‘This is For Gaza’: Far-Left Populist Wins UK Special Election With Appeal to Muslim Vote

Workers party of Britain candidate George Galloway speaks to PA Media in Rochdale, Greater
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Veteran far-left campaigner ‘Gaza George’ Galloway declared both Labour and the Conservatives “are two sides of the same backside” who got “well and truly spanked” as he won the Rochdale by-election.

Former Labour MP Galloway thanked God for his victory and warned establishment parties in the UK that it isn’t just “bitterly angry” Muslims supporting his ideas, but millions of others as well as he said Keir Starmer’s Labour Party is “on notice”.

The hard-left populist, rebranded from ‘Gorgeous George’ for having been best known for his complex and very active love life now calls himself ‘Gaza George’ and has since made a career out of his very devotion to Palestine and representing a series of seats across the country by appealing to the interests of Muslim voters. He won a comfortable 39.7 per cent of the vote in Thursday’s by-election (special election), pulling comfortably ahead of the party of government the Conservatives who achieved 12 per cent, and Labour who got just 7.7 per cent for a candidate they’d disowned.

Rochdale now becomes the fourth parliamentary seat to have been represented by Galloway in 35 years, most of them following his expulsion from the Labour Party over his opposition to the war in Iraq, including meeting with Saddam Hussein twice, and advising British soldiers to refuse to follow orders.

George Galloway holds a rally at his Rochdale Headquarters after being declared winner of the Rochdale by-election, which was triggered after the death of Labour MP Sir Tony Lloyd. Picture date: Thursday February 29, 2024. (Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)

That this election was a referendum for the people of Rochdale on their views on Gaza could hardly be disputed. Winning candidate Galloway opened his victory speech by remarking “this is for Gaza”, and is reported to have published campaign literature directly targeting Muslim voters. Among appeals noting “The people of Gaza don’t have a vote in this election, you do”, a Galloway-branded flyer read:

To the voters of the Muslim faith in Rochdale

A’Salaam o Aleukum [peace be unto you],

The last 130 days have shocked the ummah [global Islamic community] to its core… I, George Galloway, have fought for Muslims at home and abroad all of my life… have always come to the side of the people of Palestine in their agony… together, we can send a messadgfe that will be heard in all four corners of the world…

Meanwhile, both the Labour and Green Party candidates were dropped by their own parties after campaigning had begun for comments about Islam, Israel, Palestine, and the Gaza conflict. Reform UK, on the other hand, tried the opposite tactic, calling on the public to vote for “Rochdale not Gaza”, and pointing out that Galloway has never made bones about being “a friend of Hamas, the terrorist group”, and was rewarded with just six per cent of votes for his troubles.

Speaking at the count where his victory was announced in the early hours of Friday morning, Galloway — who will now be able to sit and speak in Britain’s Parliament for the rest of its term, probably until the autumn of this year — made clear what he believed his victory meant for British politics. He said:

Keir Starmer, this is for Gaza. And you will pay a high price for the role you have played in enabling, encouraging, and covering for the catastrophe currently going on in occupied Palestine in the Gaza Strip…. I want to tell Mr Starmer above all that the plates have shifted tonight… Keir Starmer’s problems just got 100 times more serious than they were before today.

This is going to spark a movement, a landslide, a shifting of the tectonic plates in scores of Parliamentary constituencies, beginning here in the North West… Labour is on notice that they have lost the confidence of millions of their voters who loyally and traditionally voted for them generation after generation.

Addressing claims about his campaigning style, Galloway insisted it wasn’t just Muslims who voted for him in the election. He went on:

I’ve heard some of the narrative being spun around this election result this evening. Yes it’s true that every Muslim is bitterly angry at Keir Starmer and his misnamed Labour Party, but you would be very foolish if you didn’t realise that millions of other citizens of our country are too. Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak are two sides of the same backside, and they both got well and truly spanked tonight.

In terms of the near future, Galloway said he was putting the town councillors of Rochdale — who are overwhelmingly members of the Labour Party — “on notice” and said he would be campaigning to replace them with a “grand alliance” at the forthcoming local elections in three months. In terms of the national elections, Galloway said Labour Members of Parliament who had not conformed to his views on Palestine across the country were also “on notice” and he said he would be standing candidates against them, adding he would stand aside in cases where other candidates had a better chance of unseating a sitting Labour MP.

Responding to the timbre of campaigning in the Rochdale by-election, Reform UK made a substantial complaint about the behaviour of some in Rochdale, stating “the behaviour of certain candidates and their supporters in this contest fell very far short of this our traditional democratic standards”. The party cited death threats made — with an arrest already made during the campaign over them — as well as “racist abuse… daily intimidation nd slurs” and the blocking of candidates from hustings.

A George Galloway election sign near Castlemere Community Centre in Rochdale as voting begins in the Rochdale by-election which was triggered after the death of Labour MP Sir Tony Lloyd. Picture date: Thursday February 29, 2024. (Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)

The party said in their statement: “In one incident, Reform UK business supporters were threatened with a firebomb attack if they distributed our leaflets. Menacing behaviour was a feature of the entire campaign, including outside polling stations on the day of the election itself. In this ugliest of contests, we are also concerned by the sudden increase in the size of the postal vote, which has jumped from 14,000 to some 23,000 in this constituency since the last general election.”

The result of the election, they said in a statement published before the results were even announced, should “act as a stark wake up call to those in power – and the entire electorate. This is Britain. We are supposed to be a beacon of democracy. This shameful contest has been more characteristic of a failed state.”

Party founder Nigel Farage, who had once campaigned alongside Galloway during the 2016 referendum campaign — Galloway’s support of the Brexit referendum may be seen as a throwback to the last century, when opposition to the European project was a primarily left-wing concern — also expressed his feelings on the election. He said on GB News: “George Galloway is perhaps the best orator I’ve ever heard… is enormously powerful, very charismatic, and even though I disagree with him profoundly on things, on a one-to-one basis I struggle not to like him.

“But I’m afraid he’s now using that power, that ability, that personality in a way that will divide our county horrendously. I’m old enough to remember what sectarian politics looked like in Northern Ireland, and I’m afraid it has come to England.”

Farage’s remarks beg the question whether Galloway’s return to politics at this time where the Middle East is such a present feature of UK debate could leave the door open to a faith-based Islamic political party emerging. The United Kingdom would be following, in that case, the example of other European nations with large Muslim migration populations which have established their own Islamic or minority-rights parties, such as Denk in the Netherlands or a host of others, contesting elections with varying levels of success.

In many cases, these parties struggle to gain traction because established parties, for instance Labour-equivalent Social Democrat or Green Parties already do the job for them and have well-established party bureaucracies that can be expensive to replicate. This may not be the case in the United Kingdom, however, where Keir Starmer’s leadership of Labour has been characterised in part by a concerted effort to pull it away from the era of antisemitism scandals of the previous leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

Balancing the views of many moderates in the United Kingdom that antisemitism is wrong and attacks on Israel are a manifestation of those feelings, with the views of Muslim voters in the United Kingdom who have for many years been pretty reliably Labour supporters but whose own views on Israel-Gaza may be more sympathetic towards Palestine has proven to be a political tight-rope act for Starmer. The dropping of his own party’s candidate for this election over his spouting antisemitic tropes in private meetings is a strong example of the challenge facing the left-wing leader, as by taking the moral high road there he also doomed his party to lose the election and near-guaranteed Galloway’s win.


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