Galloway wins again, this time in Rochdale

Dave Kellaway looks at 3 key questions raised by Galloway’s electoral victory in Rochdale.


Is it positive for Palestine solidarity?

The Palestine solidarity movement is much bigger than George Galloway and his divisiveness and historic sectarianism has meant he has not been part of the collective leadership of this movement. Some people on the left also think that his reactionary positions on migrants and LBGTQIA+ liberation (and especially trans people) as well as his avowed British nationalism can only discredit the solidarity movement. The right wing, Labour and the media can easily caricature his positions and present him as an antisemite or leaning to Islamism.

But many people waking up today to hear of his win in Rochdale, particularly those who have little knowledge of all his political positions, will be saying at least we have someone who will speak up inside and outside Parliament for Gaza and its people subjected to an ongoing genocide. It is difficult to deny this objective political reality. People who have been marching almost weekly for Palestine and are organising in their communities will feel a boost. Such emotional reactions should not be discounted in political struggles. They will relish it as a shot across the bows of the criminal complicity of both Labour and the Tories in their support for the Zionist state.

“It is difficult to deny this objective political reality. People who have been marching almost weekly for Palestine and are organising in their communities will feel a boost. Such emotional reactions should not be discounted in political struggles.”

It also shows that Starmer’s desperate manoeuvring to finally call for a very conditional ‘humanitarian’ ceasefire did not fool anybody. Becoming an MP gives you a platform and visibility that the media cannot completely silence. The No Ceasefire, No Vote slogan chanted at the demonstrations has proved appropriate and effective in this context where there was no risk of it affecting our ability to kick out the Tories.

Should Labour be worried?

This was the question raised by Jon Craig, chief political correspondent at Sky News. He replied that they should be very worried. I am not so sure that a Labour majority is at stake following Rochdale.

Turnout was 22 percentage points below the last general election in this seat.  Labour will also have an official candidate next time. Galloway may only be keeping the seat warm for a Labour candidate at the general election. Then the question will be: do you want more Tory government, which has failed to improve your living standards or quality of life since 2010, or do you want to hope for a change with Labour?  

Gaza is much less likely to dominate the general election in the same way. It is possible that the massacre will be over by then. They could be a permanent ceasefire and some diplomatic charades over a two state solution. Even if the occupation continues and resistance remains the salience of the issue could well be a lot less.

Galloway, at the vote, immediately proclaimed that he would be seeking victories in London, the West Midlands and elsewhere in scores of seats. Even if – and this is unlikely given his record – he were to hitch up with other left currents standing in the general election it would still be a huge ask.  There are a limited number of seats where the size of the Muslim community is big enough to make a difference. The Labour line could even have moved further to a less pro-Zionist one and Palestine will not be the only issue. The electoral base who voted for him in Rochdale will want policies on a raft of issues and above all will be practical at looking at which party can form a government.

If Galloway could clone himself and stand in all these seats he would have a better chance.  He is a big, recognisable character, a supreme electoral campaigner. He uses language very effectively even if some of the time for reactionary ends. Apart from finding credible candidates the Workers Party is still a small outfit. Galloway mobilised a little army of volunteers for a by election, a general election is a different ball game.

Nevertheless, Labour should be worried because the vote in Rochdale is a symptom of a deeper malaise. Starmer may be riding high in the polls and is likely to win well in a general election, but this is largely the result of a Tory implosion and their huge loss of support. There is a little discernible enthusiasm for a party that has month by month watered down and ditched even moderately progressive policies. Sticking to the fiscal rules, growth and security will not get voters marching resolutely to the voting booths.

“Nevertheless, Labour should be worried because the vote in Rochdale is a symptom of a deeper malaise.”

Once in government people like Galloway could easily link with opposition organised by a revitalised hard right operating inside and outside a different Tory party. ReformUK apparently has made approaches to Galloway and during the Brexit campaign he was happy to hob nob with Farage. There is a photo of Galloway with Steve Bannon, far right Trump supporter and Nick Griffin, ex fascist BNP leader, endorsed him in Rochdale.  Chris Williamson, ex Labour MP and vice leader of the Workers Party, refused to comment on this when asked today.  A very moderate Labour government could easily go into a crisis failing to satisfy exactly what the bosses want and angering its traditional bases of support. In that situation Galloway could play a disruptive role.

Can Galloway provide a focus for the left?

Predictably a current within the left has gotten carried away by Galloway’s victory and see it as some harbinger of a left-wing alternative built around his leadership. Crispin Flintoff and his Not the Andrew Mar show has been one of the biggest cheerleaders.

Maybe they do not know or have forgotten the history of Respect, an attempt by the left to work with Galloway to challenge Labour’s hegemony. It ended in tears and recrimination as Gorgeous George refused to allow the SWP and other political currents to get in his way.  Galloway would want total control of any new left electoral alliance. To a degree he has leverage since he has now defeated Labour three times, none of the other left currents have come near.

Above all it is Galloway’s politics that is the major obstacle to any new left electoral alignment. Just look at these two leaflets that he put out in Rochdale, one for the Muslim community and one for other voters, the leaflets can be see below in tweets from the reactionary political editor of The Sun:

It is not necessary to elucidate the details. The leaflets (if genuine) tell the story well. In much of Galloway’s politics, there is a “Red/Brown” alliance in practice. Supporting Muslim communities over Gaza on the one side while ignoring Gaza completely on the other, but proclaiming his love for Britain, for his (big) family and his callous rejection of Trans people. It is not necessarily wrong to target electoral propaganda at different demographics but this is truly grotesque. Oh, and well done to ReformUK, who managed to finish sixth in their well-publicised two-horse race!

As we explained in an earlier article jumping into bed with George is not the solution for the left, we need a different way forward.

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Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

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