Friday briefing: Labour suffers a huge loss as Galloway takes Rochdale

<span>George Calloway celebrates with supporters after being declared winner in the Rochdale byelection.</span><span>Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images</span>
George Calloway celebrates with supporters after being declared winner in the Rochdale byelection.Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Good morning.

A dramatic night has come to an end. George Galloway, the leader of the Workers’ party of Britain, is back in Westminster after a decisive landslide win in the Rochdale byelection. At 12,335 votes, Galloway came away with a historic 41% swing against the Labour party, which abandoned its candidate Azhar Ali after he became embroiled in an anti-semitism scandal, though Ali appeared on the ballot as a Labour candidate.

Labour finished fourth with 2,402 votes, unable to even beat the Conservative candidate Paul Ellison, who decided to skip the mess of campaigning altogether and enjoy a nice holiday instead – fair enough, I guess.

This was supposed to be a relatively straightforward byelection. The Labour MP, Sir Tony Lloyd, who died leaving the seat open, was held in high esteem, and the Labour party was on a high from a series of byelection wins in Wellingborough and Kingswood. But things took a chaotic turn when a leaked audio of Ali emerged saying that Israel was complicit in Hamas’s 7 October attacks.

The running theme that has underpinned and shaped the byelection has been the war in Gaza, an issue that Galloway has vowed to singularly focus on. The night’s events will likely be a reckoning for Labour, with Keir Starmer and his team looking to win back the trust of Muslim voters and others who have flocked to Galloway.

With the help of Josh Halliday, the Guardian’s north of England correspondent, today’s newsletter looks at what this result means for Rochdale and the Labour party. That’s right after the headlines.

Five big stories

  1. Police | The official inquiry into the murder of Sarah Everard has found that her killer, Wayne Couzens, never should have been employed by the Metropolitan police. Lady Elish Angiolini’s report detailed missed opportunities to identify Couzens’ threats to women, including allegations of indecent exposure and sexual assault, leading to calls for urgent reforms of the police to restore trust.

  2. Israel-Hamas war | More than a hundred Palestinians were killed in the early hours of Thursday morning, Gaza health officials said, when desperate crowds gathered around aid trucks and Israeli troops opened fire, in an incident that the US president, Joe Biden, warned was likely to complicate ceasefire talks.

  3. UK news | Eleven people have been taken to hospital after a fire broke out at a converted terraced house in the upmarket London neighbourhood of South Kensington.

  4. Protest | The government has been accused of exaggerated rhetoric to justify a crackdown on protest rights, amid a pushback by civil liberties groups, which accused Rishi Sunak of exaggerating the threat of “mob rule”.

  5. Iran | A majority of Iran’s angry and disillusioned electorate are predicted to stay away from parliamentary elections today, viewing the process as a masquerade of democracy intended to give legitimacy to a regime that has failed to deliver on living standards, the environment and personal freedom.

In depth: A decisive win for Galloway

“I’ve never known a candidate’s team to declare to journalists that they think they have won a race comfortably within an hour of the polls closing – you only do that if you are 99.9% certain or you’re very stupid – and it turns out they were right,” Josh says.

Though a win for Galloway, pictured above with his wife, Putri Gayatri Pertiwi, was seen as likely following the Labour party’s campaign implosion, no one was expecting him to bring in a majority that large. A swing like that “is absolutely huge. It’s much more decisive and clearcut than anyone had imagined,” Josh says. Labour sources told him yesterday that they were hoping longstanding party loyalty and potentially a lack of awareness of what was happening with their former candidate would allow Labour to hold onto a sizeable chunk of the vote. Instead they trailed in at fourth.

The mood in the room was mixed when the results came in. There were a lot of Galloway supporters both inside the room and outside. “Dozens of people were there for hours, practising their chants on a freezing cold night in Rochdale,” Josh says – a microcosm of the zeal and vigour of Galloway’s supporters.

The deep divisions laid bare over the course of the campaign were palpable too: “As [Galloway] prepared to stand on the victory podium, I heard mutterings from other campaigners of ‘terrorist sympathiser’, ‘the people of Rochdale are thick’ and ‘woe to Rochdale’,” Josh says.

Galloway made it clear what he thinks his victory means for the Labour party: more losses in the coming general election. He wants to create a movement in towns and cities with similar profiles to Rochdale: “I think this victory tonight will spread far,” he said, adding that the win “could be the beginning of something new, something big”.

Despite the stunning landslide on Galloway’s side, Josh says it is important to keep perspective: “You’ve got to take this with a pinch of salt. This is a byelection, it’s got a lower turnout than a general election and also Labour has not put up a fight for the last two and a half weeks of the campaign.” Were Labour to actually stand in a general election, the results would likely be far closer, he adds, though Galloway could still win again.

