Simon Hoggart on George Galloway, MP for Bradford West, taking his seat in the House of Commons
The weirdest, most surreal moments in parliament are often very short. This one lasted three minutes. George Galloway , now the MP for Bradford West, took his seat in the Commons. By tradition, new MPs are “supported” by two existing members. One of Galloway’s was Gerry Sutcliffe, his Labour neighbour in Bradford South. The other was Sir Peter Tapsell.
Sir Peter Tapsell! Father of the House! Grandest of all grandees! A man who wears a cravat in bed! And supporting Gorgeous George! It was an astounding sight. Think of Peter Stringfellow being introduced to the Lords by the Archbishop of Canterbury! Or J Edgar Hoover endorsing Baby Face Nelson.
The mind, if it did not boggle, certainly wobbled gently in its moorings. There they were, affably chatting at the bar of the House, Sir Peter towering over the far slighter figure of Galloway, his mighty dome tanned by the unseasonable heat of this spring.
Earlier GG had granted an audience to TV crews, including two from Arab stations. He boasted that he was the first MP to have represented three different seats in two different countries since Winston Churchill, who had also started out in Dundee.
This may seem egregiously self-aggrandising, but by Galloway standards it was a mere, modest mumble. (And Sir Peter used to work for Sir Anthony Eden, who was also close to Churchill, so there is a family connection.)
In fact GG and Sir Peter have much in common. Both have a great deal of money. Both are opposed to the wars pursued in the Middle East by recent British prime ministers and American presidents. Sir Peter, however, has never appeared on Celebrity Big Brother pretending to be a cat, and licking imaginary milk from Miss Rula Lenska. I like to think he would have lapped Chateau Lafite 1961 instead.
GG is detested by his former colleagues in the Labour party. When he was voted off Big Brother, they drank the Strangers’ Bar entirely dry of champagne. The House had just cheered the new serjeant at arms, Lawrence Ward, but the Galloway trio were surrounded by complete silence combined with almost tangible hatred.
Still, GG absorbs loathing and it makes him stronger – like the Blob in the old Steve McQueen film, made stronger by the power cables they use against him. There was an almost mocking air in the way he bowed. He reached the table of the House.
The clerk asked if he had his certificate, and he produced it like a schoolboy flourishing his fake driving licence in a bar. Would he bear allegiance to the Queen? No problem: he “solemnly and sincerely” affirmed it, throwing in her heirs and successors as well.
As he moved on, Tories realised they could keep quiet no more. After all, GG had horribly embarrassed the Labour party. So there must be some good in him. They began to cheer, a loud, mocking, sarcastic cheer, designed not so much to welcome GG but to make every Labour member’s toes curl, flesh creep and pimples goose.
The Speaker, by tradition, shook his hand. Not once but four times – as GG tried to break away his hand was grabbed back. Finally he was free to saunter off, invisible waves of disdain billowing behind him. For him it had been an almost perfect three minutes.
• This article was first published in the Guardian on 17 April 2012.