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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 October, 2003, 14:47 GMT 15:47 UK
'There's something about George'
By Brian Taylor
BBC Scotland political editor

Admire him, loathe him, lampoon him. But never, ever underestimate him. For a backbencher - remote from ministerial office - George Galloway appears to inspire a quite remarkable mix of emotions.

George Galloway at hearing
The MP arrives in determined mood at the hearing in London
Perhaps it's the holiday home in the Algarve, perhaps it's the fondness for Cuban cigars. But, no half measures, George Galloway seems to get right up the nose of those who count themselves among his critics.

Equally, though, he can command an audience with his oratory. And, scattered throughout political life in Scotland and at Westminster, there are those who have been his acolytes. There's always been something about George.

He is an able and effective politician, a potent campaigner for the issues of his choice: Palestine, Iraq, Scottish home rule, whatever. Which, of course, is the core point. If Mr Galloway weren't so able and effective, he wouldn't pose such a threat to his enemies.

Born in 1954 in Dundee, George Galloway was educated at the city's Harris Academy.

After a spell working at the Michelin tyre plant in Dundee, he turned his amateur, youthful passion for Labour politics into a professional career as a party organiser, again in Dundee.

It was classic Galloway. Confronting controversy with impetuous vigour
His reputation steadily grew - for oratory, for activism and for high-profile controversial campaigns such as the move to twin Dundee with Nablus on the Palestinian West Bank.

At the age of 26, he became chair of Labour in Scotland. Six years later, he was in the House of Commons.

To get there, he had to beat no less a figure than Roy Jenkins in Glasgow Hillhead - a seat which had previously been Tory for generations.

By any standards, this was a powerful performance, a triumph for Mr Galloway and his party.

Charity finances

But always, always the questions. In that same year, 1987, he faced inquiries over his financial stewardship at the charity War on Want, where he had been general secretary for four years.

He was exonerated - after volunteering to repay some contested expenses: beyond, he stressed, the repayment required by auditors.

But in the process he spoke of his behaviour at an earlier charity conference in Greece. Bemused journalists listened as Mr Galloway emphasised the "carnal knowledge" he had experienced.

Supporters outside hearing
Supporters rallied outside the hearing to show their support
It was classic Galloway. Confronting controversy with impetuous vigour. It was a talent he deployed on numerous occasions - particularly as he faced internal party controversy, including unsuccessful attempts to deselect him.

He has sought attention. He has sought success for his political initiatives. But he has scarcely channelled his career towards office.

As he noted in one newspaper interview, marching alongside Gerry Adams to campaign against British policy in Ireland did not exactly endear him to the Labour hierarchy.

A maverick, a rebel, a dissident. All descriptions which George Galloway detests and disdains. He says such terms imply a "flibbertigibbet" approach to politics, a gadfly attitude to policy.

By contrast, he insists he has sustained a consistent, firm approach on Labour's mainstream Left.

Praise for Saddam

A smile comes easily to Galloway's lips. He can be both charming and affable. But it is occasionally a smile of superiority.

George Galloway is talented and he knows it. He has a command of language which provokes envy among more stilted and struggling orators.

But always, always the questions. In January 1994, he was shown on television apparently praising Saddam Hussein for his courage, strength and indefatigability.

Mariam Hamza
Mariam Hamza was at the centre of a political storm
Mr Galloway insisted he was lauding the people of Iraq - not their leader. Few critics were prepared to make the distinction.

Then in 1998, he brought little Mariam Hamza to Glasgow for the leukaemia treatment which sanctions prevented in her native Iraq.

Supporters said it was an act of charity, bolstered by a political desire to expose the damage done by sanctions. Critics said it was a cynical PR stunt.

But it is the current conflict in Iraq which has brought matters to a head for the Glasgow MP. Others - including senior figures inside the party - have condemned Tony Blair for his willingness to commit British troops alongside American forces against Saddam.

'Electoral enemies'

Few, however, have deployed the excoriating oratory of Mr Galloway. Again, he divides opinion.

Supporters say he is being pilloried because he has been among the most effective critics of the war.

Critics - and this time they seem to be more numerous than ever - say he has simply gone too far: that he has implicitly incited British troops to disobey lawful orders and that he has placed himself with the electoral enemies of his chosen party.

No apologies from George Galloway. Absolutely no apologies. But now his political future hangs in the balance.

He once commented that only an idiot had no regrets. And George Galloway is no idiot.

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