George Galloway is an outspoken politician and broadcaster. He was a member of the UK Labour Party but was expelled from the organisation in 2003. He later became the leader of RESPECT and was elected as the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005 on the RESPECT Party ticket. He is now an independent candidate for Manchester Gorton in the upcoming UK general election. The general election will take place on 8th June. We sat down with Mr Galloway at his campaign headquarters in Levenshulme for the second of this interview series. This is what he had to say.
You were born in Dundee and elected as an MP for Glasgow for many years, and of course ran for London Mayor, so why are you standing in Manchester Gorton?
I live not far away from Gorton, in Chortlon close to Whalley Range which is in the constituency. Two of my children live in Manchester and my latest child was born in here. But most importantly Sir Gerald Kaufman was a close personal friend of mine for almost 35 years. I traveled far and wide with him in Britain and other parts of the world because we had mutual campaigning interests, particularly the Palestine question but also Kashmir. It would be a very big honour to follow in his footsteps to continue his work.
Since Manchester City FC moved away from Maine Road, many businesses have noticed a substantial decline in economic activity. What will you do to improve jobs and investment in Gorton as opposed to other parts of Manchester?
One of the things I will be doing is asking the owner of Manchester City, whose father, Shiekh Zayed, the former President of the UAE, gave me the watch that I wear everyday, to push a little bit of the much needed infrastructural investment that they’ve been making outside of the constituency back into it. As you know very well, because you’re an intelligent fellow, MPs don’t create jobs, governments create jobs, the local state creates jobs.
This constituency has been extremely loyal to Labour but Labour has not been extremely loyal to this constituency. Some parts of Manchester like Chorlton where I live are on a par with Hampstead or the smartest parts of London, but here, not a couple of miles away, we have half of all the children living officially in child poverty. We have 74%, even more staggeringly, who are officially classed as ‘low income’ families.
To my astonishment, I discovered that half of the highways committee on Manchester City Council is made up of councilors from this constituency, yet we have the worst roads in the entire city. That does not compute until you factor in arrogance and complacency. This area is in their pocket and therefore it doesn’t require investment.
Rusholme is largely located between the University of Manchester’s Oxford Road and Fallowfield campuses, and there is a perception among students that the area is somehow ‘Other’. How will you, as the local MP, work to improve community cohesion?
I think I am bar far and a way the candidate with the most cross-over appeal. I have massive support among minority ethnic communities. But I’m white with blue eyes and active everyday in poor, working class communities, middle class communities and Asian communities which crosses class. I have my foot in all the camps.
In terms of working with the newly elected Mayor of Greater Manchester and city council, how will you make sure that Gorton receives its share of investment those areas devolved to the city hall (housing, transport, planning, policing)?
The rules of electoral politics dictate that that will happen. If you lose a seat with 24,000 seat majority, you’d better get it back and the only way to get it back would be to reverse the neglect that led to it in the first place. But on a personal level I have good relations with Andy Burnham, I always have had and I’ve even got him on video tape a couple of weeks ago confirming that. So one of my first meetings will be with him and I will be absolutely candid with him.
One of the most noticeable local issues is that of air pollution particularly on the Wilmslow Road and whilst public transport is important in reducing pollution the flow of traffic you can walk down Curry Mile and taste pollution in the air. How will you work as a constituency MP to improve air quality in the area?
Well again the Mayor is going to have his work cut out on that. There is some of that that ineluctably flows from the kind of area you are in. Some of that pollution that you describe is from the proliferation of fast food and restaurant outlets. But what you can do is make sure that the garbage is collected properly and it isn’t. They say that you’re only 9 feet from a rat in London, I don’t what the acreage is here and some of them have got four legs.
Once we Brexit we need to make sure that Britain has at least as high environmental standards as the European Union and Andy Burnham, who I think is fully seized of these issues, will have to ensure that we have the right policies in place. You make the point that buses reduce pollution. That’s true up to a point but we have 30 different bus companies operating in Manchester and much of it is chaotic.
On that point, Manchester City Council is currently pushing the Go Dutch scheme to improve cycling. Would you do the same?
