George Galloway storms to Rochdale by-election win and launches anti-Israel rant

George Galloway storms to Rochdale by-election win and launches anti-Israel rant

Firebrand George Galloway stormed to victory in the Rochdale by-election and declared “this is for Gaza” as he immediately took aim at Sir Keir Starmer.

The former Labour and Respect MP received around 40 per cent of the vote, winning the bitterly-fought seat with a 5,697 majority.

Azhar Ali, who Labour suspended as its candidate after it emerged he had made an anti-Israel rant, limped in in fourth place, behind the Conservative contender and an independent.

Mr Galloway’s win will raise concerns at Westminster that his divisive brand of politics could further fuel political tensions as he vowed he would field 50 candidates at the general election, with some almost certain to be in London.

In his victory speech, the Workers Party of Great Britain leader began by focusing on the Middle East, saying: “Keir Starmer, this is for Gaza.

“You have paid, and you will pay, a high price for the role that you have played in enabling, encouraging and covering for the catastrophe presently going on in occupied Palestine in the Gaza Strip.”

Mr Galloway gained 12,335 votes to overturn a Labour majority of just under 10,000.

He added: “Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak are two cheeks of the same backside and they both got well and truly spanked tonight.”

The by-election was being held after the death of Labour veteran Tony Lloyd.

Galloway kisses his wife Putri Gayatri Pertiwi (REUTERS)
Galloway kisses his wife Putri Gayatri Pertiwi (REUTERS)

Independent local businessman Dave Tully came second with 6,638 votes, Conservative Paul Ellison got 3,731, Mr Ali 2,402 even though he was still Labour’s official candidate on the ballot paper as his suspension came too late to change this, while Liberal Democrat Iain Donaldson was fifth with 2,164.

The by-election chaos and result were a blow to Sir Keir given the row over Labour’s candidate and Mr Galloway’s victory now giving him a platform in Parliament from which to attack the party and in particular its stance on the Israel/Hamas war in Gaza.

Ellie Reeves, Labour’s deputy national campaign co-ordinator, apologised for her party not fielding a candidate in Rochdale.

Lewisham West and Penge MP Ms Reeves told Sky News: “Labour regrets that we couldn’t stand a candidate in this by-election and we apologise to the people of Rochdale for that.

“George Galloway is someone who stokes up division and fear. This isn’t how we would have wanted this by-election to play out.”

Political analysts were scrambling to work out the implications of Mr Galloway’s comfortable victory to the upcoming general election, expected in the autumn.

Sir John Curtice, Professor of Politics at Strathclyde University, believes Sir Keir will come under more pressure from some Labour MPs with sizeable Muslim communities in their constituencies, to take a tougher stance against Israel on the Gaza conflict, but that they are unlikely to lose their seats at the general election to other independents.

Sir Keir Starmer pictured on Friday morning (© Nigel Howard / NIGEL HOWARD MEDIA)
Sir Keir Starmer pictured on Friday morning (© Nigel Howard / NIGEL HOWARD MEDIA)

He also told LBC Radio: “This is a by-election that was taking place in unusual circumstances in which we have a non-mainstream candidate with a well-known track record of effectively appealing to Muslim voters and in a town which also has a record of voting for local champions.

“So this is not a typical by-election and it’s not in a typical place.”

Mr Galloway won the London seat of Bow and Bethnal Green in May 2005 and held it until 2010, and Bradford West in a by-election in 2012, having previously represented Glasgow in Parliament.

Rob Ford, professor of political science at Manchester University, said: “He wasn’t re-elected in Bethnal Green or in Bradford. He’s a lightning rod for discontent, not a representative.”

Friday’s Standard front page (Evening Standard)
Friday’s Standard front page (Evening Standard)

Mr Galloway’s majority of 5,697 votes amounted to 18.3 per cent of the total, on a turnout of 39.7 per cent, a little higher than the two recent by-elections in Wellingborough and Kingswood.

The Rochdale campaign has been mired in controversy and claims of intimidation and divisive tactics.

Labour withdrew support for its candidate, Mr Ali, after a recording emerged in which he claimed Israel was complicit in the terrorist attacks of October 7, seeing Mr Galloway become the firm favourite for the seat.

Reform UK’s leader Richard Tice claimed his candidate, former Rochdale Labour MP Simon Danczuk, had received a death threat during the campaign and said his party’s campaign team had been subject to “daily intimidation and slurs”.