Political veteran George Galloway wins by-election in Rochdale 'for Gaza'

Political veteran George Galloway wins by-election in Rochdale 'for Gaza'
The left-wing veteran won a major victory in the northern English town after pro-Gaza campaign and the suspension of the Labour Party candidate.
3 min read
01 March, 2024
Political outsider George Galloway will take his seat for the Workers Party of Britain [Getty]

Political maverick and prominent pro-Palestine campaigner George Galloway was elected to the British parliament on Friday after winning a seat in the English town of Rochdale.

The former Labour politician won a landslide vote in the local by-election after centring his campaign on Gaza and appealing to Muslim voters, who have felt largely neglected by Labour's stance on the war.

Galloway won 39.7 percent of the total votes, giving him a sweeping victory over previous incumbent the Labour Party’s Azhar Ali, who was dropped by the party after controversy surrounding comments he made about Israel.

In his victory speech, the veteran of British left-wing politics took aim at Labour and the ruling Conservative party and vowed that there would be "a shifting of tectonic plates" in the UK’s political scene following his win.

"This is going to spark a movement, a landslide, a shifting of the tectonic plates, a score of parliamentary constituencies, beginning here in the north-west, in the West Midlands, in London, from Ilford to Bethnal Green & Bow," Galloway said.

"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".

Suspended Labour candidate Ali came in fourth with 2,402 votes, making up 7.7 percent of the total share in a devastating fall in the vote for the party in one of its traditionally safe seats. 

The party has lost the trust of many voters, including from Muslim communities, over its support for Israel in the war on Gaza and leader Sir Keir Starmer’s refusal to back an outright ceasefire.

Galloway will take his Commons seat for the Workers Party of Britain. He was last elected in 2012 as an MP for another outsider party, after again campaigning on events in the Middle East, including the war in Syria.

He has previously been called an "Assad apologist" in reference to his perceived support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad during the country's civil war, a claim which he denies.

It is unusual for candidates to win by-elections campaigning on foreign policy issues with local issues usually a greater concern for voters.

Critics have accused Galloway of exploiting the Muslim vote to win seats. His Rochdale campaign included pictures of his name and face on a Palestine flag, while there have been concerns from Jewish groups over his divisive comments on Israel.

A report from UK media outlet Byline Times this week appeared to show Galloway’s campaigners specifically selecting Muslim households to canvass with content about Gaza in the run-up to the vote.

The 69-year-old has sought to stir up the UK political establishment since he was ousted from the Labour party in 2003 over his prominent opposition to the US and UK invasion of Iraq.

The runner-up in Thursday’s contest with 21.3 percent of the vote share was local businessman David Tully, who stood as an independent candidate and is said to be a well-known figure in the area.

Votes were counted throughout the night after constituencies in the northern town came out to vote on Thursday.

The byelection, thought to be just a few months before an expected Autumn general election, was triggered after the death of Labour MP Sir Tony Lloyd in January.