The past week has been bizarre, even for George Galloway. He has written to the Home Secretary and Speaker of the House to ask why, he alleges, SO15 (the Metropolitan Police’s Counter Terrorism Unit) have been running a nefarious misinformation campaign against him. On the same day this news broke, The Guardian ran a piece on the demise of Respect in Bradford, a name which, by their accounts, is fast becoming a misnomer. Out of the national gaze and in Bradford’s Twittersphere, the week got stranger and stranger, as more locals began displaying the “Blocked by Galloway” Twibbon, a report of another Respect member hounded out of the party, and Respect members requesting an official Respect account is ignored and reported as spam as it’s gone renegade. It’s no meeting with Sadam or acting like a catgut it’s most certainly odd.
The SO15 story is most troubling, I believe, as Mr Galloway alleges that a member of the Met Police’s counter-terrorism section, SO15, colluded with member of his office to spread stories which showed Mr Galloway personally and the wider party in general in a bad light, and even going further in concocting false stories and passing them, via fake email accounts, to the press.
If proven, this constitutes an awful, despicable attack the democratic process; I would agree with Galloway that this would be “A direct attack not just on me but on democracy.” To have a member of the security services, sanctioned or not, attempting to undermine a democratic, lawful party is utterly contemptible and harks back to a time, not so long ago, when MI5 would use its powers to break parties in Northern Ireland; I don’t doubt that MI6, CIA, Mossad and all the others still do in order to destabilise regimes abroad.
But what are the claims? I won’t go into huge detail but George Galloway alleges that:
- His suspended PA, Aisha Ali-Khan, was having an affair with an SO15 officer and, without permission, the two stayed in his London house;
- Sensitive, confidential emails which showed Mr Galloway and the party in a bad light were leaked by the pair to the newspapers;
- Both an official police email and bogus emails, created solely for this task, we’re used to spread “rumour, disinformation and downright lies”;
- Fake information, including allegations of electoral fraud, we’re sent to newspapers by the pair.
Are Mr Galloway’s claims believable? That’s hard. I honestly don’t know. I trust our government and press enough that any wrongdoing will be uncovered – naive possibly. I also believe that Mr Galloway appears to always be in the limelight, often for the wrong reasons – but can it be down to acts of espionage or just silliness from Galloway in a world which has tired of his paranoia and ability to be against the media and popular opinion so often?
PA, Double Agent or Spy?
Aisha Ali-Khan, Galloway’s currently suspended PA, hasn’t taken this lying down, though. In the papers, she’s come out fighting. She alleges that, far from being a “tart”, the officer in question is her husband and he’s never slept in Galloway’s house (although his finger prints were found at the house but this can be explained by him calling in to see her whilst the Parliamentary Office was being set up and the party was working out of Mr Galloway’s home).
The emails, she claims, are innocent. The screen grabs sent by Galloway to the papers certainly don’t show the whole conversations and no dates or times are shown. Ali-Khan’s claims that these are jokes certainly seem valid. Suggestions of hundreds of gypsies moving into the city centre (she says a joke made at the time of the Occupy Bradford movement) and tens of Alis being registered at one address (another joke, she says, at the ubiquity of her own name).
She claims that she’s simply a scapegoat. Her position is that these allegations have been fabricated, after illegal hacking of a personal email account, with cleverly selected snippets being fed to the press in order to detract from a piece that was about to hit the papers. More than this, she says, it is because she was a Muslim woman who didn’t know her place, spoke her mind and didn’t bow to the wishes of men in the party.
Do I believe the PA? Again, I just don’t know. The claims by Galloway seem fanciful in the extreme and it beggars belief that any officer could and would work against a democratic party without personal gain, and far less so that Respect is seen as such a threat to the status quo that it would have been be taken down in manner more akin to a spy novel than an upstart party in a modern democracy.
The second piece to hit the headlines was about Respect in Bradford, alleging that bully-boy tactics are being used to silence critics. It has been said that Respect is a boys club, with Muslim men of Pakistani origin imposing their will on the party, at least in Bradford, to the detriment of whites and women. These allegations are backed up by a few people who have left the party audit could be said are simply sour grapes.
What I found most believable and, as such, most distasteful in the report was the harassing of rape survivors who dared to speak out against Mr Galloway’s ill-advised musings on the Julian Assange case. A demo was set up to speak out against MrGalloway’s stance in Bradford’s City Park, and it used the social media, particularly Facebook, to spread the word. I was tweeted by one of the organisers who had her car windows smashed whilst in the city. Nothing was taken, including the placards on the back seat. Other members of the demonstration have spoken of late night anonymous phone calls asking if they are really victims of rape, threats to disrupt the protest, vile, abusive messages left on the demonstration’s Facebook site, and a small group of men taking photos of the demonstrators which we’re then posted on Facebook.
