Saturday 17 February 2024

From Rochdale To Gaza

The only assaults on the Police in relation to any of the numerous colossal marches for Gaza have been by “Tommy Robinson” and his gang on the other side, an attachment that says everything about the other side, such as it is. A furious Government has therefore ordered the arrests today, but they are purely theatrical, and thus wrongful. Trial would be by magistrates, or quite possibly by a salaried one sitting alone, not by a jury. Meanwhile, a lobby correspondent at 19, and the man who presided over the largest political demonstration in British history, Andrew Murray writes:

There are stories to tell about Rochdale. It is home to the Rochdale Pioneers who launched the worldwide co-operative movement and thus to a central place in the traditions of socialism.

It is a community gutted by the gales of neoliberal capitalism, the evisceration of unconstrained profit-seeking wrought in the desolation of the built environment and the poverty of many of its people.

But that is not, or at least not mainly, the story of Rochdale’s parliamentary by-election, due on February 29.

That story is in Rochdale but not of it. Rather, it is a tale that begins in the ruins of Gaza, in the screams of its children, the deafening thud of Israeli bombs, in the face of five-year-old Hind Rajab posing happily for family photographs shortly before she was shot to death by Israeli aggressors.

The road from genocide in Gaza to a by-election in Greater Manchester may not seem a straight or obvious one.

But it took the Morning Star to a small office above a car showroom in a rather desolate backstreet half a mile out of the town centre — the campaign headquarters of George Galloway, presently odds-on favourite to win the seat.

That he is in pole position owes something to a run of frankly bizarre circumstances.

But it owes more to the confluence of three things — the massacre in Gaza, the presence in Rochdale of a large Muslim electorate, around one third of the total, which feels Palestinian suffering acutely, and Galloway himself. 

Galloway’s identification with the Palestinian cause is no convenient confection. It has been his political life’s work, for nearly 50 years and counting. He has brought to it an oratorical talent and campaigning brio which really have no parallel in contemporary British politics

His own route to Rochdale has been a rock-strewn zig-zag. Were the entirety of today’s edition of this paper to be given to a review of his controversies, his confrontations and his comebacks from the political dead, space would not suffice.

But in sum, should he indeed prove victorious on polling day, he will be representing his fourth community in the House of Commons, equalling the modern record presently held by Winston Churchill, and for his third party. 

After 17 years as a Labour MP followed by nine representing Respect in two stints he is presently leader of the Workers Party, although it is an affiliation barely alluded to in conversation or in his election publicity.

Affiliation, after all, is contingent in this election. Alongside Galloway on the ballot paper will be two candidates whose stated descriptions belie the facts — Labour’s Azhar Ali and the Greens’ Guy Otten have been disowned by their respective parties and have ceased all campaigning.

Ali’s departure from the scene followed a rearguard effort by the Starmer leadership to look past the revelation of his advocacy of a conspiracy theory regarding the Hamas-led attack of October 7 and sustain his candidacy.

The imbroglio highlighted the entirely factional use of the anti-Semitism issue by Starmer, but it may have the benefit of allowing him to draw the sting of any Galloway victory, which was already on the cards, as merely the consequence of Labour’s unique absence.

As for the Greens’ Otten, he fell victim to his own raging Islamophobia, which he had been incautious enough to advertise in a series of tweets.

If all this were not extraordinary enough, one beneficiary of the mayhem may be Simon Danczuk, the candidate of the Farageist Reform UK party

Danczuk was once the Labour MP for the town. An outspoken right-winger, his time in Parliament was terminated by the revelation that he had sent sexual messages to a 17-year-old girl, behaviour he described as “inappropriate and stupid.”

Nevertheless, Reform UK found it appropriate and sensible to choose Danczuk as its standard-bearer in an area where child sexual exploitation has been a long-running scandal, and which was for years represented by the flamboyant Liberal paedophile Cyril Smith.

Danczuk certainly stands accused of nothing so vile and indeed nothing criminal at all, but still.

