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George Galloway firm favourite to win chaotic Rochdale by-election

Following a disastrous by-election campaign for Labour, the controversial George Galloway has said he is 'confident' he can win in Rochdale.

Workers party of Britain candidate George Galloway speaks to PA Media in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, ahead of the Rochdale by-election, which was triggered by the death of Sir Tony Lloyd. Picture date: Friday February 16, 2024.
George Galloway is currently the frontrunner to represent Rochdale. (Alamy)

George Galloway is the bookmakers' favourite to win Rochdale by-election on 29 February, in what has been a particularly chaotic contest.

The controversial Workers Party of Britain leader is leading by a large margin among multiple bookmakers, according to Oddschecker, with 4/11 odds offered by William Hill.

It should have been a straightforward contest for the Labour Party following the death of the previous incumbent and Greater Manchester party stalwart Sir Tony Lloyd in January. Labour has enjoyed a series of by-election victories across the UK as the Conservative Party trails behind in opinion polls.

However, Labour faced a major setback after being forced to withdraw support for its candidate, Azhar Ali, over remarks that came to light earlier this month suggesting Israel was complicit with the massacre of its own people in the 7 October attack by Hamas.

Ali's suspension means he will stand as an independent, but it comes too late in the day for Labour to be able to announce a replacement candidate to stand in his place, meaning the party won't have its own candidate in a constituency it has held since 2010.

This power vacuum means that Galloway, a controversial former Labour and later Respect Party MP, could end up representing the Greater Manchester constituency after election day on 29 February.

ROCHDALE, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07: Labour candidate for Rochdale, Azhar Ali launches his by-election campaign on February 07, 2024 in Rochdale, England. Azhar Ali announced his five pledges should he be elected as Rochdale's MP, accompanied by Labour's Mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham. The by-election for the Rochdale constituency scheduled for 29 February was triggered by the death of Labour MP Sir Tony Lloyd on 17 January, 2024. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)
Labour dropped out of the race after denouncing its candidate, Azhar Ali, over his comments on the 7 October attacks. (Getty Images)

Galloway’s campaign is heavy on the Palestinian cause and Gaza, an issue close to the heart of many of Rochdale’s Muslim population. His campaign believes 15,000 votes are enough to win most by-elections – and Rochdale has a 30,000-strong Asian community.

The prospect of him taking the seat has alarmed Jewish campaigners, however, with the Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) describing him as an "inflammatory firebrand".

Galloway firmly denies his campaign is stirring up trouble and division. The candidate, who has worked for Iranian-run Press TV and Kremlin-backed Russian TV channel RT, said: "That was Labour’s schtick before their candidate, again brought disgrace to Rochdale, with his recorded comments.

"The people who brought division to Rochdale are Labour. The people who covered up the grooming gangs, was Labour. The people that pulled their candidate because of antisemitism, was Labour.”

The Tories have suffered the most by-election defeats of any government since the 1960s

During his campaign, Galloway has repeated the controversial "From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free" chant, which some people interpret as an antisemitic rallying cry for the eradication of Israel's people. Others argue it refers to the freedom of Palestinian people.

“I don’t regard it as antisemitic,” he said. “I don’t, so I can say it. This is a free country. I’m in favour of a democratic state for Jews, Muslims and Christians between the river and the sea. You may not like that, others may not like that. But that’s what I believe, and we’ll see if people vote for it."

Galloway insists the conflict in Gaza is not the only issue he is campaigning on, citing the closure of local maternity services, the NHS, the economy and Rochdale being one of the poorest towns in England.

Workers party of Britain candidate George Galloway speaks to PA Media in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, ahead of the Rochdale by-election, which was triggered by the death of Sir Tony Lloyd. Picture date: Friday February 16, 2024.
Workers Party of Britain leader Galloway is running his campaign from a Suzuki dealership offered to him by a supporters. (Alamy)

He claimed to have negotiated with the owner of a shopping centre in the town to bring Primark to Rochdale and pledged to get maternity services re-opened in Rochdale.

“When you’ve got a town in which you cannot be born, it's not really a town at all. You lose, first in a small way and later completely, you lose your identity and the people of Rochdale once had a proud identity," Galloway added.

“The football club is a metaphor; it got relegated, relegated, relegated until it fell out of the league altogether. And that’s what’s happened to the town.”

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Who else is running?

  • Iain Donaldson, Liberal Democrats

  • Paul Ellison, Conservative Party

  • Michael Howarth, Independent

  • William Howarth, Independent

  • Ravin Rodent Subortna, The Official Monster Raving Loony Party

  • David Tully, Independent

Guy Otten, the Green Party candidate, has had party support withdrawn over comments made on Twitter criticising Palestinians and Islam. Like Ali, his name will appear on the ballot paper, but he has abstained from campaigning.