• Saturday, April 13, 2024

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Left-winger George Galloway wins Rochdale by-election

George Galloway of Workers Party won over Rochdale’s Muslim community by attacking both Labour and Conservatives for supporting Israel’s action in Gaza

George Galloway, leader of the Workers Party of Britain, looks on as he participates in a rally after winning the Rochdale Parliamentary by-election, at his campaign headquarters, in Rochdale, near Manchester, Britain, March 1, 2024. REUTERS/Phil Noble

By: Shajil Kumar

Veteran left-wing political maverick George Galloway won a vote to become the new lawmaker for the English town of Rochdale on Friday, vowing to be a thorn in the side for the opposition Labour Party before a national election it is tipped to win.

After running a pro-Palestinian campaign, Galloway won over many of Rochdale’s Muslim community by attacking both Labour and Britain’s governing Conservatives for supporting Israel in its war against Hamas, making a foreign conflict the major issue – unusual in a by-election when local concerns usually dominate.

Elected to parliament for the seventh time, Galloway will be an irritant to Labour, a party he once belonged to before being ejected for criticising then-prime minister Tony Blair over the Iraq war.

His victory underlines the divisions in Britain over the Israel-Hamas war, which is in its fifth month and has brought protesters onto British streets in support of both sides.

More than 30,000 people have been killed during Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, Palestinian health authorities say. This follows an attack by Hamas militants in southern Israel on Oct. 7, when Israel says 1,200 people were killed and 253 taken hostage.

British lawmakers have faced threats to do more to bring an end to the fighting in Gaza and with the national election later this year, Galloway’s return to parliament will be short-lived but explosive.

“(Labour leader) Keir Starmer, this is for Gaza,” Galloway said in his victory speech which was interrupted by a heckler challenging him on his climate change credentials. She was drowned out by his supporters chanting “Galloway”.

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

Galloway won 12,335 votes compared with 6,638 for second-placed David Tully, an independent candidate. The former Labour candidate, Azhar Ali, came fourth after the opposition party pulled its support from him after he was recorded espousing conspiracy theories about Israel. The voter turnout was low at 39.7%.

The leader of right-wing Reform UK, Richard Tice, said the campaign had been marred by intimidation and abuse of his party’s candidate and campaigners, describing the vote as a “shameful contest … more characteristic of a failed state”. His party’s candidate came sixth.

Headache for Labour

It will be the first time Galloway’s left-wing Workers Party of Britain has been represented in parliament.

For some in Rochdale, a former cotton mill town near Manchester, the so-called by-election, triggered by the death of Labour lawmaker Tony Lloyd last month, had failed to offer them a clear choice of someone determined to help their town, ranked in the top 5% most deprived English local authorities in 2019.

Galloway also campaigned to reinstate maternity services in Rochdale but it was his message on Gaza that rang loudest.

He has vowed to speak out on Gaza in parliament, challenging Labour, which initially gave full backing to Israel following the Oct. 7 attack. The party has since shifted its position to call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

It is a headache Starmer could do without. He has struggled to maintain party unity over its position on Gaza. He avoided having to put the divisions on show last week when his party was allowed to put forward its own stance on a ceasefire.

Galloway, a colourful figure who became well known after he impersonated a cat on a reality television show in 2006, will try to exploit Labour’s divisions.

“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.” (Reuters)

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