LONDON — It’s not often that you hear listeners of BBC London Radio’s John Gaunt phone-in plumping for a socialist. Callers’ positive reaction to British Member of Parliament George Galloway’s barnstorming performance on Capitol Hill last week spoke volumes. Even Rupert Murdoch’s right-wing rag The Sun was forced grudgingly to take a break from bashing “whining lefties” and reflect the public mood.

For some Britons, admiration for Galloway following his TV roasting of right-wing Sen. Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) and friends at last week’s Senate Investigations Sub-Committee hearing probably had more to do with jealousy of the U.S. knocking Britain off the global power top spot than agreement with his politics. But for millions of progressives here and across the world, it was a rare opportunity to get their side heard loud and clear.

Galloway, a Scotsman with a deserved reputation as a passionate public speaker, has a polarizing effect on people. His fiery rhetoric has made him enemies on the left and the right, but, despite his showman character, his loyalty lies firmly in socialist ideals.

In 2002, he was kicked out of the Labor Party after he condemned Tony Blair and George Bush as “wolves” over their illegal invasion of Iraq. Following his expulsion, he joined forces with key players in the antiwar movement from the Trotskyite Socialist Worker Party and the Muslim Association of Britain, as well as smaller groups, to form the Respect Coalition.

Though under the UK electoral system it is near impossible for parties outside the big three – Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labor – to get MPs into Parliament, that’s what Respect set out to do. Galloway, Respect’s most high-profile candidate, ran in the east London district of Bethnal Green & Bow – traditionally home to immigrant communities and where Communists scored victories early last century.

His opponent was Labor Party darling Oona King, a Black woman who was a supporter of the leadership policy and who backed the war in Iraq – a risky act in an area with both a sizeable Muslim population and plenty of non-Muslim progressives.

Galloway won by just 823 votes.

Following the Scotsman’s return from Washington last week, a packed meeting of over 1,000 Respect supporters welcomed him with rapturous applause. Echoing comments made by other Respect speakers, he warned that the party would now be targeted by an Establishment smear campaign.

It was no surprise to see newspapers imply the following day that his victory had come on the back of fraudulent votes. In fact, King could just as easily have been the beneficiary and Respect said it had been calling for an investigation for weeks.

However, smears aside, equally damaging for Respect’s future prospects is the UK’s winner-takes-all electoral system.

Richard Bagley is a journalist for British-based socialist daily the Morning Star