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Labour ‘apologises to the people of Rochdale’ after George Galloway victory

01 Mar 2024 5 minute read
George Galloway holds a rally at his Rochdale Headquarters after being declared winner of the Rochdale by-election. Photo Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Labour has apologised to the voters of Rochdale for not fielding a candidate after the by-election triumph of George Galloway, who the party warned will stoke “fear and division”.

Sir Keir Starmer’s party said Mr Galloway “only won because Labour did not stand” after it dropped its candidate Azhar Ali for suggesting Israel was complicit in Hamas’ October attack.

Mr Galloway, one of Britain’s most divisive politicians, swept to victory in the greater Manchester seat, gaining almost 40% of the vote in a contest mired in chaos and controversy and dominated by the Gaza conflict.


The former Labour and Respect MP, who now leads the Workers Party of Britain, took aim at the Labour leader in his victory speech focused on Palestine.

“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.”

He also declared “Labour is on notice” and a “shifting of the tectonic plates” away from Sir Keir’s party.

Labour had been expected to win the by-election triggered by the death of Labour MP Tony Lloyd, but its campaign was thrown into disarray by a leaked recording of Mr Ali’s inflammatory remarks about Israel, seeing Mr Galloway become the firm favourite for the seat.

Mr Ali remained listed as the Labour candidate as the party’s decision came too late for ballot papers to be changed.

After the by-election result, a Labour spokesperson said: “We deeply regret that the Labour Party was unable to field a candidate in this by-election, and apologise to the people of Rochdale. George Galloway only won because Labour did not stand.”

‘Division and fear’

Ellie Reeves, Labour’s deputy national campaign co-ordinator, told Sky News: “George Galloway is someone who stokes up division and fear. This isn’t how we would have wanted this by-election to play out.”

Asked if Labour would have lost to Mr Galloway even without the controversies, Ms Reeves said she could not “talk about hypotheticals,” saying the party was now focused on selecting a candidate for the general election.

The Lewisham West and Penge MP also suggested suggested Labour would not change its position on the Middle East war, calling for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire.

Left-wing pressure group Momentum said Sir Keir’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.”

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

The surprise runner-up was David Tully, a local businessman and independent candidate, who secured more than 6,600 votes.

The Rochdale campaign was beset by controversy and claims of intimidation and divisive tactics.

Death threats

Reform UK’s leader Richard Tice claimed his candidate, former Rochdale 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”.

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.”

Former Reform UK leader Nigel Farage has previously criticised postal voting on a number of occasions following defeats for his various parties.

The party’s candidate, Mr Danczuk, 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.

Mr Danczuk secured a little more than 6% of the vote, coming sixth behind Mr Ali, the former Labour candidate.

Independent candidate William Howarth agreed with Mr Tice that there had been an “element of intimidation” during the campaign.

But Mr Galloway denied his supporters had engaged in any intimidation, and claimed on Sky News that Mr Tice had invited him to be a Reform UK candidate in a recent by-election.

He added that he hoped he would be introduced to the Commons by Conservative former minister Sir David Davis and the former Labour leader, and now independent MP, Jeremy Corbyn.

A spokesperson for the charity Campaign Against Antisemitism said: “George Galloway has an atrocious record of baiting the Jewish community.”

They added: “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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Mab Meirion
Mab Meirion
1 month ago

How many people have died to keep Netanyahu out of court ?

1 month ago

The article didn’t mention at all the Conservative candidate, who came third with 3731 votes.

1 month ago

Huh. All the by-elections lost by the Cons and labour gaining votes, Labour leading in the polls and this is the spin this am. Cons will love this. The cat suit wearing big brother contestant is one person but there is a dangerous undercurrent here not least his victory speech . Nick Griffin endorsed him, that is also worrying. But he vents at Labour, not the Cons. See the direction?

1 month ago
Reply to  Jeff

George G is a left wing populist insofar as he can spot a few issues and ride them hard. You may not like him but he’s an astute operator and he read Rochdale whereas Tories and Reform just fell in his wake. Of course George is attacking Labour. He wants that Party to be more to his template, whatever that may turn out to be. He also knows that they will be gunning for him come GE time so he’ll make it as difficult as possible for them.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
1 month ago

its about time the right wing consensus in Westminster was challenged again. George will challenge it and will hopefully shake them up. He is an astute operator

1 month ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

Yet he was endorsed by right wing leaders such as Nick Griffin. He also supported Nigel Farage when he formed the Brexit Party, and even voted Tory because he couldn’t support the SNP. Galloway is only out for himself. The far left and the far right are both as bad as each other and they meet in the middle.

Last edited 1 month ago by Rob
Fi yn unig
Fi yn unig
1 month ago

What is most remarkable about this article is not George Galloway being described as someone who stokes ‘fear and division’ but some names mentioned further down the piece whose every single waking hour is devoted entirely, by way of broadcast media, to stoking ‘fear and division’.

Valerie Matthews
Valerie Matthews
1 month ago

Neither Tories or Labour under Starmer deserve to win power, They lie and prevaricate constantly, I have lost count of the number of times, Starmer has broken or changed his pledges. Chucks out any Left/centre members, INCLUDING a large number of long term Jewish Members, He has ruined the Party! Thank God Wales is different and still has some principals.

1 month ago

Quote: Former Reform UK leader Nigel Farage has previously criticised postal voting on a number of occasions following defeats for his various parties.

Where have I heard that before? Oh yeah, straight out of Donald Trump’s playbook.

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