I’ve got a problem with that because I’ve seen the problems in Walthamstow where consultation was niggardly to be kind. It was poorly consulted, it has led to tremendous dissatisfaction among local shopkeepers and small businesses. I’m in favour of cycling, my wife is from Amsterdam and is a cyclist as most people in Amsterdam are. She’s in my ear about it all the time but I know that in Curry Mile, for instance, the cycle provision is deeply unpopular amongst the local businesspeople and not that much used. We should avoid tokenistic lurches on this question.
Although gang-related violent crime has declined in recent years, there remains problems with mugging and burglary in Longsight, Rusholme and Fallowfield. How would you address these problems?
You need more police and I’m with Jeremy Corbyn in his announcement that didn’t go so well [on 2nd May]. We need most police on the beat. We need visible police and an alert citizenry. There were two dodgy looking characters along the road there pointed out to me by an old man on a bicycle. They were later arrested, although I don’t know what they were doing. We need an alert citizenry, we need a fast police response, we need intelligent policing. I work closely with the Longsight Amateur Boxing Club which takes huge numbers of young people, far more than you can squeeze into the space, and puts them into a physical activity that puts them on the right path.
Now shifting to national issues, one of the most important political issue in the country right now is Brexit. Like two of my political heroes- Tony Benn and Bob Crow- and indeed myself, you advocated Britain withdrawing from the bloc. Why did you come to that conclusion?
I never altered my view from when I worked in the 1975 referendum under the leadership of Mr Benn. I never changed my view that the Common Market, now the EU, was essentially a conspiracy against working people. It was an attempt to make sure that socialism was impossible. It’s one of the reasons that Mrs Thatcher supported the European Union because it made socialism illegal. And because I am a socialist I’m instinctively hostile to the European Union. I am in favour of the union of European peoples, and indeed of all peoples, but that’s not what the EU is. It is a rigged market, a cartel, and as Mr Benn taught us not just undemocratic but anti-democratic and incapable of democratic reform. Rip it up and start again would be my attitude.
In a recent interview with RT America you were outlining your position when it comes to the current international order and said “I want out of the EU and back into the Commonwealth”. There are some on the Left, like myself, who argue that the Commonwealth is an outdated relic of empire. Why have you taken a different view?
Well of course both of us are right. It is a relic of empire, but one of the consequences of that empire, and I would argue a bit more controversially that one of the liabilities of that we have, is that we enslaved and conquered and looted the countries of the empire. Therefore we owe them reparation and one form of reparation would be to ease up on Commonwealth immigration for example.
I spent almost 30 years in Parliament trying to get grandmothers and grandfathers in for a visit to Britian, for a wedding or a funeral only to find that it’s easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle. This is whilst all of Bulgaria and all of Romania is fully entitled to move here and set up shop. That is completely unfair. I want to see Commonwealth preference in such immigration as we decide that we need. But such people that do come here to live and work should be people who share our language, have some common points of culture, fought on our side in the anti-fascist war, and to whom we owe a debt.
One of the other consequences of the Brexit vote is a constitutional headache for Theresa May. The Scottish Parliament has now voted for a Section 30 order. In 2014 you were a passionately supported staying in the UK on the grounds of ‘national consciousness’ versus ‘class consciousness’. Are you still of that opinion?
I certainly am. I don’t believe that there will be another Scottish Referendum. If there is I don’t believe the SNP will win it because it’s a harder sell in 2018/2019 to leave Liverpool and join Latvia. It’s a harder sell to leave the British union and join the European Union, to adopt the Euro and meet the convergence criteria for the Euro, and I say this, even though others shirk from it, to accept free movement of European labour.
Do you not think that there is instrumental value in independence because if you want to see socialism achieved it would seem more likely to happen in an independent Scotland that may be perpetually ruled by Tories?
I don’t believe that England will be perpetually ruled by Tories, and if I believed that I’d give up and I’m not giving up. Secondly, the idea that you can have a socialist Scotland with a Tory-ruled England on the same piece of rock is fatuous. It takes money to buy mince, all that would happen would be a race to the bottom between the Scottish economy and the English economy. Taxes would go down, corporate government would slacken, environmental protection would decline and you would have a race to see who could be the most corporate friendly.
