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George Galloway wins Rochdale by-election and declares ‘This is for Gaza’ in huge blow for Labour

Rochdale becomes Galloway’s fourth parliamentary seat since 1987

Zoe Grunewald
Friday 01 March 2024 06:24 GMT
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George Galoway has been elected MP for Rochdale

George Galloway has won the Rochdale by-election for the Worker’s Party of Britain, overturning a Labour majority of 9,668.

Mr Galloway, a former Labour and Respect party MP, took almost 40 per cent of the vote and a majority of almost 5,700.

Rochdale represents Mr Galloway’s fourth different seat in parliament since 1987, an achievement which – he noted – emulates Winston Churchill.

In second place came independent candidate David Tulley, who won a stunning 6,638 votes and 21.3 per cent of the vote share.

The win is the climax to a highly chaotic by-election, marked by death threats, vandalism and candidates wearing stab vests.

Mr Galloway based much of his campaign on the conflict in Gaza, attacking the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s refusal to back a ceasefire in the region.

In his victory speech, he addressed Sir Keir directly, saying: “Keir Starmer, this is for Gaza. You will pay a high price for enabling, encouraging and covering for the catastrophe presently going on in occupied Palestine in the Gaza Strip.”

He was briefly forced to pause his speech by a protester, who shouted that he was a “climate change denier” and supported the extraction of fossil fuels, before he was able to resume.

Officials count the votes in Rochdale after a chaotic and divisive campaign (Getty Images)

“I want to tell Mr Starmer above all, that the plates have shifted tonight,” he said. “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.”

Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak, he said, “are two cheeks of the same backside and they both got well and truly spanked tonight here in Rochdale”.

The election was called following the death of Labour MP Sir Tony Lloyd.

Sir Tony had held the seat since 2017 and it was widely anticipated that the party would retain it. However, Labour were forced to withdraw support from their candidate, Azhar Ali, after it was revealed that he had suggested that Israel was complicit in the massacre of its own people on 7 October.

His name could not be removed from ballot papers but it meant that the Labour party had no candidate in the race.

Mr Ali finished in fourth place with just 2,402 votes – 7.7 per cent of the overall vote share. He did not attend the declaration.

The result is likely to place more pressure on Sir Keir to moderate his position on the Gaza conflict, as Mr Galloway’s win fans speculation that left-wing challengers could peel off the Labour vote in constituencies across the country.

The Rochdale contest had been seen as a two-horse race between two ex-Labour MPs, Mr Galloway and Reform UK’s Simon Danczuk, who previously represented the seat for Labour but was barred from standing for the party in 2017 after he admitted sending “inappropriate” messages to a 17-year-old girl.

But Mr Danczuk ended up securing little more than 6 per cent of the vote, coming sixth.

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

Recriminations continued after polls closed, with Mr Tice alleging to the PA news agency that “menacing behaviour” had featured throughout the campaign and questioning the validity of the postal ballots returned during the contest.

He said: “This by-election and result should act as a serious wake-up call to those in power and indeed to the entire electorate.

“We are supposed to be a beacon of democracy, this shameful contest has been more characteristic of a failed state.”

Mr Galloway denied his supporters had engaged in any intimidation, and told broadcasters that Mr Tice had invited him to be a Reform UK candidate in a recent by-election.

Left-wing organisation Momentum has called Mr Galloway’s win a ‘self-inflicted loss for Labour’.

A spokesperson for Momentum said: “This was a needless and self-inflicted loss for Labour.“

“First, Starmer’s utterly factional selection processes resulted in a candidate who was clearly unfit for office.

“Then the Labour Leadership tried to defend him as one of their own.”

They added: “Finally, Keir Starmer’s failure to stand with Gaza in its hour of need left the door open for George Galloway.

“To avoid any more damaging repeats, Starmer should end the factional abuse of Labour’s selection processes and stand up for an immediate, permanent ceasefire in Gaza.”

The Campaign Against Antisemitism (CAA) has said it is “extremely concerned” about Mr Galloway’s victory.

A spokesperson for the CAA said: “Mr Galloway has now been chosen by the voters of Rochdale to represent them and is once again an MP.

“Given his historic inflammatory rhetoric and the current situation faced by the Jewish community in this country, we are extremely concerned by how he may use the platform of the House of Commons in the remaining months of this parliament.”

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