Matthew Norman: Bravo, George, you've recalled a lost art

He did it the old-fashioned way - with sheer forensic brilliance and raw, savage aggression
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The Independent Online

Whatever the truth of those allegations regarding Saddam's oil (and there would appear to be none), there can be no doubt that George Galloway has committed a federal offence on US soil.

Whatever the truth of those allegations regarding Saddam's oil (and there would appear to be none), there can be no doubt that George Galloway has committed a federal offence on US soil.

On this, we have a full and frank confession from the Hon Member for Bethnal Green and Bow himself. Standing at the epicentre of American imperial might after Tuesday's triumph, so he informed his welcoming party back in the East End, Mr Galloway smoked a Havana cigar.

If one day another committee sits in judgement of those who have broken US sanctions against Cuban goods, it seems unlikely that its chairman - unless he has a strong political death wish - will invite George to explain himself. But if he did, we can readily imagine the response.

For many years until his death, George would remind that committee, Winston Churchill received a monthly consignment of cigars as a personal gift from Fidel Castro (a man with whom George once swam, he is proud to report, in the Caribbean Sea).

"Winston Churchill ... the giant with whom your own pygmie President George W Bush, arrogant New England Wasp masquerading as Texan good ol' boy that he is, has the grotesque impertinence to compare himself in his immoral and catastrophic 'war against terror' ..."

You can hear the words gliding forth, beautifully modulated as ever, and spitting Olympian disdain like venom from the mouth of a cobra in that rich Dundee brogue.

It would be equally absurd closely to compare our own George with Churchill. However, seldom since the old boy has the Mother of Parliaments known an orator of his class, and much of the joy one felt listening to him on Tuesday came from this reminder of an art form widely thought to have perished decades ago.

In an age when pliant Labour backbenchers can barely ask after the Prime Minister's engagements without reference to the pager message from Downing Street, what bliss to hear a renegade MP briefly explode the smug and sonorous certainties of Washington without so much as a note scrawled on the back of an envelope. Indeed, reading his oration closely, the only disappointment is a split infinitive.

"I have met Saddam Hussein exactly the same number of times as Donald Rumsfeld met him," said Mr Galloway. "The difference is that he met to sell him guns and to give him maps to better target those guns. I met him to try to bring about an end to sanctions, suffering and war." (Let no one accuse George of lacking ambition.)

In any Stalinist rewriting of this footnote to political history, the text would be amended to read: "... give him maps the better to target those guns". Yet this is just the sort of grammatical pedantry up with which Winnie would not put. The substance of the argument is beyond criticism.

Indeed, George might have gone further, and reminded committee chairman Norm Coleman, the neocon senator from Minnesota, that long after the use of chemical weapons against Iran was known in Washington, Mr Rumsfeld went to Baghdad as Ronald Reagan's envoy, and posed with Saddam on the front page of a newspaper, which quoted him praising the dictator as a force for modernity in the region with whom the US would be thrilled to do business.

The rankness of American hypocrisy in its relations with Iraq will, one hopes, prove rather more than a historical footnote, but the facts are by now wearyingly familiar. Every moderately well-informed opponent of the war can trot them out with the robotic confidence of a seven year old reciting her five times table, and George's declamation will change absolutely nothing.

The last time he made the point about having met Saddam as often as Rummy (in almost the identical words, but without the split infinitive), Al-Jazeera billed it as "George Galloway's historical speech, which could change the face of British politics for ever". That was in October 2003, and while perhaps it is still too soon to be sure, British politics look to be trundling along pretty much as ever.

So on this precedent, it seems optimistic to expect American politics to be revolutionised by Tuesday's address. Doubtless there are a few Wolfie Smiths in Tooting bedsits who expect the walls of the neocon Jericho to tumble at this rhetorical blast from the Galloway trumpet. To the rest of us, this was a performance to relish less for its potential to reshape the world than as a supreme instance of sporting panto.

In yesterday's Independent, Rupert Cornwell drew the comparison with the USA's 1950 World Cup win over England, while my own first instinct was to compare it with James "Buster" Douglas - on whom literally not one cent was bet in Vegas, and who was quoted there at 42-1 - knocking out the unbeaten Mike Tyson in Tokyo. Yet neither quite does it justice. For while the football match was 11 men against 11, and the bout matched heavyweight with heavyweight, Galloway vs Congress was a catchweight contest of the kind unseen since the glory days of ITV wrestling.

This was Kendo Nagasaki against Big Daddy, or possibly Jackie Pallo against Giant Haystacks... the nimble, quick-witted little guy against the slow-moving but seemingly impregnable monolithic bruiser. What the late Kent Walton would have made of it, God alone knows. But for political grapple fans everywhere, it was heaven on earth.

From the first bell, the Pit Bull Cicero went straight for Nasty Norm's throat, and within minutes the senator was banging the canvas in submission. In terms of that proto-neocon Jimmy Stewart, Mr Galloway Went To Washington and turned a budding congressional titan into a barely visible rabbit.

And he did it, most gratifyingly of all, not with the smarmy legalistic cleverness that plagues political debate today, but the old-fashioned way - with sheer forensic brilliance and raw, savage aggression. It was the kind of frontal assault one might have heard from a 1950s soapbox.

It was in the grand tradition of Speaker's Corner, only this wasn't some well-meaning nutter ranting in Hyde Park, but a very smart, very gutsy political scrapper disobeying the immutable law of 21st-century power, which states that no one may speak the blunt truth about the immorality of American imperial adventurism on American government soil.

The tiniest oasis in a vast and arid desert of British obeisance to US global omnipotence, it will, needless to repeat, change nothing. But it did the heart a power of good to hear, and it established George Galloway alongside his swimming partner Fidel Castro and his fellow Havana-lover Winston Churchill among the more noteworthy orators of the modern world.

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