Page last updated at 21:57 GMT, Wednesday, 25 January 2006

Celebrity Big Brother catch-up

With MP George Galloway's stay in the Celebrity Big Brother now over, here is our guide to what he has missed in the real world during the past 21 days:


There is no getting away from it, George Galloway himself has been one of the biggest stories of the past three weeks - and not just for his antics in the Big Brother house.

Yes, we have had the unforgettable - for all the wrong reasons - sights of Mr Galloway dancing in a leotard, Mr Galloway pretending to be a cat and Mr Galloway in a lab coat trying to read the mind of a goldfish called Barry.

But even without these dubious televisual treats, the Bethnal Green and Bow MP would probably have loomed large in the newspaper headlines and television running orders.

In the past 24 hours alone, he has won a libel battle with the Daily Telegraph, faced a possible Commons inquiry into his conduct and featured on the front page of The Sun in a story about a meeting with Saddam Hussein's son, Uday.

The Serious Fraud Office is also looking into the results of a UN-backed investigation into alleged kickbacks from Saddam Hussein. More than enough to keep the MP occupied as he adjusts back to reality.


They bickered. They turned on each other. Their drink confessions and sex scandals dominated the front pages. Three of them were nominated for a vote.

Yes, it has been quite a few weeks for the Liberal Democrats - and Mr Galloway has missed nearly all of it.

When he entered the house, Charles Kennedy was clinging on as party leader.

He will re-emerge to an entirely different Lib Dem landscape, with another fellow Scot, Sir Menzies Campbell, temporarily taking the helm during a leadership contest - and the party reeling from revelations that an erstwhile candidate had an affair with a male prostitute.


Mr Galloway tried in vain to kick-start a bit of political debate among his Big Brother housemates. His other housemates, at Westminster, did little else.

Tony Blair stepped up efforts to sell his school reforms to MPs despite a wounding attack by former Labour leader Lord Kinnock, whose rabble-rousing performance in a Commons committee room girded the loins of many would-be rebels.

MPs also debated the employment of convicted sex offenders in schools, as Education Secretary Ruth Kelly fought for her political life.

And - in a moment of light relief, for Conservative and Labour MPs at least - Sir Menzies Campbell endured the PMQs from hell.


Mr Galloway complained bitterly about being stripped of his democratic rights by not being allowed to vote in the Big Brother eviction nominations.

But if he had remained in the House of Commons he would have had dozens of opportunities to exercise his prerogative - as his opponents never tire of pointing out.

While he was away, MPs voted on issues as varied as the governance of Wales and animal welfare. They also debated the controversial Crossrail project, a matter directly affecting Mr Galloway's constituents.


Pete Burns' "gorilla" coat may have been the talk of CBB, but it was another beleaguered mammal that grabbed attention at Westminster, as a female northern bottlenosed whale was spotted swimming past the Palace of Westminster.

Surreal headlines such as "Whale lost in central London" were all-too swiftly followed by the sad news that the creature had died.


Mr Galloway's opponents have attacked him for trivialising politics, but it would be wrong to suppose MPs spent their entire time debating lofty matters of state.

In the past three weeks, backbenchers have - among other things - tabled Early Day Motions welcoming the return to television of Rupert the Bear, calling on the BBC to reinstate a Radio 4 theme tune and congratulating Wigan and Leicester City football clubs on their respective cup wins over Arsenal and Tottenham.

Meanwhile, a report showed the overall printing and publishing charges for Early Day Motions have almost doubled since 2001, from 338,000 to 614,000 - about 60 per page.


Mr Galloway's constituents seemed to react to their MP's rebirth as a reality TV star with either anger or bewilderment.

One local newspaper, The Hackney Gazette, which described his cat impersonation as "disturbing in a strangely sexual way", asked "How is it that a Member of Parliament supposedly representing the people in his constituency can clear his diary for up to 23 days to play at celebrities in the Big Brother house?"

A website entitled Get Back to Work, George was set up to calculate how much each day he was in the house was costing taxpayers.

But for Mr Galloway's many and varied political opponents - in Bethnal Green and beyond - his decision to enter the house was a dream come true.

Former Labour colleagues such as Dennis Macshane and Hilary Armstrong queued up to attack him, with Mr Macshane saying his TV performance "demeans Parliament, shames politics, abuses democracy".

Mrs Armstrong set up an alternative MP's surgery in Mr Galloway's constituency, to listen to the problems of the people he was meant to be representing in the Commons.

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