Rochdale: a dark day for democracy

George Galloway’s victory last night in the Rochdale by-election serves as a stark reminder of the dangers posed by political opportunists who thrive on division and controversy. Galloway, a political parasite, has built his career on exploiting sectarian tensions and promoting divisive rhetoric, particularly within Muslim communities. He leaves a trail of communal destruction in his wake everywhere he stands for office. As forcefully set out by Paul Waugh (Labour’s ‘could have been’ candidate and journalist) today, the people of Rochdale deserve so much better.

His victory in Rochdale isn’t just attributable to Gaza, it is the culmination of two domestic failures. First, Westminster has failed to address the major challenges places like Rochdale face over the past 14 years. Labour bears responsibility for going MIA for much of that time but it is telling that an independent candidate came second. No party in Parliament was seen as a real alternative. Secondly a failure of integration – an integration that works doesn’t require the sectarian politics of Galloway or Lutfur Rahman’s Aspire in Tower Hamlets. As the Conservative Prime Minister said this week, we live in a multi-ethnic, multi-faith society. Labour in government called it a multicultural society – but in some pockets of Britain, some people, such as Galloway, seek to split our communities. It should be no surprise that former BNP leader Nick Griffin cheerled for Galloway from the front yesterday.

Throughout his career, George Galloway has demonstrated a willingness to sow discord and exploit religious and ethnic divisions for his own political gain, from Bethnal Green to Bradford, Manchester to West Bromwich, and Batley & Spen to Rochdale. He has consistently targeted Muslim communities, seeking to drive a wedge between them and their non-Muslim neighbours. His divisive tactics not only undermine social cohesion but also perpetuate harmful stereotypes and deepen existing tensions.

Galloway’s record as a politician is marred by failure, embarrassment and controversy. Everywhere he has ever represented, he left a trail of broken promises and disillusioned constituents. His tenure in office has been characterised by grandstanding and self-promotion rather than genuine efforts to improve the lives of those he was elected to represent.

His association with regimes hostile to Britain raises serious questions about his fitness for public office. His work for English language Russian state broadcaster RT and Iranian PressTV, both mouthpieces for autocratic and theocratic regimes directly opposed to our values. They have promoted antisemitism, opposition to LGBTQ+ rights and have sought to undermine the very democracy by which Galloway has been elected. By lending legitimacy to authoritarian regimes, Galloway undermines Britain’s standing on the world stage and jeopardises our national security interests. He has supported Assad’s brutal mass murder in Syria, promoted conspiracies too numerous to count and today supports Putin.

However, while George Galloway’s victory in Rochdale may be a reflection of his own cynical tactics, it also highlights the failures of us in the Labour Party to be clear. Labour’s candidate, Azhar Ali, who had his endorsement removed after nomination papers had been submitted made antisemitic statements and had clearly lied to Labour officials. It was right that he was removed as an endorsed candidate. His candidacy was not a failure of Labour vetting – which is the strictest of any political party in Britain, maybe even in the world, it was a failure of the candidate himself and something every candidate around the country needs to learn from. Whether Azhar Ali believed what he said or not, it was clearly what he felt his audience wanted and needed to hear – essentially it was the same politics Galloway deploys, the same Lee Anderson deploys, a populism that plays to the racism of the lowest common denominator. Every person in that meeting should be as disgraced as Mr Ali.

Moving forward, it is essential that we learn from the mistakes that led to George Galloway’s victory. We must reject the politics of division at every level of the party. We need to begin to think deeply on integration, acknowledging the huge successes of the last Labour government, whilst being able to be honest about some clear failings. Because this will keep happening until we figure this out.