Howard Jacobson: Don't get too close to your enemy's enemy

I think I’d go for Galloway – briefly – if I were a woman. Strong, suave, tanned to within an inch of his life

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All hail the Bradford Spring! Well you hail it if you want to. Some lessons the left will never learn. Behold it falling once again into the trap of thinking its enemy's enemy must be its friend. One should no more overestimate George Galloway than one should underestimate him. He is no Stalin or Mao Zedong whose tyrannies the left will blink away until they can no longer be denied. A formidable prize-fighter he might be, but he is unlikely to make the planet tremble.

No one knows what ambitions lie curled about the heart of any man, but if Galloway ever did harbour grand designs on the quiet of the world, he has not organised his career wisely. He is not, as he has assured the electorate of Bradford, a drinker, but he otherwise lacks the appearance of abstemiousness we expect of a dictator. He looks too easily distracted. Too fond of the good things in life to sacrifice them to ideology. He is, of course, an ideologue, but his chosen ideologies have a whiff of sunshine, foreign travel, luxury. Ideology courtesy of Elegant Resorts. I'm surprised some enterprising stage director hasn't yet asked him to play Enobarbus in Antony and Cleopatra, enthusing over the soft and silky sinuousness of Cleopatra's court.

It was his reported womanising, whatever the truth of it, that first earned him the nickname "Gorgeous" George, and that he has a taste for beautiful women – some of whom he marries, some of whom he doesn't: his business either way – he would be the last to deny. Indeed, it's hard not to speculate that foremost among his ambitions when he wins a seat in Parliament is the opportunity this affords him to be photographed by the Daily Mail with a new companion.

I think I'd go for him – briefly – if I were a woman. He'd give a girl a good time. Strong, suave, fleshly, gallant, quick-witted, mischievous, well travelled, tanned to within an inch of his life, and then there's that unforgiving and yet somehow seductive Dundee accent blowing warm into your ear. His inability, if he took you out to dinner, to go the distance of a single course without mentioning "Israeli imperialism" would hinder intimacy somewhat, but he isn't the only person to use the phrase "Israeli imperialism" to clear his throat, and he is wrong about so many things it's invidious to pick on just one. Myself, I suspect he'd have felt differently about Israel anyway if he'd only found a beautiful member of the Israeli Defence Forces to date.

That apart, it is to his credit that on hate days in Trafalgar Square and other events where the company is uniformly solemn and sanctimonious, he gives so good an impression of being the last of the Good Time Charlies. But if this keeps the world safe from the most egregious of his opinions, it still behoves commentators not to make him a hero of the left or to describe his victory in Bradford as a victory for the people.

"Bradford," wrote Seumas Milne in The Guardian, "was a vote against austerity and war, but also against a reviled me-too political establishment ... a reminder that the left can set the political pace if it's prepared to give a voice to people's real concerns." For "people's real concerns" read Milne's real concerns, since the "reviling" he applauds sounds suspiciously like his own.

As for what the voters of Bradford thought they were voting for, as for what their real (as opposed to their false?) concerns are, as for the nature of their disaffection with Labour and to what degree it can be described as revilement, it is too early to say and probably impossible to disentangle at any time. He who would respect the wishes and motivations of voters owes it to them at the very least to admit the complexity and even opacity of their vote. Little is to be learnt from an election if all you do is interpret the outcome in the image of your own politics.

If Galloway's victory does show how the left can "set the political pace" then it's a left that's not embarrassed to be divisive, sectarian and – for a platform is as much a matter of temperature as policy – inflammatory.

No, not all those who voted for Galloway were likely to have been Muslims, but his campaign shamelessly courted Muslim prejudice in smaller matters such as alcohol – where Galloway painted himself as more Muslim than the Muslim Labour candidate whom he accused of liking, shock horror, a tipple – and larger matters such as the Middle East, where the concerns of the electorate might be real, but that doesn't mean they are well informed or well thought out, and where Galloway's record of hobnobbing with the unloveliest of dictators, for whom he has appeared, at times, to nurse a passion no less intense than his passion for the loveliest of women, hardly makes him a reliable or dispassionate spokesman.

I am not going to say that the impressionable young were whipped up in Bradford, or that Galloway's Big Brother escapades worked for him rather than, as one would have hoped of a mature electorate unmoved by celebrity, against, because that would be to read the outcome in my own image. But for anyone other than Galloway himself to see his election as a "Spring" is to make the old mistake. Your enemy's enemy is not necessarily your friend.

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