Tuesday, January 10, 2006

george on four

So what do we think about Gorgeous George Galloway being on Celebrity Big Brother? He seems to have attracted the usual amount of vitriol for doing so, and, as usual, I find myself torn between damning and praising the man they call the thinking woman's Des Lynam. First off, there's no point pretending that George is not an old-fashioned thug, as his distasteful hounding of Oona King proved at the last election. Nor can he survive allegations that he has knowingly stoked up support by allying himself with disasteful people and causes. It's fashionable, given this, to accuse George of having no interest, no 'respect' for his constituents – the inference being that the old Bolshevik will abandon the residents of Bethnal Green as soon as something more interesting comes along (like Big Brother). The Guardian ran a rather absurd article on him last week, accusing him of neglecting his parliamentary duties to appear on the show. That allegation seems to have built in momentum.

But if people think for one moment that every MP spends all day every day serving the needs of their constitiuents, they need to reassess the situation. MPs invariably have time consuming businesss interests and have been known to go missing for weeks and months on end on holidays, business trips, lecture tours and all sorts of jollies (ask Tony). It must be admitted that Galloway has not been very active in Parliament of late – I'm not trying to defend him – but at the same time I think that what he's doing at the moment, while obviously shot through with the same streak of egoism evident in all his media work, is actually pretty interesting and bold. Politics, to most people, is fucking boring, as was clear when George entered the house and it became apparent that none of the younger housemates (and only one or two of the older ones) had the faintest clue who he was. I was really shocked that Preston and Maggot – two young men making moderately bright left-field music - for example, didn't even recognise the name. But that just shows what a bubble I live in, I suppose.

Galloway doubtless expected to be able to use his time in the house to undermine Tony Blair further by talking about the illegal invasion of Iraq, but won't – by the looks of things – be successful. He is censored pretty much every time he opens his mouth. On the first night when he arrived in the house he declared his opposition to the war and was met by a chorus of people replying "I'm with you" and "me too", but Channel 4 set the tone for their coverage by editing out these responses. Since then we've heard nothing on the matter, from what I gather.

The problem with setting oneself up as a detractor of Galloway is that he's actualy – on a personal level - pretty likeable, and certainly entertaining, as his rip-roaring performance in the US last year showed. I want to hate him for cosying up to Saddam and exploiting racial divisions to garner votes, but then I hate Tony Blair a hell of a lot more for lying to parliament and going to war with Iraq, and more than a few of the American neocons who pushed for war in Iraq were more than happy to cosy up to Saddam when it suited their interests. Either way, you can't help but sympathise with him, if only because the gormless, unprincipled bastards he opposes on the front bench of the Labour Party are so objectionable.

In addition, I don't believe, however much I dislike much of what he says and does, that Galloway cares nothing for his constituents or for the people of Britain. Like lots of politicians, I think he's motivated partly by egotism, delusions of grandeur and hubris. But on the other hand, I suspect that he feels as strongly about poverty or education as most of his generation of Labour party MPs, which is to say, a hell of a lot more than most of the Tory party, or George W. Bush.

So far on BB Galloway has not been allowed to come across as anything other than a likeable, harmless old-fashioned sort of chap. Because of the editing, and because the mostly inconsequential chatter of his housemates takes politics off the agenda, he hasn't revealed himself to be the forceful wideboy his detractors like to paint him as. He'll probably get voted out at the first eviction, but he'll have been more successful in a matter of days than any politician this year - bar Charles Kennedy - when it comes to occupying the attention of people who are not generally interested in the news. Which I think is a good thing, and broadly speaking in the interest of his constituents and all of us, so long as there are people running his constituency in his absence. But that brings me to Channel 4.

Why did they put him in? I can see that most BB viewers aren't going to want to sit and watch political debates day and night, but it became pretty obvious early on that Galloway had not been teamed up with people much inclined to the subject matter. With no fear of talk of Iraq dominating, therefore, Channel 4 really should leave the bleeper alone and show us a bit of actual conservation. Big Brother is very occasionally a brilliant programme, although it's far more often a grim embarrasment. Where it succeeds is in the occasional insights into what people think and say, of themselves and their ideas, of other people. Galloway won't be given the opportunity, but a chance has been passed up to introduce a bit of political and cultural debate into a programme sorely lacking in that spark of intelligence.

Channel 4 have probably made a mistake in electing to ask Galloway to appear. Having someone capable of questioning him, arguing with him, and talking sensibly with him might even have entertained a few of those people who only tune in for a scrap or a row. Alternatively, they should just have put forward ten morons, instead of nine.


Stephen Newton said...

I also thought Galloway could be mistaken for the kind of bloke whose company you’d enjoy down the pub. But I think I prejudged that. Jodie Marsh has the measure of the man; regardless of politics he is a bully who thinks he’s above everyone else.

He was allowed to spout nonsense on last night’s highlights show and claim that Saddam Hussein was a popular leader, who only oppressed political opponents. So that’s all right then.

jonathan said...

Really? I didn't see that. Might have to do some heavy-duty hat-eating if he keeps that kind of nonsense up.

quin said...

Wonder if they'll bring Oona King into the house.