George Galloway: in with real chance now

Thou shalt not criticise Israel

Socialists in Rochdale should vote for George Galloway on February 29. Not that we should suspend our criticisms, argues Carla Roberts

Who would have thought that it is thanks to the Mail on Sunday that George Galloway now has a very realistic chance of winning the February 29 by-election in Rochdale - considered a secure Labour seat since the present boundaries came into force in 2010. On February 11, the rag published parts of a secretly recorded speech given by Labour candidate, Azhar Ali, who was supposed to be a shoo-in to replace Tony Lloyd (the previous Labour MP, who had a majority of almost 10,000 votes, but died of leukaemia on January 17).

Ali looked like such a safe choice. A staunch careerist and supporter of Starmer’s leadership, he had been working his way up the Labour ladder from a young age. He served a five-year stint as a government advisor under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, was first elected a Labour councillor in 2013, aged 24, and was leader of the Labour group on Lancashire county council till his current suspension.

But the issue of Palestine-Israel is clearly very emotive to many people from an Asian and Muslim background and that often transcends left-right divisions. Ali was secretly recorded at a Labour meeting “soon after the October 7 attacks” - ie, long before he was selected as a parliamentary candidate. His comments, which were published in dribs and drabs over a number of days, are - for the most part - reflective of debates taking place everywhere, including in Israel: what did the Netanyahu government know about the impending October 7 attacks by Hamas?

According to the initial quote published by the Mail on Sunday on February 11, Ali said:

The Egyptians are saying that they warned Israel 10 days earlier ... Americans warned them a day before [that] there’s something happening ... They deliberately took the security off, they allowed that massacre … it gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want.1

It is factually true, of course, that Egypt had warned Israel of increased Hamas activity (though it was three days before October 7 rather than 10)2 and that US intelligence too contacted Israel on October 6 to warn that a “Hamas attack was imminent”.3 We also know that the Israel security services believed that, rather than in Gaza, an attack might be launched in the West Bank, because illegal settlers had been mistreating and abusing Palestinians in a record number of incidents. In the run-up to October 7, the Israeli military “deliberately” moved many of its forces there and we know it took many hours before a large number of its security forces were deployed to counter Hamas fighters. Lastly, there can, of course, be no question too that the massacre gives Israel “the green light to do whatever they bloody want”. One could argue over the claim that the Israeli government “allowed” the massacre to happen - but its army certainly seemed shockingly and surprisingly unprepared and inept.

Despite the usual suspects being up in arms, Starmer did not immediately jump in. Not because he suddenly thinks it is acceptable to have a free and open debate about the situation in Israel-Palestine - had Ali been on the left, he would have been mincemeat within minutes. But Ali is a supporter of the Labour leader and, crucially, it is now way too late for Labour to replace their candidate or even withdraw him. According to the Electoral Commission, a nominated candidate can only withdraw if they do so before the deadline, which is “by 4pm on the 19th working day before the poll”.4 So the Mail’s immaculately-timed article was released with the aim of inflicting the biggest possible damage upon Starmer. The Tories will lose the next general election, so the only question is if Labour can win - ie, will it get enough MPs to govern outright and without having to consider bringing other parties on board?

Gritted teeth

For about 48 hours, Labour publicly supported Ali through such gritted teeth that you could almost hear the enamel breaking off. Starmer, while assuring the media that Ali was merely “a victim of a conspiracy theory”, would in all likelihood have suspended Ali straight after the election in any case, replacing him as the candidate for the impending 2024 general election.

But on the evening of February 12, the Daily Mail finally published the whole recording and it transpired that Ali had also talked about “people in the media from certain Jewish quarters”.5 That is, of course, a proper anti-Semitic trope, highlighting the amount of confusion on the issue in the labour movement and beyond. Not even the esteemed Mail journalists could tell that this was pretty much the only thing in Ali’s comments that could actually be described as anti-Semitic.

