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Last Updated: Friday, 13 January 2006, 11:10 GMT
London: Celebrity MPs
Tim Donovan
Tim Donovan
Political Editor BBC London

George Galloway
George Galloway: Entry of the Gladiator?

George Galloway, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow in East London, has always courted controversy. He was expelled in October 2003 from Labour for his public opposition to the war in Iraq.

He has been criticised for his meetings with former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein and he has been the subject of various financial investigations.

But, to some, the MP's latest television appearance may have taken things too far. On 5 January 2006, Mr Galloway disappeared from his constituency.

But it was not long before everyone found out where he was: locked in a house ... not the House of Commons.

The MP turned up with ten other celebrities on Channel 4's Celebrity Big Brother, the 24-hour reality TV show, and he managed to stir up a media storm.

Both the tabloids and broadsheets seized the opportunity to question his motives and speculate (in his absence) on whether this was a stroke of genius or political career hari-kari.

Mr Galloway defended his decision, saying it was "good for politics" and that he would use his time in the house to spread his political messages.

On his Respect party website he states politicians must get their message across any which way they can.

But there is speculation it will backfire.

The younger housemates in the Big Brother house have already spoken behind the MP's back, calling him old and dull.

While the constituents of Bethnal Green and Bow appear divided on his political experiment.

Asghar Bukhari from the Muslim Public Affairs Committee said: "It is working. I will give you an example.

"My 15-year old nephew and his friends are glued to the show.

"They are talking about Galloway and his politics and I have spent years trying to get him to talk politics and, until now, he has always refused!"

Atik Saman who lives and works in Bow is not so enthusiastic.

He said: "We backed him when he went to America, but we do not back him on this.

"He is looking like an idiot. What next? Is he going to turn up in a pantomime?"

Anne Widdecombe
Anne Widdecombe battled with her weight on ITV

Respect counters that he is there to put out whatever political messages he can that are not edited out, and that he is putting himself unashamedly on the line.

Clearly he is not the first MP to do a turn on television.

One only has to think of:

  • London MP Stephen Pound trying life as a warder in Dartmoor prison
  • Boris Johnson on Have I Got News For You
  • Clare Short sampling the life of the teacher in My Week in the Real World
  • and Anne Widdecombe battling with her weight on Celebrity Fit Club

Buried deeper in the mists of time some may remember Denis Healey as Chancellor of the Exchequer appearing in a television pantomime.

But Mr Galloway has ended up on a very different kind of television, where the contestants are ruthlessly judged by each other and the viewer. Some might say it is a very direct form of democracy.

Also on the Politics Show London

Whatever your view on Celebrity Big Brother appearance, George Galloway has sparked off the debate once more on how to engage London's diverse population in politics.

In the studio we discuss whether London's politicians should engage with the young, uninterested and disaffected in different ways.

And another skyscraper project in the heart of London could be on the verge of receiving initial planning permission. In the studio we discuss whether tall buildings benefit Londoners.

The Politics Show

Join the Politics Show on BBC One on Sunday 22 January 2006 at Noon with Tim Donovan.

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