George Galloway’s win in yesterday’s (February 29th’s) Rochdale by-election has sent shockwaves through the political world. That said, George Galloway is in no way inexperienced in winning big, having sat in Parliament many times over the past 40 years under different parties for different constituencies. 

    (Photo: The Times)

    George Galloway 1987: First Elected

    After fighting off attempts by Deputy Leader Denis Healey to have him removed from Labour’s list of prospective parliamentary candidates, former Scottish Labour Chair Galloway attempted to stand as an MP in 1983. Although aiming for the Dunfermline East seat, instead a then-unknown young man named Gordon Brown was instead chosen.  

    Galloway later referred to Michael Foot, Labour leader at the time, as “a great orator, editor and thinker – the most decent leader Labour ever had.” In 1987, he was successful and went on to win the seat of Glasgow Hillhead.  

    In the event, he unseated Social Democratic Party (SDP) bigwig and former Labour Cabinet minister Roy Jenkins. Jenkins has previously been Home Secretary, Chancellor, and Deputy Leader of the Party but was one of the breakaway “Gang of Four” who established the more moderate SDP in 1981.  

    Despite commonly coming into conflict with his own party at the local and national-level, he remained a Labour MP in this seat until 2003, holding the redistricted Glasgow Kelvin seat from 1997 onwards. 

    George Galloway 2005: The Ghost Of Old Labour

    (Photo: The Daily Mail)

    In 2003, Galloway was finally met with expulsion from the Labour Party. An ardent critic of the invasion of Iraq, his comments that British troops should disobey orders finally tipped his radicalism into territory that Blair’s party could no longer tolerate. By 2005, Iraq was the standout issue during the campaign (and one the Liberal Democrats benefitted from). 

    After being booted out of the party, he established the Respect – The Unity Coalition, deciding to stand in the heavily Muslim constituency of Bethnal Green and Bow in Tower Hamlets. In the poorest seat in the country, Galloway ran a campaign derided as divisive and one that heavily focussed on the incumbent Blairite Oona King’s support for the Iraq War. 

    Galloway prevailed in what the BBC described as “one of the most remarkable results in modern British electoral history.” With a 26.2% swing, he unseated Oona before the ‘Old Labour’ candidate cut a scathing speech in which he claimed “all the lies you’ve told have come back to haunt you…it was a defeat for Tony Blair and New Labour and all of the betrayals.” 

    It was the only Respect seat won that year despite strong placements in Newham and Birmingham. 

    Only serving one term, his most memorable action was his participation in Celebrity Big Brother, where he bizarrely pretended to be a cat drinking milk out of one of his co-star’s hands. 

    George Galloway 2012: “The Bradford Spring”

    (Photo: BBC)

    In 2012, the Scottish socialist made another comeback, this time causing a headache for Labour and leader Ed Miliband. In an utter drubbing, the seat – which had not elected a non-Labour MP since 1970 – was won by Galloway with 55.9% of the vote. For context, in 2010, Labour had a 5,700-strong majority whilst a recent YouGov survey published in The Sun showed a Labour 10-point lead. 

    Galloway hailed the result as “the most sensational result in British by-election history.” It would be his highest-ever count, collating 18,000 votes. The sheer scale of his victory led him to dub it the “Bradford Spring,” an allusion to the Middle East uprisings, known as the Arab Spring. 

    After his 2005 win, it made him the second elected Respect candidate; he would also be the final one. The tide turned in 2015 as Labour regained the seat with candidate Naz Shah winning it by 11,000 votes (28.4%).  

    (Photo: Sky News)

    2016: The Mayor That Wasn’t

    After the crushing loss of the seat in 2015, Galloway ran for London Mayor in 2016, hoping to replicate the success of third-party socialist Ken Livingstone who won the inaugural leadership contest in 2000. However, Galloway’s campaign gathered nowhere near as much momentum. 

    He remarked: “London has for too long been run in the interests of the 1% working in the city’s glittering towers, whilst the vast majority of Londoners feel that their voices are not heard. I’m running because I want to represent every piece of the mosaic of this city which I have called home for 35 years.” 

    Yet he often polled below 1% and in the end won 37,000 votes, placing seventh. Ironically for a man who made a habit of winning in Muslim-rich seats, the mayoral contest was won by Muslim Sadiq Khan. At one point, Galloway had pledged to withdraw from the contest if Labour changed its candidate. 

    The poor result led to questions of the validity of Respect as a political organisation and indeed within four months, the party were deregistered. 

    2019: George Galloway On The Wane?

    (Photo: Daily Record)

    Another abysmal result followed on in 2019. Now an independent, he ran for the West Bromwich East seat, the constituency formerly held by Labour Deputy Leader Tom Watson. He lost his deposit, winning just 489 votes. It is notable for being the only parliamentary seat he has ever contested where he was not within the top three performers. 

    George Galloway 2024: “Keir Starmer’s Worst Nightmare”

    A critic of new Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, Galloway stood in the Batley and Spen by-election in 2021 where his 22% vote share very nearly split the progressive vote. 

    The Rochdale seat was one Galloway had a fair shake of attaining, especially after Labour did not stand a candidate. Azhar Ali, the original candidate felt the cold shoulder of the party he originally run for after anti-Semitic comments he had made came to light and by the time support had been retracted, it was too late to field another contender.

    With three upcoming by-elections, the one seat that seemed a Labour dead cert would, after the two wins, become the only one they could not emerge victorious in.  

    Galloway also benefitted from the one-third Muslim population in the constituency, where his pro-Palestinian views were popular amongst supporters of Islam. Although 71% of Muslims voted Labour in 2019, recent figures from October 2023 show only about 5% would do so after the party’s ceasefire stance. 

    Although with notable candidates, Galloway stormed the contest winning by a margin of nearly 6,000. With independent David Tully second, major parties were shunned as Labour’s listed (but not supported) candidate came fourth, the Conservatives’ vote went down by 19%, and the Liberal Democrats got just 7%. 

    Although no longer a supported candidate, as Azhar Ali was still listed as the Labour candidate, meaning the result was the fourth largest swing in by-election history with a 41.8% swing from Labour to the Workers Party. Galloway declared afterwards: “Keir Starmer, this is for Gaza.” He added: “you will pay a high price, in enabling, encouraging and covering for, the catastrophe presently going on in occupied Palestine in the Gaza Strip.”  

    His win has caused fear, with Rishi Sunak calling the win “alarming” in a broadcast message outside Number 10. Especially at a time of Middle East sensitivity, his past comments such as when he was MP of Bradford, calling for an “Israel-free zone”, are sure to drive hostility and hatred. 

    Another comeback, it was his second by-election win and seventh overall. The win made Rochdale the fifth consistency Galloway had represented and the third party he had represented at the parliamentary level. 

    Starmer in return apologised and said that if Labour had staged a proper candidate, Galloway would not have won. It raises questions of how long the Workers Party MP will last as, with a general election scheduled within a year’s time, it could be the case that voters return to the party that had previously ruled the roost since 2010.  

    Either way, today he has reminded us that even as a non-major party candidate, the socialist firebrand is not to ever be counted out.