Readers will know I get a pretty good insight into Grassroots Out, Leave.EU, the life and times of Nigel Farage, and the ups and downs of the UK Independence Party (UKIP). So I can tell you a bit more about the appearance of George Galloway at the Grassroots Out (GO) event in Westminster last night.
I have to be honest when I heard the special guest Was Galloway I was not impressed. It's just not a good look.
— Raheem Kassam (@RaheemKassam) February 19, 2016
Maybe Arron Banks and Nigel Farage don’t want me to tell you this, but they never asked me not to repeat some of the facts. And since Mr. Galloway’s appearance caused a fair amount of controversy tonight, I feel a duty to explain it to you. God knows you had Telegraph, HuffPost, Guido Fawkes, and ConservativeHome writers all piping up. Time for some facts.
I was one of the people who just couldn’t listen to Mr. Galloway ranting on stage. I just couldn’t. I’ve spent so many years writing about this man’s egregious connections, and outing his God-awful statements that a few minutes into his speech, I picked up my laptop and coat and walked out. Kate McCann from the Telegraph asked me where I was going. I replied in the heat of the moment, “I do not like George Galloway”. I was actually more restrained than I wanted to be. But her “journalism” over the course of the night hadn’t exactly impressed me, so I gave her short shrift.
But the truth is I was also in the green room with him before the event. I didn’t speak to him, although we made eye contact a few times that neither of us seemed to enjoy. But I’m ashamed of walking out. It’s my duty as a journalist to report what he said, not make angry gestures. And I’m sorry for that.
But at the same time, a young Tory activist who lost his rag, screaming “anti-Semite!” as Mr. Galloway went on stage was also embarrassed. Stephen Hoffman, who has tried to expose Mr. Galloway for as long as I have, wrote on Facebook: “As someone who believes firmly in free speech my reaction was wrong, I should have just calmly walked out. I was wrong too to shout out calling him an antisemite. Galloway himself is very clever and whilst sympathising and supporting antisemites and getting damn close to the line, he himself has never said anything antisemitic.
“Most of all though I’m annoyed myself, I should have controlled my emotion and not lost it like I did – I feel I’ve let friends, family down etc by that reaction. I’m embarrassed by it.”
— Raheem Kassam (@RaheemKassam) February 19, 2016
That’s a very brave thing to say. But now, for a little explainer:
Nigel told me, both and after Mr. Galloway’s speech, that there has to be a way to reach certain parts of the British public that no UKIPer, Tory, or even Kate Hoey-esque Labourite can reach. It might not please everyone. It might not make everyone on stage or in the audience comfortable, but it is a way to reach certain people. Especially since the long-standing anti-EU Jeremy Corbyn has been stifled by his union paymasters.
George Galloway is one of those ways.
Bringing in the RESPECT Party helps Grassroots Out’s chance of getting the official designation for the referendum. Because those who check with the Electoral Commission would know that you could have every Cabinet Minister under the sun backing you, but it wouldn’t help with the “cross party” requirement. This is where the establishment Vote Leave are failing. And indeed it is a problem of their making.
So tonight’s events means the pro-establishment, pro-double referendum, Carswell-backed “Vote Leave” campaign won’t get the designation. The jig is up. The game is over. They’ll fold soon. And it means we the British public have a greater… a real chance of leaving the European Union. But what price do we have to pay for that?
Putting a man of Mr. Galloway’s sort on stage is certainly a big shout. It says, “this isn’t personal, this isn’t even politics… this is about getting my country back”. But only to those who aren’t too lazy to ruminate on this.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not making any kind of U-turn on George Galloway, and I told Nigel and others tonight, if it were up to me, I couldn’t have done it.
But that’s what makes Nigel Nigel. The risks he takes. The fact that he sticks his neck out for what he believes in. The places he’ll go that no one else will.
Does it mean that Mr. Farage is a fan of all things George Galloway says? No. Does it mean they are in the same place politically? No. Does it mean that Mr. Farage endorses Mr. Galloway’s sectarianism, and shouty, ranty, divisive politics? No.
But it does mean one thing: he’ll put almost all personal politics aside to make sure Grassroots Out gets the designation, so that Britain can leave the European Union. As I say: I don’t have the stones to do that. But I’m sure it’s not a decision Nigel took lightly, and if I’m being honest with myself, I would say it will help bring more people on board than it will turn off.
As much as I don’t like that fact.