Polls apart…

Article @ Morning Star, published 5 May 2016

If interviewing George Galloway isn’t a simple task at the best of times, having a little chat with him after speaking to the leader of the Women’s Equality Party put me in a bit of a panic.

Was it possible to say anything that wouldn’t trigger one of Galloway’s infamous tirades?

But Galloway is a political creature and when we meet in the London borough of Harrow, he is in safe territory. I’m welcomed in a local cafe, where the Respect leader is surrounded by helpful aides.

Keeping his famous fedora on at all times, he says he’s running for mayor because “London needs a leader not a reader, not a policy wonk.

“We can afford all the policy wonks we like on a £17 billion a year budget.

“What we need is someone who can rally the people for the right things, can unite them for the right things and set the tone for the city.”

Never shy of colourful language, Galloway calls the mainstream candidates Sadiq Khan and Zac Goldsmith “Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum” and “two-cheeks of the same backside” when it comes to dealing with big corporations, the uncurbed power of the City and London’s predatory landlords.

“We are running amongst the voiceless people,” he says as over and over again our conversation is interrupted by well-wishers coming into the cafe, or passers-by waving enthusiastically through the window.

Every time Galloway replies with a broad, fatherlike smile, maybe a handshake or a repeated thank you.

It is in the realm of the “voiceless” that Galloway is in direct competition with Sophie Walker from the Women’s Equality Party (WE). But her pitch is by far more subdued.

“We are the only political party that wants to put itself out of business,” says Walker less than 10 minutes into our chat.

The point of WE is to change political discourse and steer it in the direction of women’s rights.

The London mayoral, as well as regional, elections turned into the party’s first challenge and opportunity to test its strength. And, as far as Walker is concerned, the effort has started to yield results.

“It has been gratifying to see the tone of the campaign change on the other contestants’ camps, if you like.

“Sadiq Khan is now talking about himself as a feminist, Zac Goldsmith has written a piece about the importance of tackling domestic violence.

“These are things that don’t normally happen in mayoral elections, right?”

Walker is, however cautious not to put herself out of business just yet: “We are still at the point where they are just words and we want to see that translated into action.”

Unfortunately for both Walker and Galloway, it remains to be seen whether they can, indeed, influence the debate further.

Galloway’s involvement in both Labour’s internal rows and his alliance with Ukip’s Nigel Farage on the Brexit campaign trail are likely to bruise his results.

And Walker and her well-intended party face an uphill struggle against more experienced candidates and longer-running one-cause parties.

While a survey by Atomik Research found that over 40 per cent of the 1,000 Londoners quizzed were ready to vote for Galloway, the last poll before election day conducted by Opinium gave him less than 1 per cent. WE didn’t even get a mention.

As consolation, WE gets my full admiration for most unorthodox politician pets — as Walker, who suffers from allergies, is the proud owner of two giant African snails.