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'It's not personal it's politics': George Galloway speaks ahead of West Bromwich campaign - with video

By Peter Madeley | West Bromwich | Politics | Published:

To his supporters, George Galloway is the ultimate rascal, an outspoken politician intent on holding those in power to account, no matter how much trouble it gets him into.

George Galloway is confident he will stop Tom Watson from retaining his seat at the next general election

To his opponents – and he has many – he's a reprehensible character, an enemy to Britain who thrives on peddling conspiracy theories and causing division while he is cosying up to repressive and violent regimes.

Others remember him as the old guy who pretended to be a cat during Celebrity Big Brother – an episode which has gone down as one of the most bizarre in television history.

Things are rarely quiet when Mr Galloway is around, and his decision to pick Sandwell as the scene of his latest political showdown ensures there will be serious helpings of sound and fury once the general election campaign starts in earnest.

WATCH: George Galloway interviewed in West Bromwich

George Galloway interview in West Bromwich

The 65-year-old former MP plans to oust Labour's Tom Watson from the West Bromwich East seat he has held for 18 years, touting himself as the pro-Brexit and pro-Corbyn candidate that Mr Watson is not.

"It's not personal. I've always had very good relations with Tom – and I've got the texts to prove it," he says with a mischievous grin, as we talk in the D'Vine cafe on West Bromwich High Street.

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"It's a political decision. I'm a strong campaigner for Brexit and he is the wrecker in chief."

He says his good friend Jeremy Corbyn has been "forced" by Mr Watson into turning Labour into a Remain party, in defiance of a 2017 election manifesto pledge.

Mr Galloway is a good friend of Jeremy Corbyn, who has been at odds with deputy leader Tom Watson

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"Jeremy is surrounded by a Remainer clique who have their hands around his throat," Mr Galloway said. "I have known him for 40 years and I know what he really thinks about the European Union."

He looks back fondly on memories of he and Mr Corbyn sitting up all night in Parliament to block pro-EU legislation. "Jeremy Corbyn knows how bad the EU has been for working class people in Britain," he adds.

"If it was not for Watson, Corbyn would already be Prime Minister. I thought enough is enough. I'm going to give a labour Brexit argument and see how people respond."

He says Mr Corbyn has made "a lot of mistakes", and "could have been better as a leader" by standing up to his opponents within his party. "But I'd give my right arm to put him in Downing Street," he said.

"Watson and his pals would burst the tyres on Corbyn's bike to stop him getting there."

Mr Galloway speaks to Peter Madeley in West Bromwich

Asked if by attempting to stop a Labour candidate from winning in West Bromwich East he was not hindering Mr Corbyn's chances of becoming PM, he said: "No, because I'll be voting for him in Parliament."

He agrees that his own Brexit position is similar to that of Boris Johnson – who he says he despises – and Nigel Farage, in that he wants a clean break from the EU.

"But that's where the similarities end," he tells me. "I'm for the workers. They want Britain to be an offshore bargain basement place with no labour standards."

'Parliament is like a student union'

He described recent scenes in Parliament, where MPs sang songs, held up placards and attempted to block the Speaker from leaving his seat as "like a student union protest" and "a bit continental for my liking".

"They are defying 17.4 million people," he said. "Nobody should say to those people 'up yours', but that's what the political class is doing. They deserve to pay a price for it."

Mr Galloway was in town for one of his now weekly visits, during which he presented his Mother of all Talk shows road show at West Bromwich Community Centre and gave a speech at the Jami Masjid & Islamic Centre on Dartmouth Street.

He planned to spend the afternoon apartment hunting and is waiting for the election to be called before renting a constituency office.

Mr Galloway is an experienced political campaigner

He says he has the respect of "almost all" of West Bromwich's Muslim community, which he puts down to his pro-Palestinian position and his campaigns against the war in Iraq.

It was his comments on Iraq that led to him getting thrown out of the Labour Party under Tony Blair in 2003, after allegations that he had incited Arabs to fight British troops and urged British soldiers to defy orders.

He says he has no regrets over anything he had ever said about the conflict. "Every word I spoke has turned out to be correct and everything Tom Watson and Tony Blair said was wrong," he said.

"If people had listened to me and Corbyn we wouldn't be in the mess we are in now."

On other issues he is contrite – but only because of the "rumpus" they have caused.

Irony

A case in point is his sacking from TalkRadio in June over a Tweet he sent after Liverpool had beaten Tottenham in the Champions League final, which featured the the message: "No Israel flags on the Cup!"

"It had the benefit of being true," he said, before saying that in hindsight he should perhaps have left the comment out.

"The irony is I'm now getting paid many times more," he said with a wink, referring to his lucrative gig presenting the Sputnik talk show on RT.

He insists he is not an anti-Semite as some of his critics claim, arguing that he is against Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and "the crimes committed against Palestinian people".

He claims he has never applied to rejoin the Labour Party "and I never will", insisting: "They should rescind my expulsion."

Mr Galloway says he is getting to grips with the issues facing local people, citing allegations of corruption in the council as a hot topic with constituents.

"I have a file of alleged corruption on Sandwell Council that you could stop a door with," he says, before pledging to look into it as a priority if he is elected.

The Muslim community, he says, is very concerned about events in Kashmir.

Asked about his chances in the election, he says: "I can't say that I'll win it. But I'm telling you now that Tom Watson will lose it. If I take even 5,000 votes off him, he's lost."

But if Mr Galloway does want success in the town, he may need to change one of his views as a matter of urgency.

"I'll tell you who is playing the best football in the country now," he says, as we prepare to leave the cafe.

"Wolves. I really love watching them play."

Peter Madeley

By Peter Madeley
@P_Madeley_Star

Political Editor for the Express & Star. Responsible for local and national political stories, opinion, comment and analysis.

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