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Galloway favourite with the bookies for Rochdale by-election success

Workers Party of Britain candidate George Galloway (James Speakman/PA)
Workers Party of Britain candidate George Galloway (James Speakman/PA)

George Galloway is confident of becoming the next MP for Rochdale as the final full week of campaigning in the by-election begins.

The one-time Labour and Respect Party MP, now of the Workers Party of Britain, is also the bookies’ favourite, following the implosion of the Labour Party campaign last week.

Azhar Ali, the Labour candidate, had party support withdrawn over remarks suggesting Israel was complicit with the massacre of its own people in the October 7 massacre.

Rochdale by-election
Ex-Labour candidate for Rochdale, Azhar Ali, speaks in Rochdale (Peter Byrne/PA)

Instead of Mr Ali, chosen to replace the late Labour MP Sir Tony Lloyd, and who has apologised for his remarks, the town may now have Mr Galloway representing it in Parliament come election day on February 29.

Mr Galloway’s campaign is heavy on the Palestinian cause and Gaza, an issue close to the heart of many of Rochdale’s Muslim population.

His campaign believes 15,000 votes are enough to win most by-elections – and Rochdale has a 30,000-strong Asian community.

Mr Galloway said: “Obviously these are quite unusual circumstances.

“So yes, bookies’ favourite and the bookies are not usually wrong.

“But we are not taking anything for granted. Confident but not complacent.”

George Galloway
George Galloway said he is not complacent about his chances in the by-election (James Speakman/PA)

His campaign is run from a Suzuki dealership outside the town centre, the building space gifted by a local supporter.

Also come to support is Chris Williamson, former Labour MP for Derby North, suspended by the party in 2019 in a row over antisemitism.

Mr Galloway says Gaza and Palestine is not the only issue he is campaigning on, citing the closure of local maternity services, the NHS, the economy and Rochdale – one of the poorest towns in England.

He said: “When you’ve got a town in which you cannot be born, its not really a town at all. You lose, first in a small way and later completely, you lose your identity and the people of Rochdale once had a proud identity.

“This was the town of Gracie Fields. This was a town people were glad to say they came from

“The football club is a metaphor; it got relegated, relegated, relegated until it fell out of the league altogether. And that’s what’s happened to the town.”

He denies his campaign is stirring up trouble and division, as claimed by opponents.

Mr Galloway, who has worked for Iranian-run Press TV and Kremlin-backed Russian TV channel RT, said: “You say you’ve got to put it to me, if you were actually interested in journalism, you wouldn’t be putting that, you’d be putting more interesting things.

“But as you put it to me, let me respond to it. That was Labour’s schtick before their candidate, again brought disgrace to Rochdale, with his recorded comments.

“The people who brought division to Rochdale are Labour. The people who covered up the grooming gangs, was Labour. The people that pulled their candidate because of antisemitism, was Labour.”

Mr Galloway is unrepentant about the chants of “From the River to the Sea” at his campaign rallies in the town, a phrase regarded as antisemitic by some.

“But I don’t regard it as antisemitic,” he said. “I don’t, so I can say it. This is a free country.

“I’m in favour of a democratic state for Jews, Muslims and Christians between the river and the sea. You may not like that, others may not like that. But that’s what I believe, and we’ll see if people vote for it.

“I’m concerned about the blood and flesh that’s being torn apart in Gaza. The feelings someone might have in England about me using the words, ‘River to the sea’ are of much less importance than that.”

Rochdale by-election
A woman walks past a sign for a polling station in Rochdale, Greater Manchester, ahead of the by-election in the constituency. (Danny Lawson PA)

Mr Galloway claimed to have negotiated with the owner of a shopping centre in the town to bring Primark to Rochdale and pledged to get maternity service re-opened in Rochdale, issues, “nothing to do with Gaza,” he said.

Mr Galloway was also asked about alleged past support for Bashar Al-Assad, dictator of Syria, and it was put to him accusations of his alleged apologism for others with dire human rights records.

He said: “Right now, not in Syria, but right now, in Gaza, this minute, children are being killed.

“That’s whataboutery, I’m not going into that. You could say to me, ‘What about the Congo? What about Ulan Bator?’ You are diverting attention from an actual genocide, happening right now.

“I reject that. And its whataboutery so I’m not going any further down that road.”

Also standing are Iain Donaldson, Liberal Democrats, Paul Ellison, Conservative Party, Michael Howarth, Independent, William Howarth, Independent, Ravin Rodent Subortna, The Official Monster Raving Loony Party and David Tully, Independent.

Guy Otten, the Green Party candidate, has had party support withdrawn over comments made on Twitter, though like Mr Ali, his name will still appear on the ballot paper.