Pussy cat or grizzly bear? Well, he certainly gave me a mauling

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by Kenneth Roy 

In the bearpit of a crowded public meeting weeks after 9/11, I made a tactical error in introducing the grizzliest bear in the hall, the Labour MP (as he then was), George Galloway. Foolishly, I quoted Private Eye’s familiar description of him as the Honourable Member for Baghdad South, a reference to his admiration for the Iraqi leadership. This feeble attempt to lighten a charged atmosphere backfired on the hapless chair.
    ‘I am the Honourable Member for Hillhead and proud of it,’ he boomed across the debating chamber of the old Glasgow High School, ‘and you are Kenroy-Silk!’
     His supporters at the back of the hall roared approval. I remained Kenroy-Silk for the rest of the long evening, tormented by the Honourable Member for Hillhead any time I ventured into the audience to solicit opinions in the style of the daytime chat-show presenter. It would have been fruitless to point out that Ian Mackenzie and I had patented this technique in a television series, ‘The Yes, No, Don’t Know Show’, years before Robert Kilroy-Silk was invented as an inferior brand; it would only have invited more ridicule.
     Mr Galloway left abruptly at the end of the meeting, his displeasure keenly felt. I could scarcely believe it. He hadn’t taken my little joke that seriously, surely? He hadn’t taken himself that seriously – had he? Yes on both counts, it seems.


If there is a defamation of the dead committee, George Galloway should be on it. He once took a lot of loot from the Daily Telegraph, no mean feat, and he was still alive at the time.


     Five years later, I remembered that evening as I watched the media coverage of his ‘Big Brother’ appearance, in which – again I could scarcely believe it – there he was dressed as a cat, accepting a saucer of milk from an actress called Rula Lenska. He was no longer the Honourable Member for Hillhead and proud of it. I don’t know what he thought he was. But, then, do any of us? Meanwhile, Kilroy-Silk had metamorphosed from housewives’ favourite into a leading member of the United Kingdom Independence Party.
     Mr Galloway has now reinvented himself yet again, on this occasion as a prospective list candidate for the Holyrood election. Earlier this week he launched his campaign in an Indian restaurant in Glasgow, an event lavishly reported in the press; if column inches alone determined the result of the contest, the other contenders with one exception might as well go home now.
     The question is whether Mr Galloway’s surprising intervention into the seemingly incurable tepidness of Scottish parliamentary politics is one of his wholly serious episodes or whether he is simply accepting a saucer of milk from the ever-impressionable Scottish media. Kenroy-Silk is not qualified to say. Either way, Mr Galloway gives every impression of lapping it up.
     He may not be aware, however, of the exciting nature of the work awaiting him if he succeeds in his latest unlikely ambition. After a column in this space on Tuesday about the dreadful stuff printed about people after they die, in newspaper obituaries and elsewhere, Professor Hector MacQueen got in touch to inform me that Scotland may introduce legal sanctions to prevent the defamation of the dead. At first I assumed that the good professor was having a little joke at my expense, just as once I had had a little joke at Mr Galloway’s. Then he sent me the consultation document.
     If there is a defamation of the dead committee, George Galloway should be on it. He once took a lot of loot from the Daily Telegraph, no mean feat, and he was still alive at the time.
     The second coming – or is it the third or the fourth? – of Gorgeous George should probably be cautiously welcomed. He got a rough deal from New Labour in May 2003 when the general secretary of the party suspended him. As Tony Benn wrote in his diaries (‘More Time for Politics’): ‘That’s the nature of the Labour Party – no free speech in Blair’s Labour Party’. Mr Benn proposed, or at any rate wrote in his diary, that some outside person or body altering the status of an MP in this way should be dealt with as a breach of privilege. Nothing was done and Mr Galloway founded his own party, Respect, and returned to the House of Commons as member for a London constituency.


Whether disguised as a grizzly bear or a pussy cat, he can be counted upon to add to the gaiety of nations.


     Mr Benn’s opinion of him – you will have gathered that I am reading his diaries – varied wildly. When Mr Galloway wrote in the Morning Star in June 2004 that Britain was currently being run by a ‘blood-spattered, lying, crooked group of war criminals’, that was too much even for the veteran of Old Labour. ‘A totally ineffective way of getting your point across…it has put me off George Galloway in a fairly fundamental way’. Barely a year later, he was raving about the Galloway triumph before the American Senate – ‘a wonderful performance…an absolute triumph’. But then, barely a year after that, the television cameo as a cat prompted the observation: ‘The thing is so humiliating!’.
     Long before any of this, back in the mid-1990s when Mr Galloway was not the household name he is today, I asked the doyen of political commentators, Alan Watkins, to name the great speakers in the modern House of Commons. He replied that there was only one and his name was George Galloway. His command of the House without notes was unsurpassed, Watkins thought.
Is there a rival even now? I doubt it.
     Among the other list candidates in Glasgow, there is Gail Sheridan. She would speak with more authority than Mr Galloway on the subject of penal reform, a cause dear to my heart and soon to be dear to hers. Ideally, however, it would be fun to have both – the feisty Mrs Sheridan to see what she is made of; Mr Galloway because, whether disguised as a grizzly bear or a pussy cat, he can be counted upon to add to the gaiety of nations.

This article was reproduced with the kind permission of Kenneth Roy.
Read Kenneth Roy in the Scottish Review.

Image by Bob Smith Art: http://www.bobsmithart.com/