George Galloway & Arthur Scargill
michael.keaney at mbs.fi
Thu May 8 03:40:59 MDT 2003
This campaign is an affront to justice and free speech
The Galloway saga has eerie echoes of the Scargill affair of 1990
Thursday May 8, 2003
A bell rings faintly somewhere in the back of my mind. King Arthur and
Gorgeous George. Scargill and Galloway. Both larger-than-life leftwingers,
guys who stand out from the crowd, controversial, iconoclastic, with a gift
for rhetoric, a talent to amuse, enemies of the status quo.
Galloway is accused of taking funds from a pariah Arab regime. He
immediately suspects that the documentary evidence, having fallen so
fortuitously into the hands of a newspaper, is forged. Is he the victim of a
plot by the secret services?
Now the bell won't stop and it is getting louder, prompting memories of 1990
when I was editor of the Daily Mirror. It accused Scargill of using miners'
strike funds - allegedly donated by a pariah Arab regime - to pay off his
mortgage. Despite Scargill's vehement denials, I was convinced we had the
Sue us, Arthur, I said. But look out, you're about to be covered in buckets
of manure while you make up your mind. The Libyan money is only the start.
What about the supposed misuse of funds from Soviet miners and money
switched through Swiss and Irish banks? What happened to the overflowing
bags of cash collected by trades unionists across Britain during the 1984-85
strike? It was open season on the president of the National Union of
Mineworkers for weeks afterwards. Papers could, and did, say whatever they
Within two days, the Mirror's owner, Robert Maxwell, was musing to me over
whether we had been "used" by the secret services in a plot to discredit
Scargill. I later wondered whether the duplicitous Maxwell had been only too
happy to oblige. Indeed, was he in on the plot himself?
Clang! Back to 2003 and Galloway issues a blunt denial of the allegation
that he has received £375,000 from Saddam Hussein's government. The
documents are either forged, doctored or part of a deliberate misuse of his
name by someone else, he says, and announces he will sue the Daily Telegraph
for libel. OK George, counters the paper, our lawyers will be only too happy
to receive the writ and, meanwhile, here are more allegations. Like Scargill
before him, the floodgates open and suddenly Galloway is caught in the wash
as newspapers compete to drown him in sewage.
The bell is ringing clearly and consistently now. After our Mirror story,
Scargill - who refused to sue - was subjected to a whole slew of official
investigations to see if there was, after all, any credence to the trial by
media. If only he had sued, we told ourselves, then he would have put a stop
to the wilder speculative stories. In fact, none of the inquiries laid a
hand on Scargill, though his main accuser, the former NUM chief executive,
Roger Windsor, was found by a French court to have lied and, in all
probability, been guilty of forgery.
But Galloway has sued and it hasn't made a blind bit of difference. Libel
writs are not covered by contempt of court rules until the case is due for
trial, whereas when people are prosecuted in criminal cases further press
coverage is inhibited. He remains fair game for journalists to dig up more
alleged filth. It would appear that anyone can say what they like about the
Labour MP for Glasgow Kelvin now. There isn't an instant rebuttal service
large or swift enough to cope with the stuff being thrown at him.
Meanwhile, Galloway faces an internal Labour party investigation into
whether he has brought the party into disrepute, a charity commission
inquiry into his Mariam Appeal fund, and an inquiry by the parliamentary
commissioner for standards about whether he correctly registered all his
Iraqi sanctions campaign-related interests.
The bell rings once more. One of Scargill's main accusers was his one-time
driver who told my Mirror reporters lurid tales of ferrying bags of cash
across Britain in twilight runs which ended up in Scargill's headquarters.
This time around, up pops Galloway's former driver - a man who, by his own
account, attempted to defraud an insurance company over the hire of
Galloway's car - to make claims about being paid in allegedly strange ways.
The similarities between the Scargill and Galloway cases are so pronounced
it's impossible not to believe that the next stage in the Galloway saga,
even if it takes place long into the future, will eventually end up echoing
the Scargill affair.
Last year, after years of mounting concern that I had been wrong about
Scargill, I finally apologised to him for the Mirror's accusations. I had
come to believe that the cloak-and-dagger tales I had published were untrue
and that, just as Maxwell had suggested (probably disingenuously), we had
been misled. One key witness changed his mind within a couple of weeks and
another was ordered by the French courts to repay a debt to the NUM which he
had previously accused Scargill of stealing.
The whole case against Arthur gradually unravelled and gave credence to the
belief that we had been duped by a secret service plot. Despite his denials,
our chief accuser Windsor was named in parliament as an MI5 agent - and I
was doubly convinced when the former head of MI5 said so ambiguously that he
"was never an agent in any sense of the word that you can possibly imagine".
Regardless of whether Galloway is the victim of a similar plot, there is one
obvious difference between him and Scargill. He was supported by his union
(after an initial wobble) and went on running the NUM. Galloway has been
abandoned by his party which has suspended him.
Wilting under the media pressure, Labour has chosen to throw Galloway
overboard. He must sink or swim without the aid of the party he has belonged
to for 35 years and represented in parliament since 1987. Worse is the
mealy-mouthed reasoning behind the party's decision.
We are asked to believe that the suspension is due to Galloway's anti-war
remarks on television. According to Labour's general secretary, David
Triesman, a party inquiry will concentrate on his references to Tony Blair
and President George Bush as "wolves" for invading Iraq.
Apart from the obvious point that, in suspending Galloway before an inquiry,
the rules of British justice about being innocent until proven guilty are
being ignored, there is a more profound concern.
Galloway, unlike previous party miscreants, is being traduced for nothing
more than stating an opinion. Labour is trampling on the rights of one of
its own MPs to speak his mind at a crucial moment. Moreover, given the huge
anti-war demonstrations and consistent anti-war poll majorities until the
fighting began, he was clearly expressing the views of a major proportion of
That bell rings again. Scargill was effectively marginalised after 1990. Is
the Labour movement prepared to allow Galloway to suffer the same fate?
· Roy Greenslade is professor of journalism at City University and the
Guardian's media commentator
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