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Gateway for Galloway?

By Jim Hancock

By Jim Hancock

Jim thinks George Galloway has a real chance of winning the Rochdale by election. He reflects on the mistakes Labour made and whether it will have longer term consequences this General Election year.

The supreme irony of the Labour shambles in Rochdale is that the party selected a candidate with unseemly haste in order to prevent Palestinian champion George Galloway gaining momentum. Remember the former Labour MP has twice defeated his old party in Bethnal Green in 2005 and Bradford West in 2012. Those victories were not set against the awful backdrop of the current Gaza tragedy.

It is widely believed that Sir Keir Starmer wanted Rochdale born Paul Waugh as candidate in the by election. He has held top jobs in journalism in London. Perhaps party chiefs were confident of Waugh winning and, in their haste, didn’t do due diligence on Azhar Ali. After all he was leader of the Lancashire County Council Labour Group, has an OBE and fought Pendle twice.

Another crucial question which hasn’t really been asked by the media is, did Mr Ali have to answer the question regularly put to candidates, “Is there anything in your past which could bring disrepute on the party?” If he wasn’t asked in the hasty selection proceedings, he should have been. If he was asked, he clearly didn’t mention it, or he wouldn’t have been selected. In which case it is a further serious charge against Mr Ali along with his “former” antisemitic belief that Israel engineered the Oct 7th attack as a pretext for invading Gaza.

It is difficult to predict who will be elected on Feb 29th in a Labour seat without a Labour candidate. It is without precedent. Could Mr Ali still win. It is difficult for political anoraks like me to realise that a lot of people will not have been following this closely. They will see Ali Labour on the ballot paper and vote for him. Some may vote for him out of sympathy for a previously honourable, hardworking, likeable Lancashire politician brought down by one session of highly ill judged remarks. Some may vote for him to heighten the embarrassment of Sir Keir Starmer.

Most likely the poll will be very low which will give George Galloway (Workers Party of Britain) a real chance. He has shown his ability to rally Asian voters in the past without the assistance of a bloody conflict in Gaza. It is not what the troubled town of Rochdale needs, but it is what it may get.

In this extraordinary contest we have another ex-Labour MP standing. Indeed, Simon Danczuk represented Rochdale for seven years. Now he is standing for the Reform Party, which is gaining ground with its low tax, low immigration, anti-woke message.

Finally let’s remember this used to be a Liberal seat under the disgraced Cyril Smith, Liz Lynne and finally Paul Rowen. Can the Lib Dems tap into past strengths as they seek a revival in their previous Northern seats?

The whole business, including the delay in ending the endorsement of Azhar Ali, has been deeply damaging for Labour in its fight to rid itself of the charge of antisemitisms. In fairness it must be mentioned that Louise Ellman, once a leading Lancashire politician spoke up for Mr Ali who was supportive of her when under attack during the Corbyn years.

However overall, the last two weeks, with the U turn on £28bn for green investment as well, has not been good for Labour. It will encourage the Tories to believe all is not completely lost.

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What took Labour so long?

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