Results of Rochdale by-election 2024

George Galloway’s comfortable victory in Rochdale is a warning to Starmer

George Galloway’s win in Rochdale has suddenly made what was looking like a very predictable general election later this year, unpredictable. And much more interesting than it might otherwise have been. This result is a rare win for a left that has been in retreat since 2019. We should all take a day or two to enjoy the moment. No matter how Labour’s spin doctors attempt to deny it, this is a kick in the teeth for a Starmer-led party that had been looking invincible.

Galloway’s campaign material framed the election as a chance to vote on Labour’s shameful policy on Gaza but also highlighted the years of neglect that have left Rochdale as one of the most deprived towns in England.

  • “It’s George Galloway or Keir Starmer’s Labour in Rochdale.”
  • “For Rochdale, for Gaza.”
  • “The people of Gaza don’t have a vote in this election – you do.”
  • “This election is a straight choice between George who will fight for Palestine and the people of Rochdale – and Keir Starmer, who will fight for Israel.”

In his victory speech Galloway put the local Labour establishment on notice that he was going to hold them to account for their failure to stand up for the people of Rochdale. He will make fiery speeches on Gaza in the House of Commons but he will also be working hard to prove himself a good constituency MP. It is significant that none of the mainstream parties could capitalise on Labour’s self-inflicted debacle and a local businessman, David Tully, who made his campaign all about Rochdale was a comfortable second.

For Galloway and his Workers Party it will seem like the ‘new dawn’ that Chris Williamson tweeted. However, it also provides Galloway with what may well be a welcome problem. Does he put all his efforts into retaining this one seat. Or does he use his considerable charisma and undoubted media presence to campaign for the party rather than just for George?

Labour will hope that his victory does not result in thousands of one-time supporters of Jeremy Corbyn flooding into the Workers Party and giving it the presence on the ground to take significant votes from Labour. The result has once again exposed Labour’s political incompetence. They needlessly rushed into this by-election. They arrogantly thought that a moderate Muslim council leader would seal it for them and then discovered that he had spoken up for Palestine and attacked the Zionist lobby.

They must now be worried by Galloway’s threat to stand Workers Party Candidates on a pro-Palestine platform in 60 Labour constituencies in the general election. Chris Williamson is considering standing in Margaret Beckett’s seat as she steps down. And other independent candidates hoping to stand against Starmer and Streeting can only take heart from this result.

When Galloway first announced he was standing it looked like the election would become a mini-referendum on Labour’s refusal to back a ceasefire. Whatever people think of his politics, Galloway has never wavered in his support for Palestine and must have expected to collect a significant number of votes in a working class constituency with a large Muslim minority. But his opponent, Ali, had been Labour leader of Lancashire County Council and, as a one time government advisor under both Blair and Brown, was seen as a moderate until his remarks about Israel were leaked by the Daily Mail.

Though who leaked them to the Daily Mail in the first place? Despite the press reporting at the time that it was a “community meeting”, it was actually a Labour Party meeting attended by Labour councillors who Ali was trying to persuade to stay in the party. It is likely that one of those present reported Ali to the party hierarchy. It is also plausible that they held on to that information before leaking it to the national press. The leak was not made until it was becoming obvious that Galloway was on the verge of winning. Is it possible that Labour decided to throw in the towel on Rochdale rather than be beaten? These are questions to which we may never get satisfactory answers. We may never know, but whatever happened this episode has been a disaster for Starmer and a win for the left. It may not be a ‘new dawn’ just yet, but it has certainly made the first day of spring seem brighter.


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