***

A difficult night for Labour

Galloway declared that this byelection was a rejection of both of the two main parties: “Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak are two cheeks of the same backside and they both got well and truly spanked tonight here in Rochdale.”

If we overlook the disturbing picture that Galloway has painted, he has a point. The surprise runner-up, David Tully, ran as an independent candidate. He is a well respected local businessman who largely ran a word of mouth campaign with fairly limited resources but came away with 6,638 votes: well over double what Labour’s former candidate managed to accrue. He told Josh that he was without an agenda, nor was he a particularly political person, but he felt that Rochdale had been left behind in the conversation, so he wanted to try to give the town a good name again. “People really responded to it,” Josh says.

The results are also emblematic of the level of discontent and anger over Keir Starmer’s stance on the war in Gaza. “For a section of the constituency, it is the number one issue,” Josh says. With 41% of the vote, it was not just Muslims who voted for Galloway but many others in Rochdale, suggesting that Galloway’s campaigning was more effective than even he realised.

***

The campaign

Galloway made it clear from the get go that his campaign would focus on one issue: Gaza. Capitalising on the growing disaffection between Muslim voters in particular and the Labour party, in part due to its hesitation to call for an immediate ceasefire, Galloway has targeted Rochdale’s Muslim population, which makes up about 30% of the town. He claimed that the names of Keir Starmer’s team were “dripping in blood”, after the party put forward the ceasefire amendment last week and vowed to “change history” and “shake the walls of Westminster” if he were to win. And his rhetoric clearly cut through: Josh reported that in parts of Rochdale every house had a Galloway poster in the window.

The Labour campaign ended two and a half weeks ago when members were told to stop campaigning for Ali, which partly explains the miserable showing for him. The only other campaign of note was that of Simon Danczuk, the disgraced former Labour MP for Rochdale from 2010 to 2017, who was suspended by the party in 2015 for sending explicit messages to a 17-year-old girl. Danczuk ran as a Reform UK candidate, standing on an anti-immigration platform and vowing to leave the European convention on human rights.

***

What are the people left with?

There was never going to be a desirable outcome for the people of Rochdale in this byelection. Out of 11 candidates, who were all men, none proved to be all that suitable.

At 40.5%, Rochdale has one of the highest child poverty rates in the country, according to the End Child Poverty Coalition, and last year a housing emergency was declared in the town. There is also the painful history of child sexual exploitation to contend with and its residents desperately want a representative who will try to change things for them. This byelection has not given them reason to be optimistic.

“A lot of people are just really jaded with politics here,” Josh says, and although Galloway made a point in his speech of trying to bring the town together through a “grand alliance” with future councillors, his brand as an agitator and a divisive politician makes his gestures toward unity feel hollow.

What else we’ve been reading

  • What infuriates the rightwing press more than anything else? TV comedy workshops pursuing a “woke agenda” apparently! Rachael Healy joins 30 working-class standups determined to break into TV. Nazia Parveen, acting deputy newsletters editor.

  • Jason Okundaye’s long read on the often invisible Black gay scene of the 80s and 90s is fascinating, and a tantalising look at his new book, Revolutionary Acts, which was also the book of the day. Toby Moses, head of newsletters

  • Projects to digitise once difficult to access records are giving African American families, including this writer, Edda L Fields-Black, opportunities to recover more of their lost past and offering historians the potential to enrich and rewrite the history of slavery. Nazia.

  • Emma Brockes takes aim at the scourge of voice notes, and not a moment too soon: “the main problem with voice memos is the very large gap between the message leaver’s idea of how entertaining they’re being and the reality for the person experiencing their 90-second set”. Toby

  • After drought devastated prized arborio and carnaroli harvests in the Po valley, new rice varieties offer a glimmer of hope. But none are yet suitable for use in the traditional recipe finds Ottavia Spaggiari. Nazia.

Sport

Football | The France and Juventus midfielder Paul Pogba has said he is “sad, shocked and heartboken” after being handed a four-year ban from football for a doping offence. The former Manchester United player has said he will appeal against the sanction.

Athletics | The World Athletics president, Sebastian Coe, has hit out at plans for an Enhanced Games, that would allow athletes to take steroids and other performance enhancing drugs, and warned that anyone who competes will be banned for a long time.

Rugby union | The England attack coach, Richard Wigglesworth, has warned that wholesale changes will not fix the problems Steve Borthwick’s side have had in possession in the Six Nations, and has suggested long-term cohesion is more likely to make them a fluent side. England lost the Calcutta Cup to Scotland last weekend 30-21.

