G Galloway and C Hitchens in combat
For those who missed the highlights of the gladiatorial combat between the ‘Respect’ (formerly Labour) MP, George Galloway, and the (normally) left-wing Hitchens brother, Christopher, on BBC radio 4 this evening (Saturday 17 Sept 05), who want to see it as well as hear it, and who want the whole thing and not just the highlights, it’s all available as a video on the Web. (You’ll need a broadband connection, but my slow 512 kbs broadband connection copes with it all right.) Those of a nervous disposition should however watch one of the many heart-warming romantic comedies or soaps freely available on television or the internet instead.
Here’s a reasonably representative sample:
GEORGE GALLOWAY: But ah, I want to thank Mr Hitchens for the brave stand that he made against the war on Iraq in 1991. What you are, what you have witnessed since is something unique in natural history, the first ever metamorphosis from a butterfly back into a slug. And I mention slug purposely, because the one thing a slug does leave behind it is a trail of slime. Now, I was brought up by my father on the principle never to wrestle with a chimney sweep, because whatever you do you can’t come out clean. But you, Mr Hitchens are no chimney sweep. That’s not coal dust in which you are covered, you are covered in the stuff you like to smear onto others, not just me with your Goebellian leaflets full of selective quotation, half-truth, mistruth and downright untruth, and the comments you made in your last two minutes of this speech. People like Mr Hitchens are ready to fight to the last drop of other people’s blood, and it’s utterly contemptible, utterly and completely contemptible.
It’s an interesting paradox that this debate, staged in New York, should have featured (exclusively) two Britons as its gladiators; and an equally interesting paradox that a debate between these two British polemicists should have taken place in the United States. Perhaps Britain’s relatively more restrictive libel and slander laws would have inhibited some of the more colourful invective exchanged by these two pugilists. Perhaps it would have been difficult to find a pair of Americans, accustomed to a more restrained and civil vocabulary for their public political discourse, willing and able to stage this kind of metaphorical eye-gouging and offer it as entertainment. At any rate, the resulting combination of uninhibited blood-letting with an American venue certainly got the adrenalin pumping. It’s compulsive viewing and listening.
Just one diffident suggestion for any future road-show of this kind that might be planned: instead of bare-fisted Brits, use Australian politicians, whose practice of their vocation make the British prime minister’s weekly question-time in the House of Commons sound like a love-in. One obvious choice would be the former Australian prime minister, Paul Keating, whose archive of inventive and technicolor insults and invective has actually earned a website all to itself. He was a master:
"The Leader of the Opposition hurls all sorts of abuse at me, and all through question time those pansies over there want retractions of the things we’ve said about them. They are a bunch of nobodies going nowhere."
"Mr Speaker, can I have some protection from the clowns on the front bench?"
"…for the dullard on the front bench opposite"
"Mr Deputy Speaker, am I to be continually abused by the Honorable Member for Mitchell and the drone beside him, the Honorable Member for Braddon ?"
"Where you all come aguster is, over here we think we’re born to rule you. And let me tell you this, it’s been ingrained in me from childhood, I think my mission in life is to run you."
"You were heard in silence, so some of you SCUMBAGS on the front bench should wait a minute until you hear the responses from me."
And this is by no means the best of the collected wit and wisdom of Mr Keating.
So which of Messrs Galloway and Hitchens carried off the victor’s crown? Hard to say, really. Despite pulling no punches in denouncing Galloway, Hitchens was the calmer, more cerebral and vocally more restrained of the pair; Galloway ranted fortissimo, and that quickly became monotonous both literally and metaphorically. Hitchens was easily the more attractive personality (or so it seemed to me). Each landed palpable hits on the other, Hitchens perhaps delivering more telling blows than Galloway. Yet at the end of the two-hour slugging match, Galloway had the better of the argument. Even the factually and intellectually well equipped Hitchens couldn’t, when the blood-drenched chips were down, convincingly defend an indefensible war. On substance, although it hurts to say it, George Galloway took the prize.
PS: For an interesting comparison, read the transcript of George Galloway’s famous or infamous testimony to the United States Senate on 17 May 2005. Brilliant and courageous, or insulting and embarrassing? I’m not at all sure. Perhaps all four.