So what if he wore a leotard? Constituents back Galloway

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Indy Politics

"I'll tell you what I think of George Galloway," said Rajib Ahammad as he discussed his MP outside the East London Mosque in Whitechapel after prayers yesterday. "He's a star. He is still the man who had the courage to say all the right things about Iraq. He is still the man who stood up to Tony Blair. So what if he went on TV and was told to act like a cat?"

Mr Ahammad, a 23-year-old Bangladeshi-born student from east London, was not alone in his show of loyalty to Mr Galloway. Despite an avalanche of negative publicity and polls suggesting plummeting popularity in his Bethnal Green and Bow constituency, the Bangladeshi community of Whitechapel appeared fairly unperturbed by the politician's three-week stint on Celebrity Big Brother.

Mr Ahammad said it was mostly the "elder" generation of Muslims who had initially objected to the MP's appearance on the reality television show, and even many of them had come round to seeing its benefits.

"At the beginning, the Muslim community didn't like it. Now they have changed their minds. We selected him because he was a strong man, not because we wanted him to behave like a Muslim. Otherwise, we would have selected an imam," he said.

Mr Galloway conducted a highly orchestrated media offensive 24-hours after eviction from the house, which included the Radio 2 Jeremy Vine show, an appearance on Richard and Judy, an interview with David Frost and a meeting with "trusted local Asian party members and community leaders" last night. He said that raising money for a Palestinian charity, Interpal, justified the "slight embarrassment" of performing in a leotard and acting like a cat.

He said that the community's reaction had so far been "tremendous" and he had achieved at least two of three goals that motivated him to appear on the show.

"It's hard to say if the mission has been accomplished yet but I know that two out of three objectives have been successful. The Palestinian charity has benefited from my time in the house," he said. "The employment of two new constituency workers from my £150,000 fee has been achieved. The third goal of engaging with younger people remains to be seen."

He explained that after virtually no sleep since leaving the Big Brother house (he spent his first night of freedom with his family), he was determined to resume his weekly surgery today, in a back room at an Indian restaurant on Brick Lane.

The word on the street appeared to reflect the Respect coalition's official line that they had received "a significant number of positive e-mails today", as well as a few hostile responses. Yusuf, a community worker also outside the East London Mosque yesterday, was confident Mr Galloway could win back doubtful members. "Maybe what he's done will backfire but the next few weeks will be telling. If he puts his case very well, he could be even more powerful for it.

"He's a very intelligent man whose spin doctors are as good as Tony Blair's. He will say 'you could see me in the Big Brother house while other MPs were in luxury houses, or in the House of Parliament, chatting and drinking cups of tea. Where were they when I was among diversity including transvestites. I acted like a cat because I was following the rules'," he said.

Abudullah Khan, a visitor from Canada, said he had heard about the "famous Galloway". "At the end of the day, George Galloway is pro-justice. He is pro giving British people a voice. Politicians do a lot of things behind closed doors, which this certainly wasn't. His moral judgement might not be 100 per cent - every great man has a slip," he said.

But the praise was by no means unanimous. GetbacktoworkGeorge, a website, claimed to have received more than 10,000 messages while a Radio 1 poll showed 93 percent of 21,000 listeners said they now "hated" him.

Some locals remained appalled he was not in Parliament and was absent at a meeting to discuss the Crossrail transport link.

Mr Hussain, 46, who had lived in Tower Hamlets for more than two decades, said: "The problem with Galloway is that he was a protest vote."