By Charlie Kimber
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Rochdale by-election: George Galloway wins as voters punish Starmer

The Rochdale by-election was a referendum on Rishi Sunak’s and Keir Starmer’s support for Israel’s genocide
Issue 2895
Protesting Starmers' speech at Chatham House illustrating a story about the Rochdale by-election

People voting in the Rochdale by-election were furious at Keir Starmer’s support for Israel (Picture: Guy Smallman)

George Galloway has stormed to victory in the Rochdale by-election, winning by almost 6,000 votes. He received 12,335 votes, while the candidate with Labour next to his name on the ballot paper took only 2,402 and came fourth with less than 8 percent of the vote.

Labour’s 9,668-vote majority melted away because of the rage over Israel’s genocide against the Palestinians and Labour’s support for it.

On Friday morning Galloway, the Workers Party of Britain candidate, said, “Keir Starmer, this is for Gaza. You have paid and you will pay a high price for the role you have played in enabling, encouraging and covering for the catastrophe in occupied Palestine in the Gaza Strip.”

It was a direct echo of 2005 when Galloway won the Bethnal Green constituency in east London for the anti-war Respect party against Tony Blair’s Labour. Then he exclaimed, “Mr Blair, this is for Iraq. All the people you killed, all the lies you told have come back to haunt you.”

In Rochdale, all the main parties saw a juddering fall in their vote. David Tully, a “local lad” and “community champion” standing as an independent, came second.

There will be much talk in the media and from politicians about Muslims flooding out for Galloway. But why shouldn’t Muslims vote for a pro-Palestine candidate and one who opposes Islamophobia? And it’s also not true that Muslims all think the same way. Many vote Labour and some vote Tory.

Galloway also gained votes from non-Muslims who support what he says about Gaza and other issues. 

The election reflected the disarray in British politics. Azhar Ali appeared on the ballot paper as the Labour candidate. But on 12 February Labour said it had “withdrawn support” for him after comments he made regarding Israel and alleged antisemitism. 

Labour will try to say it would have won with a proper candidate. But the anger of Gaza might well have swept away an officially-supported Labour one and triggered an even greater crisis for Starmer.

Simon Danczuk, the Reform UK racist party’s candidate, was elected as Rochdale’s Labour MP in 2010. He was suspended from the Labour Party in 2015 over allegations of what he called “inappropriate behaviour”. This followed reports he had exchanged explicit messages with a 17-year-old girl. It’s heartening that Danczuk did badly.  

The Green candidate stepped down near the start of the campaign after he was discovered to have previously criticised Palestinians and Islam. Nobody, at any point, thought the Tory had a chance, despite coming second last time.

Galloway has ridden the Palestinian movement of the last five months and given it a focus. It is indeed a rejection of Starmer. But Galloway says it is not a one-off.

He said after his victory, “I want to tell Mr Starmer above all, that the plates have shifted tonight. This is going to spark a movement, a landslide, a shifting of the tectonic plates in scores of parliamentary constituencies.

“Beginning here in the north west, in the West Midlands, in London, from Ilford to Bethnal Green and Bow, Labour is on notice that they have lost the confidence of millions of their voters who loyally and traditionally voted for them, generation after generation.”

Galloway senses a mood in Britain and sees himself as central to creating a different kind of non-Labour left. 

But the Palestinian movement deserves a far better expression than Galloway’s “for the workers, not the wokers” politics. 

There was a revealing moment during the Rochdale count. Reform UK leader Richard Tice claimed abuse of postal voting and intimidation of Danczuk and his team. 

Galloway replied, “I think Mr Tice has rather lost his balance, and Mr Farage too. And I remind Mr Tice that I have on my telephone a text from him inviting me to be the Reform UK candidate in a by-election not that long ago.” 

This is most revealing about Galloway. It’s a condemnation that such a rotten racist party could have wooed him. Nick Griffin, former leader of the Nazi BNP, felt able to call for a Galloway vote in Rochdale as “the best way by far to stick two fingers up to the political elite.

Galloway is not a racist, but such support is telling. The problem with Galloway was summed-up by two letters he sent out to voters.

One said, “To the voters of the Muslim faith in Rochdale. The killing of thousands of our brothers and sisters in Gaza is a war crime, and Israel must be held to account.

 

“If Labour lose this by-election, Sir Keir Starmer could well be forced out as Labour leader. Sir Keir Starmer, a top supporter of Israel.”

But another letter, aimed at a different audience, said, “First and foremost, I believe in Britain. I believe in family. I am a father of six children. And I don’t like some of the things they are teaching our children. 

“I believe in men and women. God created everything in pairs. Unlike the mainstream parties, I have no difficulty in defining what a woman is. A man cannot become a woman just by declaring as such. 

“I believe in law and order. I will fight for more and smarter policing. There will be no grooming gangs on my watch. Even if I have to arrest them myself. MAKE ROCHDALE GREAT AGAIN.”

One is an anti-imperialist rallying cry. The other is a stark example of how he plays with a right wing agenda.

We need a left that fights for Palestine—and also combats all forms of oppression. And the most important direction for those who have marched over Gaza is in the streets, not the ballot box. 

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