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  1. Politics
  2. UK Politics
1 March 2024

George Galloway’s return isn’t a nightmare for Labour

The Workers Party MP will struggle to translate his individual triumph into a wider left-wing revolt against Keir Starmer.

By Andrew Marr

The triumph of George Galloway in the Rochdale by-election should cause Labour grief, regret, but not panic. It gives a national stage in parliament to one of Keir Starmer’s bitterest, most huskily eloquent foes. It’s a drama. But it is the beginning of nothing much.

This was never a fair fight. The utter chaos of the non-Labour candidacy of Azhar Ali, coinciding with the worst of the Gaza tragedy, left Labour voters with literally nobody to support, to the point where shadow health secretary Wes Streeting suggested they spoil their ballots. This was an easy win for a practised insurgent such as Galloway; it wasn’t a rejection of Labour or Starmer because there was no Starmer candidate.

I don’t mean to underestimate the short-term effect. There is nobody in the current parliament who can speak as well as Galloway. He will make a number of flamboyant interventions which will transfix the media and be most unpleasant for the Labour leader. The BBC will give him a regular platform. The Palestinian cause will have a leader with real profile and one many British Jews loathe.

Starmer, under pressure already, will be under more pressure. If Rochdale reminds us of anything, it is less Gaza, than an angrily anti-establishment, insurgent mood around the country. But will Galloway’s fundamental argument – that there is no difference, really, between Labour and the Tories, catch fire before a general election?

Galloway tells GB News that he has 59 parliamentary candidates ready to stand against Labour and cost it seats: “I think Keir Starmer has woken up this morning to his worst nightmare.”

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But pollsters, studying the distribution of Muslim voters, suggest that very few constituencies will hinge on the war in Gaza. The real question is whether Galloway and his Workers Party of Britain can ignite a more general revolt against Starmerism – a left-wing equivalent of Reform UK (which Galloway says he was asked to stand for.) 

Galloway again: “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.”

It is certainly true that Labour voters, in common with all others, are less loyal, less committed and more sceptical than they once were: Boris Johnson’s landslide in 2019 should be all the evidence anyone needs of that. There is a desperation in the country, producing a volatility that should worry all Westminster leaders.

But Galloway is a most unlikely reviver of Corbynism or left optimism. He thrives on division, goading and jibing in all directions; he is cordially loathed by even left-wing Labour MPs and I don’t think he will find much of a welcome anywhere in parliament. 

The Gaza tragedy came at a good time for him: but there could not be a worse time for somebody who has been so unashamed in his defence of Vladimir Putin to return to national politics. There will be sputtering, flames and flashes. But this is not the beginning of a revolution in Labour politics. The Rochdale result has been a splitting headache for Keir Starmer. But it is not, in the cold March daylight, a nightmare.


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