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.


4 Responses

  1. Patrick says:

    A good political insult enlivens any debate, the more pithy the better. One of my favourite ones involves the two Bevins, Aneurin (Nye) and Ernest.

    When told that Nye Bevin was his own worst enemy, Ernest (Foreign Secretary) retorted, ‘Not while I’m alive he aint.’

    Brian adds: Yes, it’s a great line. It’s also said to have been used by Ernest Bevin in reference to Herbert Morrison (the Oxford Dictionary of Political Quotations, by Antony Jay of Yes Minister fame, says it’s attributed to Bevin commenting on both Nye Bevan and Herbert Morrison. Another bon mot of Ernest Bevin which certainly refers to Morrison was uttered in 1945, when it became clear that Labour had won the general election but before Attlee, as Labour Party leader, had been summoned to the Palace to kiss hands on appointment by the King as prime minister. Morrison was rushing round to his party colleagues to urge that Attlee should not go to the Palace until there had been a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party to hold a leadership election, in which Morrison would stand (run) as candidate for leader against Attlee, so that if successful he, Morrison, and not Attlee would become prime minister. When Bevin heard of this activity by Morrison, he is said to have growled: “Tell ‘Erbert that if ‘e doesn’t shut up ‘e won’t be in the f*****g government at all.” Attlee duly went to the Palace and became perhaps the most effective British prime minister in recent times, and Morrison an almost equally successful home secretary. Incidentally Morrison was, of course, Peter Mandelson’s grandfather. Make of that what you will!

  2. If it’s more light and less heat you want have a look at the Hitchens-Jon Stewart meeting on The Daily Show.

  3. Ronnie says:

    Thanks for the link. It went like silk. The debate was disappointing:two sprinters in a marathon. And they both knew it at the end, that they were out of puff, though like a knight at ther end of a long, wearisome joust George, in his last five minutes, just managed to wound, if not too seriously, the fleeing Christopher. The insults were fun at least at first but I did want a debate and got something like a professional wrestling match. And I was not altogether happy at a couple of Brits in the arena, from some gladiatorial school or schools, entertaining the Romans who would rather not descend to killing each other. Technically. yes, I admired Christopher’s calm, and wish I could debate like that. With GG I kept wondering if he is guilty as charged or been framed.

  4. Patrick says:

    As I’m sure you are aware by now, Gorgeous George Galloway is a participant in Celebrity Big Brother, a program that, I’m ashamed to admit, I love watching. I did wonder if the producers of the programme had missed a trick by not having Christopher Hitchens as a contestant as well but then I had an even more interesting thought:

    Have you ever considered…? 🙂

    Brian replies: What an utterly appalling thought! Happily I’m not a Celebrity, I’m not Big (not at any rate in the relevant sense, although my waist measurement is a closely guarded secret), and I’m nobody’s Brother, which means that I’m wholly unqualified. So the answer to your horrendous question is an unhesitating No….

    Anyway, I can’t bear creepy-crawlies, which I’m told are a main feature of the CBB Experience.