Subscriber OnlyUK

George Galloway wins divisive Rochdale byelection

Firebrand leftwing politician returns to parliament in contest where Labour disavowed its candidate

George Galloway has won a divisive byelection in Rochdale with the firebrand politician’s return to Westminster likely to inflame tensions in the British parliament over Israel’s offensive in Gaza.

Mr Galloway won 12,335 votes on a 37.6 per cent turnout in the northern English town after Labour, which had previously held the seat, withdrew support from its candidate after he made incendiary comments about Israel.

The veteran agitator said his victory, by almost 6,000 votes, would “spark a movement” among voters and leave “scores” of other Labour-held seats at risk.

“Keir Starmer, this is for Gaza,” said Mr Galloway, who stood in Rochdale for the fringe Workers Party of Britain. “You have paid and you will pay a high price for the role you have played ... covering for the catastrophe presently going on in occupied Palestine.”


The byelection, triggered by the death of Labour MP Sir Tony Lloyd, has afforded Mr Galloway his fourth stint in parliament and a platform to undermine Labour.

Labour selected Azhar Ali, a local councillor, to contest the seat but withdrew support from him after it was revealed that he had claimed Israel “allowed” the deadly attack by Hamas last October that killed 1,200 people, according to Israel.

Mr Ali, who apologised for the comments, remained on the ballot as Labour’s candidate because nominations had closed. He finished fourth in the byelection with 2,402 votes.

Ellie Reeves, deputy national campaign co-ordinator for Labour, said Mr Starmer, the party leader, had been right to withdraw support for the candidate to demonstrate his “zero tolerance of anti-Semitism”.

She added: “We regret we couldn’t have a candidate and we do apologise to the people of Rochdale, what we need to do now is select a candidate for the general election, someone that will be able to unite communities across Rochdale.”

Local businessman David Tully, who stood as an independent, came second with 6,638 votes, beating the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Reform UK.

Critics said the “macho” and divisive rhetoric of an all-male list of candidates fuelled the febrile atmosphere surrounding the Rochdale contest. Richard Tice, leader of the right-wing Reform party, said that the contest had not been “free and fair” and that candidates had been subjected to abuse.

A prominent anti-war politician and former Labour MP, Mr Galloway was expelled from the party in 2003 over comments relating to the Iraq war.

Since then, he has twice ousted a Labour MP while standing for a third party. On both occasions, in Bethnal Green in London and in Bradford in northern England, he ran on campaigns focused on his opposition to the Iraq war.

Mr Galloway’s campaign in Rochdale, which has a large Muslim population, sent letters to “voters of the Muslim faith” attacking Mr Starmer and threatening to topple the Labour leader over his support for Israel.

Although Mr Starmer is now calling for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza” he previously caused controversy by saying Israel had the right to cut off water and power to Gaza.

Labour won Rochdale at the last general election with a 9,668 vote majority on a 60 per cent turnout. The party had held the seat since 2010.

Mr Galloway’s victory came in a week where British prime minister Rishi Sunak alleged there was a “growing consensus that mob rule is replacing democratic rule” following months of pro-Palestine marches outside parliament.

House of Commons speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle last week defended his handling of a chaotic vote about a ceasefire in Gaza as an effort to protect MPs.

“This is going to spark a movement, a landslide, a shifting of the tectonic plates, in scores of parliamentary constituencies,” Mr Galloway said on Friday. “Yes it’s true that every Muslim is bitterly angry ... but you would be very foolish [to think] that millions of other citizens aren’t too.” – Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024