In this, I can say that I believe much of it. The car owner says that she reported the crime and has even challenged Mr Galloway to look into it, he being her MP and the crime being, possibly, an attempt to derail the democratic process. I’ve seen screenshots of the Twitter and Facebook messages, and can say that I they would have shocked me, leaving me feeling threatened and worried about attending the demonstration, we’re they to have been directed at me.
Of course, can this be said to be Respect’s fault? If these people were not affiliated with the party and were not working at its behest then, no, it can’t be held responsible in the first instance. However, in keeping silent, in not exploring and deploring the allegations, Respect could be seen to be guilty if such terrible scenes happen again.
More from Inside the Party
Bullies appear to be in the Party itself, though. Ali-Khan spoke of being pushed out when her views were not those shared by the men in Respect. In a chilling account, another ex-Respect official says he’s been forced out for not towing the party line.
Firstly, he states that one of the harassing phone calls to a rape victim, as noted above, originated in the Respect Party offices and was made by a Respect activist.
He also says that Respect in Bradford has become a den of paranoia, with accusations of members working for the Security Services part and parcel of daily life for those whose face doesn’t fit.
He goes on to list intimidation tactics intended to silence him, including threatening tell contacts at the Home Office of a mental illness in order to block the immigration of the man’s wife. He uses screenshots again. Whilst these are, like Ali-Khan’s, snippets of conversations, it’s hard to see any sort of logical explanation other than to intimidate and threaten.
Blocked by Galloway
I’m finding it a little harder than usual to see what my MP’s up to. You see, I’ve been blocked by him. He states that this is a weapon of last resort, used only against bigots, racists, users of foul language, sectarians, and a few other ne’er do wells. I’m not sure how I fit into any of these groups but, it seems increasingly, there’s another group which Mr Galloway is none too happy hearing from: constituents who disagree with him.
My crime, I think, was taking a balanced view over the Guardian reports above, commenting and retweeting the stories above, giving each equal weight and even asking Galloway to refute the claims made by Helen Pridd on Respect’s lack of respect (which he did, by the way, describing it as “all lies”). Other Bradfordians have disagreed with him, complained about not getting replies to emails and other matters relating to how he represents us, and each have fallen victim to his itchy blocking finger.
Women for or against Respect
The silliest thing undoubtedly came on Saturday night with @Women4Respect twitterfeed going rogue. Pleas from Respect members flew around, begging followers to ignore the feed and, later, report it as spam, leading one local raconteur to espouse his love Bradford and all it’s foibles, coming up with the #Bradfordstrangerthanfiction hash tag. It seems to have worked as the tweets can no longer be seen.
The End of Respect in Bradford
Respect has found itself in a mire. Surely even SO15 couldn’t have planned such a total, unequivocal, spectacular set of circumstances which have come together to show Respect in such a terrible light – but maybe they could.
The truth is, I don’t know.
- I believe that Respect supporters harassed rape victims in an attempt to silence them; but I don’t know if this was sanctioned by the party of MrGalloway.
- I don’t believe that the Government are instructing the security services to work against Respect, particularly in such a ham fisted manner which was always going to fail.
- I don’t know if I believe the PA. The explanations of the emails seem, to me, entirely believable, and the questions surrounding how the party got the emails (were computers illegally hacked?) and why the full versions have not been supplied lead me to believe that, maybe, she’s telling the truth and far from being the perpetrator of a smear campaign, she could well be the victim. But, I just don’t know.
- Do I believe the rape victims who stood up and demonstrated in Bradford? Yes, I believe they were harassed and intimidated – but was this by Respect supporters or sanctioned by the party? I don’t know.
- Do I believe that a second party activist has been accused of working for the security services, threatened, intimidated and told to shut his mouth or contacts at the Home Office would be told he is mentally ill and his wife would be barred from entering the country? Fanciful claims, but he appears to know his stuff and a couple of screenshots appear to back up his claims.
- Do I think George Galloway and Respect are a force for good in Bradford and beyond? Honestly, I can no longer say that I believe this, and I believed they could be only a week or so ago. Galloway’s ability to get into the media for all the wrong reasons, with Bradford being dragged through the mud and getting nothing for it, is getting tiresome, even painful.
So, what’s next for George Galloway and Respect in Bradford? I do not have a clue! It could be a meteoric rise, like a phoenix from the ashes, or a total crash a burn with acrimonious mud slinging covering everyone in crap. But, with Galloway at the helm, it’ll be entertaining – I just wish it was happening to someone other than us because we need a clear voice to lead Bradford West and the wider city and district out of years of decline. At the moment, despite all he promised us and all his potential, Mr Galloway’s just not it