By David Broder
"Not since Ken Livingstone was giving out GLC grants has such a
collection of loony tunes gathered under one roof. . . This is
reality TV's nadir - or so we must hope." George Galloway on Big
Brother, May 2004
"The contestants are desperate to appear on TV. . . sad, vulnerable
people. . . Channel 4 is not just exploiting the contestants. It is
debasing the viewers as well." Socialist Worker, August 2000
"Come May, people won't be deciding on whether to vote Respect or not
on the basis of Big Brother." SWP Party Notes, January 2006
Channel 4 has once again shown itself to be capable of producing
innovative yet bizarre comedy. Its first joke of 2006 was to invite
George Galloway to take part in Celebrity Big Brother.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Galloway accepted this opportunity for
self-publicity, continuing a proud record of television appearance
best known for a rather spectacular "blooper" - grovelling before
Saddam Hussein's while he saluted the Iraqi tyrant's "strength,
courage and indefatigability
So far, there has been little politics in Galloway's performance.
Alarming attempts at flirting with various of his housemates aside,
the main gems so far are an indictment of abortion rights,
celebration of the fact that most young people in Tower Hamlets are
more religious than their parents and the claim that Galloway is
"more famous than Dennis Rodman [who?]" on the grounds that every
Muslim in the world knows his name. (Yes, the Muslim population of
Iraq are big fans.) Oh, and stop press: on the night of Tuesday 10
he told Rula Lenska that Saddam Hussein "isn't hated by ordinary
Iraqis, just by his political opponents".
Now to be fair, its apparently the case that the producers have cut
out most of Galloway's political speeches. What we have heard him
say, however, gives a pretty clear indication that anything
progressive-sounding would be nothing more than reactionary demagogy.
Meanwhile, Galloway can feel pride in being ranked as a "celeb"
alongside someone who slept with the England football manager and the
ex-chief executive of the FA, Michael Barrymore and several people
famous for having surgically-enlarged breasts.
Galloway claims he is in the house (it is surely only a matter of
time before Respect rebrands this as "in da house") in order to reach
out to alienated young people with little interest in mainstream
Of course, socialists want to reach outside the mainstream to those
alienated from official society. But, even if Galloway's politics
were not so very crap, the idea that the dumbed-down, atomising
phenomenon of reality TV is the way to do this is surreal.
This is just another example of how Respect stands for the politics
of celebrity and showbiz, not for the serious business of building a
democratic workers' movement.
Amusingly, Galloway did not tell the SWP that he would be taking part
in Big Brother until 24 hours before the programme went on air - yet
another example of the contempt which this longstanding Stalinist has
for his supposedly socialist allies. The SWP are in a bit of a tight
spot, since back in 2000 Socialist Worker described the programme as
"sewage" and its contestants as "sad, vulnerable people. . .desperate
to be on TV". (Galloway also attacked Big Brother in 2004, echoing
right-wing criticism of the 1980s GLC and attacking the show for
including transexuals and lesbians.)
According to SWP Party Notes, "the telephones in the office have not
stopped ringing" with comrades expressing their objection to
Galloway's TV clowning. Their response? That this episode doesn't
matter since Galloway continues to oppose "war and neo-liberalism".
"There won't be a sudden mass of applications to rejoin the Labour
Party on the basis of George's performance in Big Brother", the SWP
leaders assure their flock, nor will it affect Respect's vote in the
May local government elections.
Don't be so sure. While the SWP flounders around to justify Galloway,
some of his constituents have launched a website detailing the amount
of public money being spent on Galloway's MP's salary while he is in
the Big Brother house and a petition demanding that he gets back to
work representing those who elected him. While the organisers are
clearly pro-Blairite, the website suggests some good questions for
socialists to ask.
What kind of working-class representative takes two weeks off work to
take part in Celebrity Big Brother? What kind of working-class
representative takes time off from his constituency when there are
ongoing campaigns against housing privatisation and Crossrail and a
strike in defence of a victimised council union activist? What will
it take for the left to finally stop promoting Galloway?