its long rendezvous with leadership to reform the Old South and to keep the New South on a just and steady course. That role was memorialized at a stunningly symbolic rapprochement between Professor King and Judge William A. Bootle, the federal judge who presided over his trial and sentenced him to jail.

    In an extraordinary act, the retired judge, now 97, joined in King's petition to President Clinton for a pardon. A meeting of reconciliation took place in Macon, Georgia, where Judge Bootle hosted the Kings and some of their friends to lunch and conversation at his home.

Must be bitter for Oona King to have lost a food fight five years later in the East End.


Craig Murray, the brash ex-ambassador to Uzbekistan whom I wrote about on May 3, got kilt by Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (Brent Musburger's doppelganger) in Blackburn, but that was no surprise.

Like Galloway, Murray is a Scot. Unlike Galloway, Murray ran as an independent, and Blackburn is only 25 percent Muslim. Throughout the campaign, though, Murray wrote a hilarious column for the Guardian (U.K.) called Our Man in Blackburn.

His fight against the rendition of prisoners to countries that openly torture will have to wait for a bigger outcry. But his column was really funny. As he wrote, in part, on the eve of the vote:

    I was delighted to be approached by a whole crowd in the pub last night wanting my autograph. I was overwhelmed by my own popularity and thought I was home and dry. Then I discovered that they thought I was "that bloke that's shagging Sally on Corrie". I don't know who that actor is, but evidently he must be a man of great good looks and charisma. Now that Ian McKellen is on Coronation Street, I console myself that being mistaken for one of the cast is socially acceptable.

    One of our slogans has been "British Bulldog, not Bush's Poodle", which has the advantage of confusing people entirely about the political direction we are coming from. This at least gets them to open the leaflet and read more. It was devised by Edward, who used to work for Saatchi and Saatchi. He claims it appeals to both left and right. It could, of course, alienate both instead. I suppose we'll soon know.

    My mate Matt was canvassing when he was attacked by the two largest poodles imaginable. The unrepentant owner of these gruesome animals declared herself deeply offended by the jibe at poodles. Happily, the militant poodle front seems outnumbered by the gratified bulldog owners.

    Getting a platform has proved difficult. The local council has failed to meet its legal obligation to provide public meeting rooms in schools, community centres, etc. We had Moazzam Begg on Sunday to talk about his detention in Guantánamo, and we had to hire a private ballroom. The council claimed they couldn't staff a public room over the bank holiday, but community centres were used by Straw for public meetings on the bank holiday Monday.

    What's more, on the Saturday of the bank holiday weekend the Returning Officer [elections official] tracked me down to Puccino's cafe, where he told me that there had been a complaint that my posters did not meet the legal requirement for a publishing imprint. I pointed out the publishing imprint to him, and he vanished. There seems to be no shortage of energy for stifling democracy, but less for promoting it.

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