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Last Updated: Friday, 6 May, 2005, 08:59 GMT 09:59 UK
Galloway's East End street fight
Street fighting man: Galloway makes his point
Former Labour firebrand George Galloway's vehement anti-war stance was always going to be one of the highlights of the 2005 general election.

His successful and bitter single-issue campaign to oust Oona King from one of the most Muslim seats in the country has secured his place in British political history.

BETHNAL GREEN AND BOW
George Galloway/Respect: 15,801
Oona King/Labour: 14,978
Respect majority: 823

It has also given us a return of sorts to the political street-fighting that once made London's East End such a volatile electoral mix.

Oona King entered the Commons in 1997 with a majority she went on to increase in 2001.

A loyal Blair supporter, she was media savvy and a high profile MP for some of the poorest people in the country.

But eight years on, those constituents have punished her closeness to the Prime Minister - not over the bread-and-butter East End issues of jobs and housing - but over her support for the war in Iraq.

And so it was to the cheers of his supporters that the new member for Bethnal Green and Bow declared: "Mr Blair, this is for Iraq."

Mr Galloway lost the party whip in 2003 over his refusal to toe the line over Iraq.

Personal attacks

Here was a Labour man who had called the Prime Minister a liar long before it emerged as a bright campaign idea in the Tory campaign bunker.

But it was no accident that he then chose Bethnal Green and Bow as his last stand against the party that rejected him.

With close on 45,000 Muslim residents - and Muslims at the forefront of those opposed to the Iraq war - it was Galloway's best chance to bloody Tony Blair's nose.

Forming his own anti-war Respect Party, he called a large number of Muslim volunteers to the constituency - many of them heavily experienced members of the anti-war movement.

The Muslim Association of Britain, an organisation which predominantly campaigns on Palestinian and Iraqi issues, swung behind Mr Galloway with a large number of enthusiastic campaigners, including well-connected local mosque workers eager to make their voice heard.

Many observers thought that this race was too close to call; if Mr Galloway was relying on the Muslim vote, the question was whether he could persuade the solidly working class Labour section of this community to come on board.

Quiet moment: Before things turned ugly
The contest also appeared likely to split the vote, if faith was the issue for voters, as both the Liberal Democrats and Conservatives put up well-known local Muslim figures.

But the first hustings very quickly demonstrated this was going to be a title-fight between Galloway and King - and not a particularly edifying spectacle at that.

Mr Galloway raised the temperature at that first clash by accusing the government of being part of a "war on Muslims". While Ms King said her support for Saddam Hussein's overthrow had been principled, Mr Galloway said his candidature represented the "ghost of Labour's past" come back to haunt her.

Yet as the debate continued, the comments became more vitriolic.

"What makes me sick is that when I come across someone who is guilty of genocide I do not get on a plane and go to Baghdad and grovel at his feet," said Ms King, referring to Mr Galloway's controversial meeting with Saddam Hussein 11 years ago.

Postal vote

Ms King ratcheted up the tension when she accused Mr Galloway's supporters of anti-Semitism following an egg-throwing at a memorial to Jewish war dead - Ms King being the Jewish representative of a seat where almost half are Muslims.

Former Labour MP and East End neighbour Tony Banks suggested that Ms King's defeat could be partially blamed on a minefield of racial politics where her views were less important than her gender or colour. Mr Galloway denied this - saying that he had been concerned over the deaths of many people in Iraq with blacker faces than hers.

Oona King's car after being covered in eggs
Egged: Oona King's car
In turn, Mr Galloway used his own manifesto launch to mount a full-frontal assault on Oona King's campaign, claiming Labour's postal vote strategy in the seat was "close to illegal, if not illegal"

On 20 April, the fight turned physical when three men were arrested after at least 20 members of a fringe Islamist group opposed to voting clashed with others at another hustings. Ms King was given police protection after her car tyres were slashed.

Respect said its candidate was given police protection after he had received a death threat and was avoiding his home.

Two days before polling Mr Galloway walked out of an ITV interview after the programme raised his visit to Saddam Hussein, saying he had been set-up to appear a supporter of the former dictator.

Writing days before the vote, Mr Galloway predicted Iraq would be Tony Blair's political tombstone. But as he scraped home in the seat with a majority of less than 1,000, the war also gave a new lease of life to one of the toughest street-fighting rebels Labour has ever seen.





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