Listening to the Galloway-Hitchens debate on Radio Four last night, two contradictory thoughts struck me.
The first, 'why can't all politics be like this ?' was a product of the fact that the issues were important, the audience passionate, and the battle-lines clearly drawn. It made for great listening. The last time I stopped what I was doing and listened transfixed was also a Galloway bout - against Colleen 'The Truth' Graffy in July.
The second thought was 'I wonder if this is what listening to Oswald Mosley was like ?'. Because in style, Galloway's side of the 'debate' wasn't a debate at all - it was a rally. Passionately he shouted, banging all the buttons - 'Bush and Blair run the two biggest rogue states' - '100,000 deaths' - 'Bush, Cheyney, the neocon agenda' and his followers whooped and hollered. Hitchens had opened by reminding the audience of Galloway's recent trip to Syria, and his history of support for authoritarian regimes. Galloway's response ? 'You opposed the first Gulf war, but since then you've changed from a butterfly into s slug. And like a slug, you leave a trail of slime'. How they cheered. Nothing like taking on your opponent's argument.
He's got the sartorial style too - a sharp if spivish dresser. I wouldn't be surprised to see him modelling a leather trench-coat or bomber jacket.
And he's got the blood-and-soil rhetoric. Liberal white guilt stops the British left from seeing anything amiss when GG calls for the 'Arab nations' to rise up or denounces attacks on 'Muslim countries', yet if you invert the targets he'd be somewhere to the right of Nick Griffin. There can be little doubt that a British nationalist who gave Galloway's Damascus speech would be arrested. (Imagine George Bush calling on the 'white nations' to support him, or Blair calling 9/11 an attack upon a Christian country and urging all Christians to defend America. Galloway does the equivalent without having to think about it).
The big difference is that Mosley, unpleasant as he might have been, was articulating a programme which
a) commanded support from a significant (though not large) section of his own people
b) had a track record - literally, with the newfound punctuality of Italian trains under Mussolini. Before WW2 and the Shoah, a good many people who weren't all monsters looked, if not kindly, at least with a respectful neutrality upon Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.
Galloway will find little support for blowing up children and the unemployed, or cutting the throats of trades unionists, among the Glaswegian socialist movement whence he sprang. His new constituency is among Muslim immigrants, and countries which follow his programme (of unremitting anti-western hostility) have historically fared rather poorly over the last 50 years. Ask Mr Putin.
But like Mosley, Galloway sees a world in flux offering great political opportunities - worldwide, newfound Muslim assertiveness, demographic changes, a Muslim country with nuclear weapons and others with nuclear ambitions, a divided West. All thse factors are concentrated in Britain, with a large and increaing Muslim population concentrated in half a dozen geographical areas, and an ageing, shrinking, vanishing, guilt-stricken host culture filled with self-doubt. Who knows how far this wave of the future may take him ?