A metamorphosis – from a butterfly back into a slug (sic). This was George Galloway’s assessment of the recent career of the prominent journalist Cristopher Hitchens. Hitchens, apparently desperate to emulate his hero George Orwell, built for himself a simplistic way of looking at today’s world, in which the conditions of 1939 found themselves quite comfortably mirrored, and “the left” could be attacked as tyrant-loving hypocrites. On this basis Hitchens would justify his support of successive American wars this century, enjoying that same exalted credibility so typically afforded to reformed dissidents. That his analogy was wholly inappropriate was not important. Hitchens would achieve the ambiguous and pointless title of “contrarian” and the mere trifle of historical accuracy would not stand in his way. Details are of no great concern to a populist who knows his trade. Hitchens had to invent a “left” that was as naïve and sentimentalist as the pacifists of 1939, in order that could berate it, in places using terms lifted straight from Orwell’s work. Set against this, the consistency and uncompromising dignity of the position taken by Galloway represented a defiant, shining beacon.
Today it would seem that George Galloway is now himself undergoing some sort of a metamorphosis. While many on the left would have been surprised by Mr Galloway’s decision to follow up his unflinchingly resolute display in Washington with an appearance on a television talk show hosted by the singularly unpleasant Anne Robinson, such an appearance could be justified as a one-off indulgence on his part, just so long as it did not prove to represent a blueprint for a new tactical direction in Mr Galloway’s campaigning. So it was truly disappointing to learn this week that “Gorgeous George” was to appear on “Celebrity Big Brother”. The right wing press have long pursued a bitter vendetta against Galloway, and it is notable that they are rarely interested in pursuing the Commons attendance and voting statistics of MPs on the political right or centre. This criticism is not derived from any sympathy for their gutter journalism.
The politics of collectivism and social progress does not sit comfortably alongside the curious blend of passivity, self-hate and monosyllabic simplicity which characterises the “soundbite” culture with which PR consultancies, advertising companies and Whitehall spin doctors have poisoned the intellectual life of the country. So-called “reality” television shows belong in this realm, creating as they do an illusion of participation in much the same way as the smile of a charismatic populist purports to engage his audience. The whole culture of celebrity worship is founded on an a-social, perhaps even an anti-social, egoism, which is anathema to socialism and progress.
This has been a good week for George Galloway the businessman, and a less good week for the man who was a hero of sorts as recently as the late 1990s, when he campaigned tirelessly on Iraq long before it was any sort of a cause celebre. His most ardent supporters may protest that this latest gig will allow him the opportunity to reach a greater audience. But it is a real shame that this talented, principled and progressive man, who had been so resolute and unflinching in the face of much stronger, darker forces, has so meekly cowered to fashion for so little gain.
This move will have reinforced the already pervasive sense that he is very much a one-man band and a self-publicist, who perhaps benefited more from the Respect Coalition than it has benefited from him. The useless Oona King, whose absurd accusations at the Bethnal Green & Bow election were so underhand and shamefully desperate, suddenly seems briefly vindicated. Christopher Hitchens may indeed have become the most awful apologist for Washington, but what is a far greater shame is that George Galloway, is today turning his socialism into a novelty which can be bartered and flaunted – and , by extension, trivialised and ultimately marginalised, in the company of glamour models and professional celebrities. And all of this, no doubt, to the delighted satisfaction of one Christopher Hitchens.