LONDON – In the final straight of London’s mayoral election, the campaign has turned ugly. The Labour Party is convulsed by a crisis of anti-Semitism within its ranks, hugely exacerbated by former Mayor Ken Livingstone’s claims last week that Hitler supported Zionism. Conservative mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith, meanwhile, accused his Labour rival, Sadiq Khan, of links to dangerous Islamist extremists.
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In the furor that followed, the voice of one formerly prominent candidate has been all but drowned out. Only a few months ago, George Galloway, former member of parliament and notorious race-baiter, could have claimed to be the most well-known in the field of 12 candidates vying to be the capital’s next mayor. He would have certainly been expected to be at the center of any major controversy – certainly any concerning claims of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Instead, he has been relegated to the status of bystander ahead of this Thursday’s election.
Two weeks ago, the campaign’s main televised debate took place on the BBC. Only the five highest-ranking candidates took part, and the 61-year-old Galloway wasn’t among them. He was relegated instead to a short segment where the seven other candidates were each given 30 seconds to state their case. There, in his rightful place – sandwiched between two other racist candidates and just before other assorted fruitcakes campaigning for legalized marijuana and free love – he seemed cut down to size outside the limelight, and succeeded in saying nothing memorable whatsoever.
Most polls predict that he will receive around 1 percent of the vote. One poll had him statistically on zero percent. Is this the end of Galloway’s malignant career? Some certainly think so. Journalist Nick Cohen, a veteran observer of the British left, wrote a column in The Spectator magazine in March titled “Farewell, George Galloway.”
Galloway has already achieved two surprising comebacks since his banishment from Labour in 2004, after he expressed support for Iraqis fighting British troops. In the 2005 general election, he won the East London seat of Bethnal Green and Bow as a candidate for the Respect Party, while in 2012 he won a by-election in Bradford West. In both cases, he triumphed in heavily Muslim constituencies.
In East London, his victory was preceded by a vicious whisper campaign against Labour’s Oona King, which mentioned her Jewish roots. In Bradford, he exploited rivalries between local Pakistani clans. Each time, Galloway – who is much too busy taking care of his broadcasting career on Russian and Iranian-owned news channels to spend much time on his constituents’ needs – failed to defend his seat.
He lost Bradford last year after being roundly defeated by Labour’s Naz Shah (one of the prominent figures currently embroiled in the party’s anti-Semitism row). Before the election, he accused her of “defaming Islam” for detailing how she had been forced to marry a much-older man as an underage bride in Pakistan.
He has pursued similar tactics in the current mayoral campaign, accusing front-runner Khan – who has made significant efforts to court Jewish voters – of conducting a “love affair with Israel.” This time, however, it hasn’t seemed to work. If the polls are anything to go by, neither the far-left nor London’s large Muslim community seem to be buying Galloway’s tricks.
There could be a number of reasons for this. With Labour under its new far-left leader Jeremy Corbyn, some voters who may have considered choosing Galloway have found a more natural political home. Galloway’s dismal record as a constituency MP certainly hasn’t furnished him with the credentials necessary to run Western Europe’s largest city. Another possible reason could be that British Muslims, who are mainly Sunni, are no longer so forgiving toward Galloway following his vocal support for Shi’ite Iran and the Assad regime currently massacring hundreds of thousands of Sunnis in Syria.
Galloway has acknowledged in recent interviews that he has no chance of being elected mayor, and instead has staked out his next electoral target. Assuming front-runner Khan wins on Thursday (and he remains up to 20 points clear in the polls), he is expected to resign from parliament, triggering a by-election in his old South London constituency of Tooting.
But if this election is anything to go by, it seems reasonable to hope that Londoners have finally woken up to Galloway’s full toxicity. He will probably try to continue grandstanding at every electoral opportunity he gets, but he is already well on his way to a twilight existence on the racist margins of social media, where he belongs.