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GEORGE GALLOWAY was an active campaigner in 1975, under the leadership of Tony Benn, for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Economic Community (EEC), as what is now the European Union was known.
“I believed then and now that the EU is a rich men’s club, that its purposes are neither internationalism nor the unity of the working people of Europe but a neoliberal economic club for the very wealthy,” he says.
Galloway, like many in the labour movement, accepted, during the period of Jacques Delors (the late 1980s) “when we all toiled and suffered under Thatcher regime here in Britain, that there was a sense that the EU could provide a little bit of protection and give some benefit to working people.”
But the former MP for both Labour and Respect is convinced now, having seen the suffering imposed by the EU on Greece, Spain, Portugal and Ireland in the period after the 2008 crash, that not only Delors but Delorsism is dead and that only a No vote on June 23 makes sense.
“I’m against continued membership of the EU for all the reasons that Professor John Foster has been theorising in the Morning Star and elsewhere,” he says.
Galloway is supportive of the Left Leave initiative (Lexit), highlighting the absurdity of David Cameron and Boris Johnson, from the same public school, same university and same landed class serving as the public icons of both the Remain and Withdraw camps.
“They have thrown bread rolls in the same restaurants and at the same waiters,” he says.
“This is farcical. This has become an argument between members of the Bullingdon Club. It’s disastrous for the debate and potentially for the outcome.
“It means that Tweedledee and Tweedledum done up in their dicky bows are just having an after-dinner debate with all the nonsense that such debates often bring.”
He has no time for the Project Fear predictions spewed out by the main Tory campaigners on both sides of the argument and then regurgitated by the media as though they encapsulate the key issues.
“Cameron’s recent over-the-top statements about Europe being consumed in wars and genocide if we leave must begin to have a diminishing impact,” Galloway says.
“It seems to me, that you get immigration scare stories from the far-right and you get economic ruin and possibly world war three from the other crowd.
“That’s the false dichotomy. Leaving the EU would not be as they describe it and staying in would not mean opening the gates for millions of immigrants to pour across the channel.
“In other words, it’s neither as good nor as bad as is claimed by the voices that I’m hearing on the mass media.”
Galloway blames the aridity of the Bullingon boys’ “debate” on the organised labour movement’s abandonment of the positions it once occupied on the battlefield.
He is frustrated by suggestions by some trade union officials and Labour MPs that exit from the EU could lead to the loss of virtually every workplace right that workers have in Britain.
“I think that these kinds of arguments both overestimate what the EU represents and underestimate ourselves, our own ability to defend what we have and win more.
“Most of the rights we have, we won ourselves before we joined the EU. Many of the rights we’ve lost, we’ve lost while members of the EU.
“And even those Jacques Delors-type rights that we won are increasingly under threat and, by comparison with the zero-hours culture that has flourished and multiplied under the EU, are dwarfed by the bad things.
“I’m not going to say that absolutely everything that comes out the EU is bad, but I often think that our adversaries overestimate its ‘civilising’ mission.
“The British people are not some tribe of people painting their faces blue, living in the forest and requiring a Roman empire of sorts to come and show us how to dig a bath.”
Galloway picks up on a news item that Jeremy Corbyn plans to take a holiday before the polls and expresses his joy.
“First, because I believe Jeremy deserves a holiday but also because it means less time for the ruling class to exploit his popularity among a section of the British people to damage further their own interests.”
He suggests mischievously that Tony Benn’s diaries of 1978-80 might make excellent holiday reading, especially the entry detailing how Hilary Benn, as a leader of the Common Market Safeguards Committee, brought Labour Party conference to its feet in a standing ovation with a powerful argument against the EEC.
Galloway is aware that he personally has drawn criticism from within the labour movement and the corporate liberal media for interviewing Ukip leader Nigel Farage on his popular Sputnik programme on RT.
“I have all kinds of people with very differing views on my RT show. I’ve interviewed Communist Party general secretary Robert Griffiths. I’d like to interview Morning Star editor Ben Chacko,” he says.
“As a matter of fact, RT’s commitment to having the widest plurality of voices is surely to be commended. It would be a good thing if the British-owned media were to do the same,” he says.
But his main motivation is that Farage represents nearly four million voters as Ukip leader and winning this referendum can’t be won by turning our backs on people that we don’t like.
“If Nigel Farage had pitched up with his 4m supporters in support of the anti-war movement, we wouldn’t have turned him away. We wouldn’t have turned away people with whom we disagreed on other things. Indeed we implored such support,” Galloway says.
“Our approach to politics is to build the broadest coalitions possible to achieve things that we believe are right.”
Galloway rejects the jibe by some on the left that Farage is a fascist, suggesting that they don’t understand fully some of the terms they use.
“If he were a fascist, I wouldn’t ally with him, but I don’t believe he is a fascist. He is a figure of the right. He has some views that are worse than the Tories and some that are better.
“He was against Britain making more war in the Middle East, he was against the attack on Libya. He now says — though he didn’t at the time — that he was against the invasion of Iraq.”
Galloway characterises Farage as “a Poujadist, a populist rightwinger who uses issues like immigration in the way that right-wing politicians do.”
He returns to the Bullingdon boys narrative, noting that both Cameron and Johnson backed Zac Goldsmith’s crude Islamophobic campaign against Sadiq Khan in the London mayoral election, thus confirming their shared race and class prejudices.
“Just as in 1975, we’re faced with a binary choice. You don’t have the ability to choose who else is making the same choice,” Galloway says, noting that Tony Benn campaigned then with all kinds of people whose politics he didn’t agree with.
He would dearly like to see more labour movement involvement in the current debate, wondering aloud whether people in workplaces are as signed up to the EU as their leaders profess them to be.
“I doubt it,” he answers his own question, before asserting his belief that “the EU is a neoliberal project in its timbers.
“It cannot be changed and it is effectively the economic wing of Nato, which I have opposed all my life.”
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