Tuesday, July 17, 2007
a) Mr Galloway had been in the pay of Saddam Hussein, secretly receiving sums of the order of £375,000 a year;
b) He diverted monies from the oil-for-food programme, thus depriving Iraqi people, whose interest he had claimed to represent, of food and medicines;
c) He probably used the Mariam Appeal as a front for personal enrichment;
d) What he had done was tantamount to treason.
This was libellous, and these remain defamatory claims to make. However. Immediately upon hearing of the allegations, a pro-war hard-right Tory MP named Andrew Robathan wrote to the Committee on Standards and Privileges to demand that an inquiry be made into them, reminding them as he did that he had fought in the Gulf War. Subsequently a prolonged inquiry was held into this matter, and the Committee has now concluded that George Galloway will be suspended for 18 days from the House of Commons for "damaging the reputation of the House".
This may seem curious. After all, the Commissioners accept Eady's definition of the libellous claims, and the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards either acknowledges that George Galloway did not personally benefit from "moneys derived from the former Iraqi regime", or accepts that George Galloway did make many declarations of interest over Iraq, eleven times. Further, he finds no instance in which monies from the appeal were improperly spent. There is no suggestion that George Galloway attempted to deceive anyone about his involvement in the Appeal or his interest in the matter. The Commissioner does not believe that George Galloway's views or advocacy were a result of receiving money from Saddam Hussein, because he doesn't accept that George Galloway's views changed or that he received money from Saddam Hussein. The complaint made by Andrew Robathan is clearly unsubstantiated: this should have concluded the matter. So, what gives?
Well, here's a clue: the majority of the Committee voted for the war on Iraq. Two of its members are former chairs of the Labour Friends of Israel. One of them, Kevin Barron MP, played a pivotal role in the witch-hunt of miners’ leader Arthur Scargill in 1990. Seasoned red-baiters and warmongers, then, and they had to find him responsible for something. Here is the basis of the suspension: he called into question the motives of the inquiry and therefore brought the House of Commons into disrepute. That is to say, because he dared to suggest that a committee of ten members of parliament might have a political motive, he is suspended. This is pathetic.
Now, the committee did make other complaints, which Galloway disputes, but they say these would have resulted merely in a request for an apology. Namely, they say, George Galloway: didn't use his parliamentary resources in a "reasonable" fashion by using them to help the Appeal (this is stretching the definition of what is "reasonable", but those are the breaks with a bunch of pro-sanctions, pro-war MPs); didn't cooperate with the inquiry and tried to conceal "the true source of Iraqi funding" from them (in fact, the claim that Galloway didn't cooperate is belied by the record of transactions which is available on the website of the committee, in which the Commissioner notes as late as November 2006 that he was very content with Galloway's cooperation); wasn't quite forthcoming enough about declaring his interests (despite the fact that he did discuss it in the House of Commons numerous times, widely advertised the appeal, held meetings in the house, and consequently was satirically known as 'the MP for Baghdad Central'); did not register the Appeal in the Miscellaneous Category (although as they concede, he was not directed to do so when he consulted the previous Commissioner in 1999). This ragbag of petty complaints is the sum of a great effort made over several years to try and impugn the reputation of an antiwar MP.
Added to it are several bizarre implications, which occur throughout the deliberations, but not in the recommendations. At one point, the Commissioner raised a 'suggestion' that had been made to him that Elaine Galloway, George Galloway's former spouse, received £13,000 in payments from the appeal. The Commissioner then claimed to have 'forgotten' who 'suggested' this to him. This allegation of criminal behaviour rests on the person of Ms E Laing, who received payments from the appeal: the implication was that Ms E Laing could be made to look like 'Elaine'. But, as the Commissioner acknowledges, George Galloway tracked down Ms E Laing and passed on the details to him, and so there is no mystery about who Ms E Laing is and what the sum was paid for (secretarial work), and who paid it (Stuart Halford, since she has his personal assistant). So, this smear was introduced into the proceedings and instead of being removed or clarified, was deemed 'peripheral'. Additionally, a photocopy of a purported "minute" of a meeting between Galloway and Hussein in 2002 was introduced at the last minute, having landed on the commissioner's desk some hours before a meeting with Galloway. It was without any explanation as to its specific provenance or how it remained secret until then. It purports to show Galloway suggesting that some of his work on behalf of the Mariam Appeal might be financed by "an oil-related mechanism". The only possible explanation as to its provenance, provided by Ms Alda Barry, was stricken from the record. She explained that it would have been a tape recording. However, since Galloway supplied the Commissioner with the evidence that there had not and could not have been such a tape recording, a letter of apology was sent by the Commissioner on 17th April 2007 to George Galloway, in which he apologised for having tried to prove that such a tape existed. His report nevertheless left open the 'possibility' of such a tape. We are told that it comes from 'intelligence' and that the commissioners "take the view that the alleged record of the meeting between Mr Galloway and Saddam Hussein in August 2002 is authentic", even though they acknowledge that it has not been "substantiated". Similarly, the Committee members decide, citing only one of the experts who looked at the Telegraph's documents (while ignoring the existence of other forged documents), that on balance they think they're probably not forgeries: whether they are forgeries or not, the information contained in them is certainly untrue, as the Commissioner also concedes. They breach their own standards, too, by insisting on including claims made by utterly discredited witnesses, including one "Tony" Zureikat, whose evidence supposedly supports the claims in the 'minute', but who manages to get the time of the meeting wrong by at least six months (he is vague: it happened in Christimas time or New Year, according to him).
Given that the nature of the evidence they adduce is so flimsy, and so disreputable, the Committee's decisions are naturally sparse. You might have thought that a Committee that was confident in its various assumptions would be a bit more harsh than asking for an apology for not having registered the appeal in Miscellaneous and so on. You might have thought that the basis of a suspension from the House of Commons for bringing it into disrepute would be somewhat stronger than that George Galloway said mean things about the committee's motives. Instead, they have produced a great many conclusions, which proceed from ommissions and distortions, and as such the best that they could do with it was trump up some sort of headline-grabbing charge. How pathetic, and how risible. If the Commissioners don't realise that they have brought themselves into disrepute with this disingenuous charade, this can only further confirm the impermeability of the Westminster village to the real world.