MP accused of using gay issues to win Muslim votes

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Human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has questioned the tactics of maverick MP George Galloway.

Galloway became the MP for Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005 under the banner of the Respect party.

His victory over the incumbent Labour MP was in large part due to appealing to anti-war Muslim voters in the London constituency.

A former member of the Labour party, he was expelled in 2003 for his outspoken opposition to the Iraq war.

He recently announced that he will keep his election promise not to fight Bethnal Green and Bow at the next election, deciding instead to contest the neighbouring Canning Town and Limehouse constituency.

It is a new seat, notionally held by Labour MP and junior minister Jim Fitzpatrick.

Mr Galloway’s website outlines his Labour opponent’s record on a range of issues, including gay rights.

Given that the Galloway election strategy relies on attracting Muslim votes, Mr Tatchell said he was concerned.

“George appears to be appeasing homophobic sections of the Muslim community by attacking Jim Fitzpatrick over his support for gay rights,” Mr Tatchell told the Evening Standard.

“He’s using homophobia to gain political advantage and he is betraying his own past appeal for gay equality. If his website is a mistake, George should correct it immediately.

“His apparent volte face is a cynical attempt to win the votes of homophobic factions within the constituency.

“I’m saddened that he’s using gay rights as a stick to beat his political opponent.”

The references to Mr Fitzpatrick’s support for gay rights were removed from the Galloway site, along with information about his views on fox hunting and the smoking ban.

Last year the Respect Party confirmed to that its candidates are not expected to adhere to a unified policy on gay rights.

The senior party figure said that no candidate would ever be forced to agree on opposing issues, he said:

“Because we’re a coalition we don’t bind a Muslim candidate in Yorkshire to the explicitly socialist parts of our programme.”

Mr Galloway said that the differences between the socialist and Muslim groups in his party should be approached “like porcupines making love, carefully.

“The task of keeping a coalition of disparate forces together on these issues is difficult, it’s not easy, we’re trying and we’re doing our best.

“I’ve been explicit as I can on these issues, and I’m arguably the leading figure in Respect, not its leader, we don’t have leader but the leading member in it in terms of being well known and I’m being explicit. It will be read by every one.

“I’ve always had on my staff many gay people. I have many gay friends, and many activists in Respect are gay. So there is no sense in which we are wanting in this debate.

“Our policy could not be clearer as an organisation, we are against all forms of discrimination, we are for self determination. These are the phrases that are used.”

Respect was criticised at the last election by its own trade unionist members for failing to include a manifesto commitment for equality and gay rights.