I’m not against Scottish independence in principle. Scotland has a right to be independent any time that it likes, therefore as soon as the Scottish Parliament voted to have a referendum I defended their right to have one. It’s of no business of anybody of anybody else apart from Scotland whether they become independent, but I reserve the right to argue that would not be the best idea.
Aside from Brexit, there also a number of other pressing issues that I want to touch upon. For many people living standards have stagnated or declined over the last 7 years of Tory rule. What would you do in Parliament to making the minimum wage a living wage? And if the government chooses not to act, how will you promote the living wage in the constituency?
It isn’t 7 years, it’s 10 years. This process began under Labour, austerity under Labour. Indeed the crash was significantly worsened by Labour, by the deregulation of the banking sector, by the boasts of Blair and Brown that the City of London had been set free by them and less onerously taxed by them. This paved the way for the crash, and then the response to the crash- the bailout at the cost of hundreds of billions of pounds of private banks that were then left entirely to their own devices. Alistair Darling said he didn’t believe in governments having seats on the boards of banks, even though the government was saving the banks, and this was particularly poignant as I knew him when he was a Trotskyite.
The Bedroom Tax was invented by Labour, ATOS was invented by Labour, the privatisation of public services was vastly accelerated by Labour. Then you had the Coalition government, and never forget the role played in that by the Liberal Democrats, without whom it could not have been possible. We had 5 years of super austerity and now we are in the second year of Tory austerity. Almost everyone has seen their living standards either frozen or decline in the last 10 years. One of the gains of Corbyn is that he ended Labour’s support for Tory austerity. What’s necessary is the opposite of austerity as any fool whose heard of Maynard Keynes knows. The way to deal with a collapse is to spend not to cut. We need a £10 minimum wage and we need it now. I’ll fight for it and I’ll organise other people to fight for it.
On the subject of raising wages, how will you resist the Trade Union Act and fight to increase unionisation within the constituency?
When I became active in the Labour Party in 1967 under Harold Wilson, it was a right-wing Labour Party and a right-wing Labour government, but trade unionism was immensely powerful. By the time Labour was elected in 1974, there were something like 16 million members of the TUC. The Transport and General Workers’ Union, my own union, alone had more than 2 million members. Almost every workplace was organised and Labour was an un-ignorable part of the landscape which meant that living standards always had to be taken into account, even by Tory governments.
Now trade unionism only exists meaningfully in the public sector which is a problem as industrial action is being effectively taken against the public, and this feeds into the Conservative propaganda. We must return to a situation where the right to trade union membership is absolute, where the right to recognition of that trade union membership is absolute. Online voting in union elections and ballots has to be recognised and accepted.
Housing is also a massive problem across the country. As a resident of Manchester, it would take some avoidance to not see the rise in homeless in recent weeks and months. As a local MP what would you do to tackle to housing crisis in Manchester, and what would you do at the national level?
I must confess to you that as a resident of leafy Chorlton, I was shocked by the literal emergence of tent cities in the centre of Manchester. I was asked to go out to some curry food banks, you might call them, in the city centre and the where queue is endless, of people needing free food. I also came upon, with the police, the spice epidemic and other drug problems that exist amongst the homeless. It is extraordinary that in the second city of England, the fifth richest country in the world that such things exist. It’s much worse than in the Thatcher era. The only meaningful thing that can be done is to increase the supply of housing, to cease the sale of public housing, and, in an emergency way, a return to prefabrication. We need a million houses being built per year to boost the economy and tackle homelessness.
Another area where this government is clearly failing is on the NHS. Not a day goes by without a story in the paper about A&E crises, nursing shortages, or the declining morale of doctors. What will you do to pressure the Tories?
I don’t want to sound like a conspiracy theorist because I’m generally not, but I believe that this crisis is being deliberately manufactured to create a feeling in the country that the NHS cannot go on as it is. It’s the only explanation for [Theresa May] keeping Jeremy Hunt in post when most people, including him, imagined that he would be moved. The series of confrontations, the cuts to social care budgets are completely inseparable from social care budgets, and the so-called ‘ring-fence’ turning out to be made of icing sugar. I believe that the NHS is the greatest achievement of the country, only next to victory in the Second World War.
A related area to health is drug policy. Do you support the decriminalisation of drugs, as has been the case in Portugal for a number of years?
