Britain’s ruling Labour Party expelled its dissident Member of Parliament George Galloway on October 23, after a special hearing of the national constitutional committee found him guilty of bringing the party into disrepute. His case is seen by some commentators as evidence of how worried British prime minister Tony Blair is by popular opposition to his pro-American foreign policy.
George Galloway, MP for the working class Scottish constituency of Glasgow Kelvin, and popular for his outspoken criticism of many elements of US and British foreign policy, was charged on four counts, all based on his opposition to the British government's support for the US's war in Iraq. They were that he incited Arabs to fight against British troops, that he incited British troops to disobey orders, he threatened to stand against Labour candidates, and that he supported an anti-war candidate against the official Labour candidate in Britain. He was cleared of only one charge, that of urging voters in Plymouth not to back Labour.
The main charge against him was based on interviews he gave to Abu Dhabi television, and to other television stations, during the war, in which he was alleged to have encouraged Arabs to resist the invasion of Iraq and to kill British troops. He was also accused of encouraging British soldiers to disobey orders in an interview with the British ITV television channel.
Seumas Milne, a leading commentator with the Guardian newspaper, analysed the case against Galloway and concluded, in an article published on October 23, that the case against him clearly had no substance. Examining the transcript of the Abu Dhabi interview, he points out that Galloway actually ruled out Arab military resistance against the US intervention, but proposed that Arab states could embargo oil sales to Western countries instead. Milne also agrees with Galloway's defence that advising British soldiers to disobey illegal orders was in line with the legal principle and precedent established at the Nuremburg trials at the end of the Second World War: that soldiers were responsible for their own actions and were specifically expected to disobey illegal orders.
Milne also pointed out that the popular uproar at Galloway's comments were entirely coordinated by the government, which gave an edited transcript of the Abu Dhabi interview to the right-wing tabloid newspaper, the Sun. He also pointed out that Labour party rules specifically state that no member can be disciplined for the "mere holding or expression of opinions."
This was only one of several smears against Galloway over the Iraq war. The Daily Telegraphnewspaper – also known for its right-wing views – and the US-based Christian Science Monitorboth published allegations, supposedly based on documents found in burned-out offices in Baghdad, that he had personally received £375,000 ($600,000) a year from Saddam Hussain's government. The Christian Science Monitor has subsequently accepted that the documents were forged, while the Telegraph is defending itself against Galloway's libel case not by claiming that the allegations are true, but that it reported the finding of the documents in good faith.
Galloway's expulsion from the Labour Party ends his association with the political party which he joined over 36 years ago, but which has moved over that period from being a left-wing, working class party to being a centre-right social democratic party. The Iraq war was the final straw, which broke Labour leadership's patience with him, but was only the latest of a long series of issues on which he took principled stands against government policy, often on Middle Eastern and Muslim affairs.
These include Scottish devolution, the northern Irish peace process, supporting the Palestinian cause in the 1970s and 80s, opposition to the US’s sanctions regime against Iraq, and opposition to the West’s campaign against Colonel Qaddafi’s Libya.
Following his expulsion from the Labour party, Galloway has made speeches on the need to establish a genuine working class party in Britain. He is also expected to fight to hold his Parliamentary seat as an independent, against any official Labour Party candidate put up against him. He remains popular among large numbers of grassroots Labour members, as well as having considerable support among a wider constituency of politically informed people. He is also popular among Arabs and Muslims, in Britain and the Middle East.
Having decided to expel him from the Labour Party, Blair must be well aware of his ability to continue to cause trouble for the government from outside the party. Having exposed the lack of democracy and freedom of opinion and speech within the Labour Party, Galloway now has the opportunity to the same in the rest of British politics.