Rochdale by-election: Results breakdown and analysis as George Galloway says ‘this is for Gaza’

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George Galloway has won a landslide victory in the Rochdale by-election, saying his victory showed Keir Starmer has paid a “high price” for his stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict as Labour’s suspended candidate slumped to fourth in its former seat.

The controversial politician, standing for the Workers’ Party, got 12,335 votes after a campaign dominated by Gaza, pulling off another insurgent campaign against his former party over its foreign policy by winning a majority of almost 6,000.

An independent candidate, David Tully, finished second on 6,638 votes. The Conservative candidate Paul Ellison finished third on 3,731 votes.

Labour’s former candidate Azhar Ali, who the party withdrew backing for during the campaign but too late to take him off the ballot, finished fourth behind the Tories with 2,402 votes – just 7.7% of the vote.

Former Labour Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk, standing for the Reform Party, got 1,968 votes. He represented the Rochdale constituency between 2010 and 2017.

‘Keir Starmer, this is for Gaza’

The constituency in north-west England was previously seen as a safe Labour seat. The by-election was triggered by the death of local MP Tony Lloyd.

Galloway said in his victory speech: “Keir Starmer, this is for Gaza. You have paid and you will pay for the role you have played in enabling, encouraging and covering for the catastrophe presently going on in occupied Palestine in the Gaza strip.

“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, in the West Midlands, in London, from Ilford to Bethnal Green and Bow, labour is on notice that they have lost the confidence of millions of voters.”

He claimed Muslim voters were “bitterly angry” about Labour, but it would be “foolish” not to think “millions of other citizens” are too.

Ed Owen, a former adviser to New Labour minister Jack Straw, said Galloway’s speech was “full of self-serving arrogance and pomposity” and “overblown rhetoric”.

He said the “poor people of Rochdale” both “can and will get shot of him at general election.

Galloway vowed to ‘make Rochdale great again’

Highlighting the upcoming local elections, he added: “Rochdale town councillors, I put you on notice that I plan to put together a grand alliance…the councillors have to go.”

Galloway put his victory down to both international and local issues, and called Starmer a “betrayer”.

He said the “heart has been piece by piece removed” from Rochdale, including the 2011 closure of its A&E and ongoing threat to its football club’s future.

One campaign letter to voters pledged to “make Rochdale great again” by bringing back “big names” to the high street and campaigning for health services and Rochdale AFC. It said he believed in “law and order”,  family and Brexit, had “no difficulty defining what a woman is” and would ensure there were “no grooming gangs on my watch”.

‘The lesson is about candidate selection’

Luke Tryl, UK director of More in Common, said it was a “terrible result for main parties”, but “the circumstances mean it is far more likely the lesson here is one about candidate selection and due diligence than about public opinion more broadly”.

Labour MP and deputy national campaign co-ordinator Ellie Reeves apologised on BBC Radio 4 on Friday morning for not having stood an endorsed candidate.

“If Labour had stood, I don’t believe George Galloway would have won. Our job now is to select a Labour candidate for the general election…someone that can work with all the communities in Rochdale to rebuild trust.”

“We ran no campaign there in support of Azhar Ali. We regret that we weren’t able to have a candidate…but it was the right decision.”

“It is impossible to know how Labour would have performed with another candidate that had the party’s backing (although one can reasonably assume a lot better than they did), whereas the Conservative candidate appears to have been the victim of the national swing.”

Pollster Joe Twyman of Deltapoll said the decline of the Labour, Tory and Lib Dem vote marked a “stunning change”, falling from 89.8% in 2019 to just 26.7%.

A contest between former Labour politicians

Galloway compared himself to former prime minister Winston Churchill in winning in multiple constituencies, saying he had “bettered” his record by being elected three times “outside the parameters of the great parties of state”.

Galloway, a prominent critic of former Labour prime minister Tony Blair over the Iraq war, served as a Labour MP between 1987 and 2003, representing Glasgow Kelvin. He was elected for the Respect Party in 2005, representing Bethnal Green and Bow until 2010, and was again elected to parliament at the 2012 Bradford West by-election, but lost the seat in 2015.

Azhar Ali’s suspension from Labour mid-campaign came after he apologised “unreservedly” when the Mail on Sunday alleged he told a meeting last year that Israel “allowed” Hamas’ attack on October 7th in order to get a “green light to do whatever they bloody want”.

The comments by the former Lancashire Labour group leader sparked heavy criticism, including from Labour itself. Shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds told broadcasters Ali’s words were “completely wrong”, and “in no way represent” Labour’s views. The Jewish Representative Council of Greater Manchester called the reported comments a “conspiratorial narrative”, “highly offensive” and “completely fictitious”.

The comments emerged on February 10th. On February 12th Labour announced that it would not support Ali at the by-election, leaving it without a candidate as it was too late for a new one to be added to ballot papers. A spokesman for the party said it followed “new information about further comments made by Azhar Ali coming to light”, but the decision not to act earlier sparked heavy media criticism.

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