The front pages

“More than 100 Palestinians die in chaos surrounding Gaza aid convoy” – the Guardian’s lead story this morning. “Goodbye my old pal” says the Metro, carrying a tribute to Dave “Hairy Biker” Myers. The splash in the Financial Times is “Putin menaces west with warnings of nuclear risk in war over Ukraine” while the i is the one leading with the financial news: “2p tax cut in doubt after gloomier forecast on UK economy”. “This can’t go on! 1.4m granted UK visas last year” says the Daily Express, the Daily Mail goes with “Britain’s broken borders” while the Daily Telegraph has “Russia flooding west with migrants”. “‘Nothing to stop’ another police killer like Couzens” is the top story in the Times, and also in the Daily Mirror, which asks “How many more are still hiding in plain sight?”.

Something for the weekend

Our critics’ roundup of the best things to watch, read and listen to right now

TV
Mary & George (Sky Atlantic)
The brief of Mary & George is so good: Julianne Moore plays Mary Villiers, a scheming real-life Countess of Buckingham, who is jagging around merry olde England in the early 1600s, doing a low, blunt English accent and trying to hustle her second-born son, George (played cheekboningly well by Red, White & Royal Blue’s Nicholas Galitzine). Don’t you want to watch Julianne Moore use her gorgeous adult son as a sexy royal pawn? You do, and I do too, and we’re right to. The two leads are great – Galitzine’s George is moping and moaning and wet and soft, until a formative trip to France turns him into a sexy little harlot, and Moore is, well, Moore: scheming and manipulative and charming, always running her eyes from left to right as she tries to calculate the next shrewd social chess move, inscrutable. They are both bastards, basically, but doing it in such a fun knowing way that it’s dynamising to watch. Joel Golby.

Music
Sheer Mag: Playing Favorites
What started life as a disco EP designed to help the band through personal difficulties has evolved into a refined, joyful take on their distortion-lagged rock. You hear disco during the breezy All Lined Up and the episodic Mechanical Garden, which slips from tough powerpop to orchestral interlude to intricate funk, complete with blazing guitar solo courtesy of Mdou Moctar. Moonstruck, meanwhile, dramatically diverts from its slide guitar-strafed country rock intro and heads euphorically towards the dancefloor, bearing a freewheeling melody that has a hint of the Jackson 5’s I Want You Back in its DNA. Even at its most melodious, Playing Favorites still sounds fierce and raw, an object lesson in altering your sound without losing your essence. Alexis Petridis

Film
Red Island (cinemas nationwide)
Film-maker Robin Campillo has surrendered to the flow of memory and given us this wonderful, personal movie, created with tenderness, unsentimental artistry and visual flair, inspired by his own childhood growing up on a French army base in recently independent Madagascar in the early 1970s. It is the story of an imaginative little kid spying and eavesdropping on the private lives of grownups, which are a mystery to him and a mystery to the grownups, too. Red Island elides his own poignant growing pains with Madagascar’s emergence from the infantilised colonial state. It feels like a classic depiction of childhood on film. Peter Bradshaw

Podcast
Black Box (Guardian)
At some point in the past few years, humanity collided with a new kind of intelligence. And things are getting strange. People are being accused of crimes by algorithms; falling in love with digital beings; pioneering new ways to fight old diseases; turning to machines for comfort in their worst moments, and using artificial intelligence to commit – and hide from – terrible crimes. The Guardian’s Michael Safi investigates the story of a technology so complex that its own creators have no idea what it is thinking, and captures a snapshot of the era when people first made contact with AI.

Today in Focus

How the cost of living changed the way we eat out

Restaurants across the UK are struggling with rising rents, food prices and customers tight on cash. How can they attract loyal diners? Grace Dent and Tony Naylor report

Cartoon of the day | Ben Jennings

The Upside

A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad

Little Earl “Piglet” Long’s journey to a new home began earlier this month when a bystander noticed men in a park, not far from a Mardi Gras parade in Louisiana, throwing “what appeared to be a mini-football” to one another and laughing.

As the bystander approached, they could hear squealing and realised the object flying through the air was not a football at all but a piglet. After being rescued it has been a happy ending for Earl Long who has been adopted and has even received a pardon on the Louisiana capitol steps by lieutenant governor, Billy Nungesser.

“He will live out his life without any threat of being thrown like a football or being part of jambalaya or boudin in someone’s kitchen here in Louisiana,” Nungesser said, referring to two popular dishes that contain sausage.

Sign up here for a weekly roundup of The Upside, sent to you every Sunday

Bored at work?

And finally, the Guardian’s puzzles are here to keep you entertained throughout the day. Until tomorrow.