Gloves come off

By coming after George Galloway, the bourgeois media is trying to tarnish the whole anti-war movement, says Manny Neira

Do you share the dim memory that Arthur Scargill stole some money to buy a castle? He didn't.

In fact, this exact allegation was never made, though it is how the story has survived in the minds of many. In this form it is a conflation of two old newspaper stories.

One, a rather trivial piece of nonsense, that Scargill was about to buy a castle as a private home. The other, far more serious, that he siphoned off money from the National Union of Mineworkers to pay off his private mortgage. In fact, both were untrue.

The mortgage allegation was made by the Daily Mirror in the early 1990s. Faced by a renewed miners' struggle which garnered mass support, the Mirror let fly on events in the 1984-85 great miners' strike when the state had tried to bankrupt the union and funds were moving all about the place in order to keep the strike and miners and their families afloat.

The paper's former editor, Roy Greenslade, recently admitted: "I am now convinced that Scargill didn't misuse strike funds." The interesting thing is that when asked if they remember a scandal involving the miners' leader, most vaguely recall that he had 'stolen money or something', and many also mention the memorable 'King Arthur's castle' myth. It has become almost an urban legend.

It seems that if you throw enough mud, some of it will stick. The story was never retracted, but even had it been, most of the damage was already done the day the first headline was printed. The image of the union leader securing his own future while so many of those he represented were risking theirs in defence of their jobs and communities was powerful enough to imprint on the consciousness in a way which subsequent denials would never erase.

George Galloway, and with him the anti-war movement, is now facing this same problem. On April 22, The Daily Telegraph gave over its first five pages to crucifying the MP. The headline ran: "Galloway was in Saddam's pay, say secret Iraqi documents".

He is accused of receiving bribes from Hussein's regime to the tune of £375,000 a year, all piped through the 'Mariam Appeal'. Galloway established this campaign to pay for the treatment of a sick Iraqi child, Mariam Hazma, in a British hospital. It went on to fund a sustained drive to oppose the sanctions against Iraq.

The Daily Telegraph claims it was also used as part of a financial mechanism to hide payments made to the founder himself. Unless and until this claim is proven, the responsibility of the left is clear.

Galloway deserves the benefit of the doubt. Even in bourgeois law the principle is nominally accepted that a man is innocent until proven guilty, and in the case of a labour movement leader being attacked by one of the most reactionary journals of capitalism, this stance is doubly important.

The photographs selected to accompany the story are particularly telling. Half the cover is taken up with Galloway narrowing his eyes, his collar up, smoking a cigar, and looking for all the world like the Arthur Daley of the left. On page three, four times the size of a family snapshot, the child Mariam Hazma is shown wide-eyed and vulnerable.

Who could use a poor child like that for political or financial ends? Who, except of course the Telegraph. On page four, Galloway sits with Hussein, sharing a joke. The endless succession of arms traders and US, UK and French diplomats and politicians who courted him for political and economic gain, up to and including Donald Rumsfeld, do not appear in this album.

Finally, and most bizarrely, Galloway's young and beautiful Palestinian wife, lying on a sofa and smiling into the camera, is shown in bright colour on page five. Are any of these images relevant to a story of corruption, or the examination of Galloway's politics on the war? Of course not.

But the accompanying text gently paints the man as, somehow, rather seedy. Various sobriquets are mentioned: "the member for Baghdad Central" and the wildly improbable "gorgeous George" - this latter being a reference to his "dapper dressing". His divorce is mentioned, and the fact that the woman he separated from had a daughter with him. We learn he had extra-marital sex.

No reference need be made to the youth and beauty of his new wife: the picture says it all. Her nationality, though, is mentioned: she is a Palestinian, and so another Arab in his life. He apparently has a house in London and a holiday home in Portugal. Allegations of misconduct while general secretary of War on Want are revived - though, as the paper concedes, an independent auditor later found no evidence of wrongdoing. So why mention them?

Because, all in all, it is clear that George Galloway is a cad: slippery, self-regarding, suave and sartorially obsessed, a user of women, and a political and financial wheeler-dealer. This hatchet job is designed to make the possibility that he is also a traitor and a thief that much more likely. But it is not about George, gorgeous or otherwise.

The purpose of the coverage is quite clear: it is an attack on the entire anti-war movement, which dares to continue to highlight the crime of occupying Iraq in the teeth of every effort to rally the population around the flag. The gloves are now off. The soft tones of patronising 'understanding' to which the millions of demonstrators of February 15 were treated have hardened, as the number of protestors has fallen and the ruling class has recovered its confidence.

We are no longer 'misguided': we are 'treacherous' - and now perhaps we were funded by Saddam all along. The editorial accompanying the stories is quite clear on this last point: "For months, anti-war campaigners have been imputing the basest of motives to their adversaries. The whole campaign, they argued, was really about money and oil.

Yet what if it turns out that they, rather than their opponents, had hidden pecuniary motives? What if it was actually the supporters of the campaign who were acting on behalf of Iraqi civilians, while anti-war activists - or at least their leaders - were acting for profit?" This appalling libel is so poorly argued that it does not withstand the slightest scrutiny.

Firstly, even if Galloway is guilty of taking bribes, an allegation for which The Daily Telegraph has established no independent confirmation, it does not invalidate his arguments against the war. This is pure ad hominem, which any first-year logic or philosophy student learns means 'to the man', and describes an attempt to undermine an argument not by debate, but by abusing the man presenting it. The Telegraph will, I am sure, know of this fallacy.

But, more importantly, no case has been made that any other leader of the anti-war movement was involved in this alleged crime: not even by the Telegraph itself. The sly plural in the editorial's reference to the possible complicity of the "leaders" is pure abuse, and the idea that such motives infect the entire movement goes beyond this and into virulent and contemptible fantasy.

If ever there were a warning that any attempt to avoid offending the bourgeois press or 'moderate' opinion was a waste of time on the part of the Stop the War Coalition, this is it. US and UK imperialism are once again at war with the world, and the stakes are very high. While The Daily Telegraph has used falsity and innuendo to malign the anti-war movement, in a sense it is adopting a more honest - or at least more naked - position, and communists, anti-capitalists and anti-war protestors can expect to see much more of the same.

Our only defence is the truth. Restricting ourselves to a soft, pacifist or pro-UN line will not buy off such opposition, but it will blunt our message. The rape of Iraq was carried out for profit and power, and the rich and powerful whose interests it served are ready to do it again to another innocent people. A clear anti-imperialist fight must be fought if our movement is not merely to survive, but to achieve any of the aims for which it exists.