An outspoken critic of the war in Afghanistan, who has also been a bitter critic of Israel, claimed Friday that public anger over the conflict propelled him to a surprise victory in a special election for a seat in Britain’s House of Commons.
George Galloway, a leftist political maverick, won the Bradford West seat in northern England — a district that includes a large Muslim community — with a majority of more than 10,000 votes, as support for the country’s mainstream lawmakers crumbled.
The election was triggered by the resignation of main opposition Labour Party legislator Marsha Singh due to ill health, but Singh’s party had been expected to comfortably retain the seat it had held for more than 30 years.
Galloway, who was voted out of Parliament in Britain’s 2010 national election, dubbed his victory the “Bradford spring” — likening it to pro-democracy uprisings in the Middle East — and claimed it was “the most sensational result in British by-election history bar none.”
He insisted that resentment at mainstream political parties over the conflict in Afghanistan, which has so far seen 407 British military personnel killed since 2001, had been decisive.
“They have to stop supporting illegal, bloody, costly foreign wars,” Galloway said, as the result was announced. “The public don’t believe that they have atoned for their role in the invasion and occupation of other people’s countries and the drowning of those countries in blood.”
Galloway has long been a bitter critic of Israel. He accepted an honorary Palestinian passport from Hamas prime minister Ismail Haniyeh three years ago — after organizing aid trips to Gaza — but was later banned from Egypt. He has reportedly described Jerusalem and Baghdad as being “raped” by “foreigners,” claimed Zionists control the British media, and blamed Israel for the assassination of Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri.
In 2010, Galloway was denied entry to Canada on national security grounds over his links to Hamas, though he was later permitted to visit.
Galloway also has courted controversy over his links to former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein and was suspended from the House of Commons for 18 days in 2007 after he was accused of concealing his financial dealings with Hussein’s government. An investigation found that a charity Galloway set up had been partly funded by the Iraqi dictator.
Two years earlier, Galloway had angrily denounced U.S. senators while testifying before a Washington committee that accused his political organization of receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars in U.N. oil-for-food allocations from Saddam.
During a notorious visit to Iraq in 1994, Galloway was filmed telling Hussein, “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.”
Labour’s candidate Imran Hussain polled second behind Galloway — losing around 20 percent of the party’s votes compared to 2010 — while both members of Britain’s coalition government, the Conservative Party and the smaller Liberal Democrats, also saw their support fall.
Galloway, who was expelled from the country’s Labour Party in 2003 for urging British soldiers not to fight in Iraq, represents the anti-war Respect party, and he will be the organization’s only House of Commons legislator.
He said his victory proved the British public no longer supported efforts by the U.S. and NATO in Afghanistan. International forces are due to end their combat role in the country in 2014.
“The war will end on the same terms it could have last week, or last year, or any year in the last 10 years,” Galloway told Britain’s Sky News. “We don’t have the blood to spare and we certainly don’t have the treasure to spare in Britain to be going around the world occupying other people’s countries and having our young men coming home in boxes.”
Galloway is known in Britain for his strident opposition to the U.S.-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq — but also for an appearance in 2006 on the reality television series “Big Brother,” when he dressed in a red leotard and lapped imaginary milk as he pretended to be a cat.
“I think his celebrity was a very significant factor,” Labour lawmaker Toby Perkins said, explaining his party’s defeat. “Bradford is an important city for the party and it has come as a big shock the way that things have changed over the past few weeks.”
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