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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 April, 2003, 12:27 GMT 13:27 UK
What to do about George

By Nyta Mann
BBC News Online political correspondent

In the upper ranks of the Labour Party there has been much rubbing of hands with glee over George Galloway's trouble.

This latest controversy surrounding the highly awkward left-winger is the one that may decide his political future - and they would dearly love him not to have one.

George Galloway MP
George Galloway: Street-fighting politician says he would go it alone
They want him out of the Labour fold, and have done since before the Daily Telegraph's allegations, all of which he strenuously denies.

For many, his wartime comments on Abu Dhabi TV that Tony Blair and George Bush were "wolves" and urging British troops not to follow "illegal" orders were the last straw.

His current crisis only adds to their determination - though how to go about it remains tricky.

Labour faces number of options.

First, what to throw him out for? Libel cases are notoriously long-winded affairs. But hard to expel him over disputed claims still trundling towards their day in court.

Instead, Labour spokespeople are assiduously sticking to his comments during the war as the sole basis on which David Triesman, the party's general secretary, will decide whether to refer his behaviour to the party's ruling national executive committee (NEC).

No speedy route

If he does then Labour's own quasi-legal disciplinary process gets under way.

But the the NEC doesn't next meet until June, so neither route can be accused of being speedy.

What about removing the party whip? Long before either of the above procedures reaches crunch point, the Commons returns next week from its Easter break.

Party sources say that before the Telegraph made its claims, Mr Galloway had already met Labour whips to discuss the matter of his wartime remarks.

Whatever agreement may have been floated at that meeting, the Parliamentary Labour Party could well force the issue when it gathers next week. There are certainly plenty of loyalist MPs who would happily drum him out of their ranks at Westminster if given the opportunity.

Scramble for Scots seats

How about letting the scramble for Scottish seats take care of him? Party managers point to this as a possible longer-term option.

A clutch of nervous senior Labour MPs - including cabinet ministers Gordon Brown, John Reid and Helen Liddell - face the disappearance of their seats at the next election under Boundary Commission proposals to cut the number of Scottish MPs from 72 to 59. So does Mr Galloway, with the number of Glasgow seats being cut from 10 to seven.

The survivalist skulduggery under way in Scottish Labour as established MPs seek to displace each other in the grab for remaining "merged" seats could rid the party hierarchy of its troublesome MP.

Whichever method of disposal may eventually be chosen, Labour can't bank on that being the end of their entanglement with him.

Mr Galloway has made it clear he is willing to go it alone as an independent if he is blocked from standing under Labour's colours.

As Labour knows, its recent record of blocking controversial left-wing candidacies is not a happy one. Ken Livingstone in London, Dennis Canavan in the Scottish Parliament - party managers wince at the record.

Mr Galloway, a street-fighting politician with a supportive base in Glasgow, and whose anti-war stance will probably serve him well in the newly configured seat for which he would be running, could well deliver a similar bloody nose to Labour.

The Labour chiefs who want to see the back of him may get their way in the end. It does not follow that they will have seen the last of him.





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