George Galloway favourite to win chaotic Rochdale byelection dominated by accusations of bigotry

Former Labour MP could capitalise on anger directed towards Labour in Muslim communities over Keir Starmer’s party’s stance on Israel’s Gaza campaign

Voters go to the polls in Rochdale, near Manchester, on Thursday in yet another Westminster byelection – the third this month – after a chaotic campaign that played out against a febrile national political backdrop fuelled by accusations traded between the parties of religious and ethnic bigotry.

Veteran left-winger George Galloway is the bookies’ favourite to win the byelection, which became necessary following the death in January of the sitting Labour MP for Rochdale, Tony Lloyd.

Labour’s bid to record a hat-trick of February byelection victories was thrown into chaos earlier this month when its candidate in Rochdale, Azhar Ali, lost the support of party headquarters after allegations of anti-Semitism were levelled against him.

Mr Ali was recorded at a local political meeting alleging that Israel had allowed Hamas to launch its October 7th attack in order to justify an invasion of Gaza, which his critics said played into a classic anti-Jewish conspiracy trope.


Labour leader Keir Starmer initially backed his candidate, before the party withdrew its support when further allegations of anti-Semitism were made. It was too late for the party to select a new candidate and Mr Ali’s name has remained on the ballot paper.

Mr Galloway, a firebrand orator who was once a Labour MP in Glasgow, has sought to capitalise on anger directed towards Labour in Muslim communities for the party leadership’s perceived soft line on criticising Israel over its campaign in Gaza. Rochdale has a high proportion of Muslim voters.

The sense of tumult around the Rochdale race has been embellished by the entry into the contest of former Labour MP for the area, Simon Danczuk, whose career with the party ended eight years ago when he was found to have exchanged sexually explicit texts with a 17-year-old girl.

Mr Danczuk left parliament in 2019 and said he was quitting politics. However, he has decided to run in Thursday’s byelection as a candidate for the right-wing Reform party, which was cofounded by Nigel Farage. Mr Danczuk has accused his old party of shifting its principles from “work to woke”.

The Liberal Democrats’ Rochdale contender, Iain Donaldson, is considered a long shot for the seat – Rochdale was for years considered a Labour-Lib Dem marginal constituency.

The sense of disarray in the byelection over attitudes towards Jewish and Muslim voters is a microcosm of the rancour in parliament in recent weeks over similar issues. The former deputy chairman of the Conservatives, Lee Anderson, had the party whip removed last week after he alleged that the Labour mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, was being controlled by Islamists.

Mr Anderson, a working-class Tory from a north of England constituency, faced widespread accusations from across the political spectrum of anti-Muslim bigotry. He admitted his wording was “clumsy” but he refused to apologise to Mr Khan.

Mr Anderson has hinted in recent days that he may choose to defect to the Reform party, a prospect that has been rumoured in Westminster for months. He would be considered odds-on to lose his seat in the general election later this year if he ran as a Tory, which would be impossible anyway unless he regained the party whip.

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Mark Paul

Mark Paul

Mark Paul is London Correspondent for The Irish Times