Sunday, 1 April 2012

Running like George Galloway

Just back from a run. I find it concentrates the mind, and given how it knackers the legs, what it tends to concentrate the mind on is running.

Thinking about running led to my thinking about the word itself. For instance, in the expression ‘running for office’. Now originally that was the US term, but it’s now pretty standard in Britain too, even though traditionally we tend to ‘stand’ for office. Much more decorous, don’t you know. Much more the well-tailored blazer instead of the track suit. Much better if you want to keep pretending that the voters come looking for you and demand you take office, without your having to pursue them and woo their support.

In turn that got me thinking about Bradford West. For any of you who might not be following the details of minor English electoral battles, what occurred was a by-election caused by the retirement of a highly popular Member of Parliament, in a constituency with 38% Moslem voters, held by Labour since 1974.

Unlike some of our cities which have managed to crawl out of the hole into which the loss of their earlier prosperity had hurled them — one might mention Glasgow or Liverpool — Bradford seems to be stuck in a rut of high unemployment and continuing decline, symbolised by the hole in its centre — in its heart, one might say — where a new shopping mall was due to be built but now isn’t.

Its misfortunes are laid by many at the door of the system known as ‘Bradree’. Despite how it sounds, it
’s not linked to Bradford linguistically, though it is in everyday life. It’s an Urdu word for brotherhood or family and has come to mean a local government regime where everything depends on your own and your connections’ having roots in the Kashmiri town of Mirpur. 

Into this mix steps George Galloway. Back in 1987, he won the Glasgow Hillhead constituency for Labour, unseating Roy Jenkins who had won it in a much-hyped victory for the then Social Democratic Party.

Galloway quickly made a name for himself as a maverick and a fine, daring speaker in often unpopular causes. When US and British troops were engaged in Iraq, he called on Arab nations to come to the rescue of their Arab brothers in that sad nation, even though it was still led at the time by Saddam Hussein.

Excluded from the Labour Party, he agreed to give up his Glasgow seat. But, having already claimed a major scalp in beating Roy Jenkins, in 2005 he went on to take Oona King’s seat in Bethnal Green and Bow.

Despite being suspended from parliament for bringing the institution into disrepute, and failing to find a constituency in the general election of 2010, now he’s won another famous victory, taking the Bradford West seat from Labour, and by a handsome majority of 10,000 votes.

As I pounded on with my run, it occurred to me that Galloway is a man who certainly runs for office rather than merely standing. He’s shown again and again how at ease he is with quick footwork. He did it when, called to testify to a US Senate committee on money he might have made from Iraqi oil, he accused them of putting up the ‘mother of all smokescreens’; he did it again on Friday morning when, despite being no Moslem himself, he called for ‘All praise to Allah’ following his win, a form of words unlikely to be badly received by his most active supporters, many of whom are Moslem.

Unsuccessfully opposing him for Labour in the by-election had been Imrain Hussain, deputy leader of Bradford Council, and a man who certainly traces his lineage back to Mirpur. He’s a barrister and therefore no doubt a gentleman, much more used to wielding the stiletto of the law than the bludgeon of the political hustings. He declined even to cross swords with Galloway by engaging him in public debate.

Yes, I think Hussain stood for office while Galloway ran. And Galloway left his opponent standing.

All that was going through my mind as I forced myself on to another kilometre or two this morning, with my poor dog Janka struggling breathlessly behind me. At least there was satisfaction in knowing that Galloway had proved the superiority of running over standing still.

But back at my car, another thought intruded to spoil my mood.

Because despite all that effort, all that expenditure of energy, all I'd achieved was to find myself right back where I’d started from.

Janka's new best friend (top left): ‘Stay and play. What's the rush?’
Janka, struggling to keep up: Search me. We run and run but end up back where we started.

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