This episode underlines how successful the right has been in redefining what anti-Semitism is - not hostility or hatred towards Jews, but criticism of Israel. So even without the quote about Jews in the media Ali was a goner. Thou shalt not criticise Israel - it maketh thee an anti-Semite.

The campaign to equate anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism would never have become as successful as it is today if the leadership under Jeremy Corbyn had mounted a challenge to it. Instead, Corbyn rolled over and let one comrade after the other be thrown to the wolves, in the vain hope that the witch-hunters would eventually be satisfied. Good comrades like Chris Williamson, Tony Greenstein, Marc Wadsworth and Jackie Walker were smeared as anti-Semites. The right, of course, rather than shutting up, grew stronger and hungrier, spreading the anti-Semitism smear campaign into all areas of society.

Yet, the official Labour left still plays along. Pro-Palestinian MPs and councillors are being picked off one by one - and nobody says a thing. And, when they speak out in response, you wish they hadn’t. Momentum’s Mish Rahman, for example, currently standing to be re-elected to the Labour Party’s national executive committee, describes Ali as “some sort of October 7 truther”. In an interview with BBC Radio 4, he criticised Starmer for not acting quickly enough in ousting Ali: “Starmer had to be forced to do the right thing”. In contrast, Diane Abbott and Kate Osamor had the whip withdrawn almost immediately. His solution: everybody needs to be treated equally badly. “The party’s due diligence should apply to all candidates, but it isn’t done properly.”6

Andrew Fisher, Corbyn’s policy advisor and John McDonnell’s former right-hand man, had at least the decency to explain that “what Andy McDonald and Kate Osamor said wasn’t even remotely anti-Semitic”. But he too laments that “The rules aren’t applied consistently at all. It’s factional and that needs to be resolved.”7 The rules are fine, apparently. After all, it was under Corbyn that fast-track expulsions, for example, were introduced.

Even George Galloway could not resist a snide comment, despite having been in the witch-hunters’ crosshairs for many years: “Labour’s candidate has only been in Rochdale three weeks and he’s dragged the town’s name into the gutter.”8 I doubt gorgeous George has been in Rochdale for much longer.

He was expelled from the Labour Party back in 2003 for the catch-all charge of “bringing the party into disrepute” after he had urged British troops to defy illegal orders, “incited Arab troops to fight British forces”, and supported non-Labour anti-war candidates.9 Needless to say, he has also been accused of being an anti-Semite and in 2019 was sacked from Talk Radio for his “anti-Semitic comments”: After the Champion’s League final between Liverpool and Spurs (famously followed by many Jewish supporters) he tweeted “No #Israël flags on the Cup!”10

Leaving that aside, the Ali scandal has certainly opened up a real possibility that George Galloway might accomplish a bit of a political hat trick and become someone who has been an MP for three different political parties: Having served as a Labour MP for Glasgow Kelvin and Glasgow Hillhead between 1987 and 2005, he became Respect’s only MP - first from 2005-10 in Bethnal Green and Bow and then from 2012‑15 in Bradford West. He could now become the first MP for the Workers Party of Britain, which he founded in 2019.

Dodgy policies

Galloway will no doubt now expand the politics of his campaign - until this week, he was concentrating his rhetorical appeal on winning over the large Muslim population - just over 30% of the electorate in Rochdale. We note, for example, the video of his “campaign launch” on February 2, which was filmed on the street outside a local mosque. He greets a couple of dozen Muslim men11 with “Salam Alaykum, wa alaikum alsalam wa rahmatu allah o barakatu”, which renders as “And peace be unto you, and god’s mercy and blessings”, before continuing:

I will be visiting the other mosques too, god willing. On February 29, the 29,000 Muslims in this constituency have an opportunity sent by providence, sent by the almighty, to be the voice for Gaza in the world.

