‘Who will speak for England now?’ So thundered the front page of the Daily Mail on 3 February. Last Friday, at a Grassroots Out rally, we received an answer. Grassroots Out is one of the two main campaigns which are competing to be designated as the official ‘Leave’ campaign by the Electoral Commission. It’s backed by Leave.EU, the group funded by UKIP donor Aaron Banks, as well as Nigel Farage, Peter Bone, Kate Hoey and various other mostly Tory Parliamentarians. It’s hard to imagine that, short of the venue being hit by a freak earthquake, the rally could have gone any worse. Grassroots Out had been promising that a ‘special guest’ would make an appearance. And boy was he special. To almost universal shock, and prompting a walkout by some of the right-leaning audience, George Galloway took to the stage. Last year, following Farage’s notorious comments about the cost of treating migrants with HIV, Galloway tweeted that ‘Farage's Aids smear should disqualify him from any civilised company henceforth’. Presumably then, Galloway doesn’t regard himself as ‘civilised company’ as he happily joined Farage to rail against the EU.
Galloway is, to say the least, a controversial figure. This is the man who saluted Saddam Hussein’s ‘courage…strength…and indefatigability’, who in 2009 received a Palestinian passport from Ismail Haniya, leader of Hamas, and who in 2013 stormed out of a debate in Oxford when he discovered his opponent held Israeli citizenship. I suppose, in fairness, Grassroots Out could have chosen someone worse. Radical Islamist Anjem Choudary perhaps, or they could have communicated the words of Attila the Hun via a séance (which would at least have had the advantage of being amusing). It will be fascinating to see who, as part of their broad tent of pro-Brexit supporters, the Grassroots Out campaign will roll out next.