I’m a frequent visitor to Portugal in the Summer and I don’t recognise the Elysium fields that people who support drug legalisation see.
I said decriminalistion not legalisation.
Well decriminalisation is another matter, sorry. Drug problems are primarily a crime committed against oneself. Addiction is a disaster for the individual first, the family second and society third. The problem with legalisation, if you let me complete this thought, is that it effectively states that the State has no real view on the practice and invites normal capitalism to move in. I don’t believe in imprisoning people for possession of small amounts of drugs, that’s economic and social idiocy. Of the spice users I speak to in Piccadilly, almost all of them developed their addiction in prison, in Strangeways. The drugs themselves are a punishment.
To clarify you’re fine with decriminalising drugs but not with legalising them?
Yes. Not all drugs, soft drugs. The use of these psychotropic, mind altering, man-made drugs is developing into a fantastically big issue. These were legal highs just two years ago. The State cannot take a lax approach to hard drugs, but criminalising people for possession of soft drugs is crazy.
So, even though there is a lot of mounting evidence that something like marijuana is less harmful to people than alcohol and cigarettes, you’re still against legalising it?
I’m against legalising it because I don’t want it to become part of normal capitalism, but I’m in favour of decriminalising it. By the way, I don’t believe that all marijuana and related products are less harmful than alcohol, I don’t accept that. There are variants of hashish that are under-estimated in their long-term damage and long-term role in mental health problems.
Finally let’s look at foreign affairs. The most high profile foreign policy issue is that of the Syrian conflict. What would you do as an MP to bring about peace in Syria?
The reverse of what we are doing is the short answer. Britain is up to its neck in the situation in Syria. I warned that the consequences would be exactly as they have turned out to be. I was right about Syria, as I was right about Libya, as I was right about Iraq, as I was right about Palestine, and as I was right about Ireland. But that doesn’t mean anybody in power listens to you any more. The people who were wrong about these things are still in power.
What happens in other people’s countries, in terms of their governance, is a matter that can only safely be resolved by them. Foreign intervention in these conflicts can only make matters worse and the reality is Syria is a common-or-garden Arab dictatorship just like all the others. It is not better, it is not worse. By picking and choosing which dictators we invade and use the money of other dictators to do it, is a policy that is a smoking ruin.
The madness of encouraging fanatic extremism in other peoples countries and not expecting it to come back and haunt you back at home is the final proof that we are led by lunatics. It’s not just that we are led by knaves, we are led by knaves who are also fools.
I have argued in favour of creating a humanitarian service that would essentially be deployed overseas by the government to build schools, hospitals, roads etc. to prevent countries falling to extremism. Is this an idea that interests you and something that you would promote if elected?
That’s not a bad idea. The caveat would be that the foreign government would actually have to ask for it. It can’t be just another arm of imperialism which I am sad to say is something that a lot of NGOs have become.
One of the most obvious consequences of the Refugee Crisis, many of whom have come from this part of the world. I have argued that countries like the UK should construct refugee camps domestically to take some of the pressure off of countries in the region. Do you support such a policy?
There is a massive confusion in policy and the public’s mind between immigration and refugees. Every country has the right to control the level of its immigration otherwise it’s not a state. But every country also has the obligation to accept refugees from conflict or other disasters, especially so if you are one of the countries that is causing the conflict. There are many practical issues about where refugees should go, where they should be housed but my general view is that it should be as close to their home country as possible so that they can return when it is safe to do so.
The financial, practical, logistical obligations lie with richer countries but I wouldn’t be in favour of creating refugee camps in England. I’m not one of these quote-unquote liberals who wants to accept refugees so that actually we can invite them all to stay. Not just because I don’t think our country can cope with never-ending streams of new people, but because I believe there is nothing progressive about mass immigration at all.
Mass immigration constitutes the theft of resources, brainpower and labour-power from poorer countries by rich countries. It’s often worn as a badge of pride among liberal people like ‘look how many Bangladeshi people we’ve got in the NHS’. In my opinion that’s nothing to be proud of because Bangladesh desperately needs doctors and medical personnel. But let me restate that our legal and moral obligation to refugees is absolute and it is a disgrace that this government has responded as feebly as it has.