You might be forgiven for thinking that Galloway had converted to Islam. But, no, to our knowledge, he is still a “practising Roman Catholic”, who, for example, vigorously opposes the right of women to have an abortion - at any stage of pregnancy: “I believe that there is no other point at which life could be said to be created than the moment of conception, no other point at which it can be said, ‘Life begins there’.”12 One might think that this makes him appealing to religious groups, but, while opinions among Islamic scholars differ over when a pregnancy can be terminated, there are no explicit prohibitions on a woman’s ability to abort under Islamic law.13

His opposition to a woman’s right to choose is, of course, only one of his many, many dodgy beliefs and policies. He supported Nigel Farage and the Brexit Party in the 2019 European elections and has now also attracted the support of one Nick Griffin, former leader of the British National Party, who tweeted: “The man is not perfect, but he’s streets ahead of any other possible winner.”14

During the 2021 Batley and Spen by-election, Galloway fronted a ‘law-and-order’ campaign for more bobbies on the beat and has been known for his opposition to “uncontrolled immigration”, which has seen him support a points system to determine ‘useful’ migrants.

At first glance, the ‘Ten-point programme’ of his Workers Party of Britain reads like the bog-standard Corbynite platform of pretty much every single left-of-Labour organisation - including the telling demand to “rebuild British industry”.

In other words, despite his departure from Labour, he remains a typical representative of the old Labour soft left: The WPB’s programme brims with illusionary ideas of a national road to ‘socialism’ (there is a lot of talk about “our country” and “our nation”), a strong state and it displays pro-Soviet and Stalinist leanings. “Our country needs the state to guide the economic life of the country in such a way as to promote work, to respect the dignity of labour, and to serve the working people. All adults have a duty to work in a useful fashion …”

Further down on the website we read:

We defend the achievements of the USSR, China, Cuba, etc… Our finest hour as a nation was when we stood side by side with Soviet Russia and defeated German Nazism … We shall defend the positive historical legacy of the Soviet Union.15

These paragraphs were probably written by the Stalinist Brar family, who left the WPB a few months ago - but it is telling that this still remains on the party’s website.

Galloway and the WPB also make a big thing of dismissing “ID politics” and are clearly on the terf-side of the debate: “We share the frustration [of] many working class women at the ridiculous intersectional ideology of radical liberals.”

It is all rather unpleasant and reeks of nationalism, bureaucracy and pomposity. We know that Galloway is also what we might call a typical male sect leader and needs to be in charge of any political campaign he is involved in.

Nevertheless, this election is now clearly all about the situation in the Middle East and Galloway has been a longstanding and outspoken campaigner for the rights of the Palestinians. We therefore urge all socialists in Rochdale to critically support Galloway in the February 29 election - hold your nose, if you must.

  1. www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-13069671/Outrage-Labour-candidate-claims-Israel-deliberately-allowed-1-400-citizens-massacred-October-7-order-green-light-invade-Gaza.html.↩︎

  2. www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-67082047.↩︎

  3. edition.cnn.com/2023/10/13/politics/us-intelligence-warnings-potential-gaza-clash-days-before-attack/index.html.↩︎

  4. www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/by-election-rules-azhar-ali-b2494375.html.↩︎

  5. www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-13075993/anti-Semitic-comments-Labours-Rochdale-candidate-Sir-Keir-Starmer-ditch-man.html.↩︎

  6. twitter.com/mish_rahman/status/1757172608754176304.↩︎

  7. twitter.com/BBCNewsnight/status/1757179415409082818.↩︎

  8. twitter.com/georgegalloway/status/1757073367314690530.↩︎

  9. www.aljazeera.com/news/2003/10/23/galloway-expelled-as-blair-takes-revenge.↩︎

  10. www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-48498010.↩︎

  11. www.youtube.com/watch?v=X5g4mZuV06A.↩︎

  12. highprofiles.info/interview/george-galloway.↩︎

  13. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islam_and_abortion.↩︎

  14. www.theguardian.com/politics/2024/feb/11/the-ultimate-protest-against-labour-george-galloways-bid-to-win-rochdale.↩︎

  15. workerspartybritain.org/ten-point-programme.↩︎