Sketch: Galloway returns to a frosty Commons

He's back
He's back
Alex Stevenson By

Sir George Young, the leader of the Commons, entered the chamber from behind the Speaker's chair. He craned his tall frame upwards, neck straining, half-tortoise, half-giraffe. Not for him the sight of education secretary Michael Gove telling off opposition backbenchers. His interest was focused on the small, smartly-dressed figure at the opposite end of the room.

That figure was a stranger to the Commons; a member "wishing to take his seat", as the procedure states. It was none other than George Galloway, Gorgeous George, who has recently persuaded the good people of Bradford West that he will champion their interests better than any other candidate in the recent by-election.

Galloway was sharply dressed for the occasion. An impeccably cut grey suit, a white shirt, a tie the colour of dried blood. As an independent he did not have a party elder to escort him into parliament once again, so the task fell to octogenarian Sir Peter Tapsell. Sir Peter, the grandest of the Tory grandees, does not normally associate with Galloway's type. They should not normally be spoken of in the same paragraph, chapter or even book, let alone the same sentence. Yet such is the burden of the Leader of the House that this task had fallen upon him.

When the moment came the House fell silent. Galloway and Sir Peter strode forwards, in perfect time, pacing forward like dainty iceskaters. The timing became muddied when they paused to bow to the Speaker. It collapsed completely by the time they reached the table in the middle of the Commons. Sir Peter's stonily neutral facial expression did not move an inch. Perhaps his eyebrow might have quivered slightly had Galloway fallen flat on his face. But I doubt it.

Galloway chose to take the MP's oath of loyalty, the secular version which pledges loyalty to the Queen but not much else. Worth reflecting on, perhaps, given the intensity of his support among Muslim voters in Bradford. The point may be facile, but it was noted by all the journalists peering down from the press gallery.

As he scribbled his signature on various papers and warmly shook hands and chit-chatted with Speaker John Bercow for at least half a minute, the Commons chamber felt like a cold, unfriendly place. Isolated, introverted chatter could be heard here and there. Occasionally a laugh - was the humour cruel? - pierced the room. It was the dulled sort of background noise faced by a child on their first day at a new school. Or, even worse, a school returned to after a long time away.

For Galloway's reputation precedes him. He will sit among the Labour backbenchers, but he is not one of them. A handful of Conservatives 'hear-heared' his arrival at the appropriate moment but they were uncertain about doing so. 'An enemy of my enemy is my friend' seemed to be their logic. They didn't seem especially keen on it.

The last MP I saw arrive in the Commons was Chloe Smith in the summer of 2009. She had just taken Norwich North, another normally safe Labour seat, from the Tories in unusual circumstances. Now she stood by Sir George, the youngest minister in the coalition government. She appears the ultimate carefully polished career politician. Galloway has his own career, but it could not be more different.

He is back: and no one in the Commons, with the possible exception of Bercow, seemed to like it. Whatever its inmates may think, parliament has just become a more interesting - and controversial - place.


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