Saudi Arabia’s lukewarm response to the Refugee Crisis has been shameful, and the country’s indiscriminate bombing in Yemen has largely been under the radar. Do you believe, as I do, that Saudi Arabia should be subject to an economic boycott rather than the recipient of British weapons?
Yes I do. Labour MPs that sided against the Yemeni people, and the Saudi people for that matter, should have been reprimanded by Jeremy Corbyn and he would have had the best possible grounds to do so. It involves weapons, arms companies, and the woman-hating, gay-hating, reactionary cesspit which is the Saudi regime. Any Labour MP that lined up with them, anybody could have understood why action would have been taken. Saudi Arabia is the head of the snake in the Islamic world. The idea that we should sell weapons to Saudi Arabia because if we don’t somebody else will is the alibi of every heroin peddler on every street corner.
Do you support Kurdish independence? And secondarily, do you believe that Turkey’s attacks on the Kurds is grounds for them to be thrown out of NATO and sanctioned by the international community?
Yes. I’m against NATO so I don’t care whose in it and who isn’t. You don’t need these countries to cede the territory, they could just cede the sovereignty and then there could be a confederation of Kurdish people in the region. I am fully supportive of the right of self-determination for the Kurdish people.
On the subject of national liberation, like myself you are a supporter of the Palestinian people, but there is disagreement about what the path to peace looks like. What do you believe the most practically capable solution is, and why?
The only practical solution is the one that Gerald Kaufman and I support, and that is a democratic state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. One man/one woman, one vote. The two-state solution is dead and in any case did not recognise the right of Palestinian people in exile to return to their homes. It is just as unlikely as a two-state solution, and in any case a two-state solution would not be a solution. So why settle for the unprincipled, un-solution when you can fight for the principled actual solution? And that is an end to the Apartheid State of Israel.
The final question is also relating to Palestine. I am a supporter of the BDS movement, but I do worry that there are some occasions where criticism of Israel strays into shady statements about Jews more broadly. One of the areas in the case of the boycott of Israeli academics, some of whom do not hold public positions on this issue, but are boycotted because of their nationality. What do you think of this?
Well nationality and religion are of course entirely separate things. There are no far-right groups in Britain who engage in anti-Semitism, they’re all supporting Israel. The EDL carries Israeli flag on its demonstrations. You could fit all outright Nazi groups in Britain into into this room. In fact many are guests of Israel. Tommy Robinson, the founder of the EDL, was recently an official guest of Israel.
Anti-Semitism is not the same as opposition to the political ideology of Zionism and still less than the state formed on the basis of that ideology. States have no right to exist. The USSR had no right to exist and no longer exists. Nazi Germany had no right to exist and no longer exists. States come and go, ideologies rise and fall. The absolute line against anti-Semitism is an absolute obligation especially from anyone who considers themselves on the Left, because if you tolerated Jews for being Jews then you’re defense against hatred of blacks, hatred of Muslims and so on would collapse. There can be no discrimination in anti-discrimination. Our line of defense against all minorities is an absolute line.
The idea of any socialist being an anti-Semite is ridiculous. If you are an anti-Semite then you’re not a socialist. The idea that Jeremy Corbyn can be credibly described as an anti-Semite is like me saying, as I look at you now, that you have two heads. It is utterly preposterous. Is there a rise in anti-Semitism in Britain? I very much doubt it. Insofar as there is, it is minuscule compared to the rise of hatred towards Muslims and other groups. But I will defend with my own blood the right of any Jewish person who is being attacked because they are Jewish.
Does BDS help that? Let me refer you to my speech at the Oxford Union when I was asked by a young fool if I was a racist. I commend it to your readers. I am one of the very few people on the Left in Britain who actually worked undercover for the ANC in Apartheid South Africa and shed some of my blood doing so. The idea that boycotting an Apartheid state equaled hatred of Protestantism or Afrikaanism is ridiculous. All the people with whom I worked in South Africa were Jewish members of the African National Congress. Jews don’t have to choose Apartheid. In South Africa they didn’t and the greatest heroes, in my view, of the struggle for liberation were Jews: Joe Slovo, Ruth First, Albie Sachs, Denis Goldberg and many others who gave decades of their lives in prison. Their names will live forever.