Rumours were afoot that local Labour activists might swing behind him as their last best hope of preventing a Galloway victory. That such a misbegotten alliance would be unprincipled is plain, but it is plain too that it is unlikely to be successful.

An unscientific survey of those shoppers who consented to be detained for a by-election chat in a mild Lancashire drizzle showed an electorate divided in two.

There were those — mainly of south Asian heritage — who declared for Galloway. And there were those, mainly white, who expressed anything from ignorance to indifference to repugnance regarding the by-election in their town.

Of course the show isn’t over and the fat lady ain’t even clearing her throat yet, but the difference between an astronomically high Muslim turnout, overwhelmingly for Galloway, and an apathy blanketing much of the rest of the electorate may well determine the outcome.

Perhaps some Labour voters will rally to Danczuk to stop Galloway, but as many may conversely vote for the Workers Party candidate to stop the far-right Reform UK. Two ex-Labour MPs representing opposed traditions.

And they could of course still choose Azhar Ali. His name, and his Labour designation, like the Greens’ Otten, remains on the ballot paper since the close of nominations preceded public disgrace in both cases.

It is not completely impossible that Ali could yet enter Parliament as a friendless independent to serve a few months in not-so-splendid isolation before the general election tumbrils roll.

Galloway, however, would be on a mission. It is proclaimed in bold on his election leaflet — For Rochdale, For Gaza.

“We will make the walls quake,” he says in an interview. “We will have a mandate on Gaza like no-one else.

“Rochdale will have sent me there to articulate feelings held by enormous numbers — not just Muslims as anyone who as seen the hundreds of thousands of people protesting can attest.

“The first thing I will do is demand that the Prime Minister meets me, and I believe he will, to demand not just a ceasefire in Gaza, but a boycott and sanctions against Israel, and the imposition of a political solution on Israel from outside.”

He stresses that he does not endorse Azhar Ali’s conspiracy theory but warns against the conflation of anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, a staple of the onslaught on Corbynism.

“Anti-Semitism caused the death of millions and it should not be cheapened by being falsely linked to people who are merely against Israel,” he said.

The by-election, Galloway points out, is a “perfect storm” for Labour. “Pro-Palestinian feeling is unusually strong here, even for areas with lots of Muslims,” and he was himself available, with a number of local connections, to express that sentiment.

Of course, there are issues beyond Gaza. Galloway speaks of a local left proud of the town’s history “who retain a socialist consciousness” and of how his own support for Brexit could resonate in a town which voted heavily to leave the European Union.

He also has the support of the family of the late Gillian Duffy, the woman denounced as a “bigot” by Gordon Brown, caught on a hot mic, during the 2010 general election campaign after expressing a concern about immigration.

“She was raising one of the reasons for the Brexit result, that the government was not putting in any resources to assist with the large numbers of people coming here,” Galloway says.

Victory would send a message that “people increasingly hate the two parties, two cheeks of the same arse and neither more attractive than the other.

“It would cut the political class down to size a little bit, and it will encourage independent candidates and campaigns across the country. It may be an idea whose time has come — breaking the stranglehold of the duopoly.”

But in the end, and for all that Galloway’s campaign literature does not neglect local concerns in a ravaged community, it all comes back to Gaza. “People can see the worst crimes against humanity, moment by moment on their phones. It is a juggernaut, which has completely dominated this by-election.”

Sending the foremost champion of their cause back to Parliament would offer solace to suffering Palestinians that “a largely poor, working-class town cared enough to vote for them against the two major parties.”

That is perhaps the best story about Rochdale. It was in the vanguard of the northern mill towns standing strong for the anti-slavery cause in the US civil war, despite the privations workers had to endure for supporting freedom.

It is beyond the ken of the pallid propagandists of supine Starmerism, the Masons and the Akehursts, that working people today could likewise raise their eyes beyond economic self-interest — and that is compelling enough for sure in Rochdale — and instead prioritise international solidarity when it comes to voting.

That may happen on February 29. All one needs to know is that the genocide enablers pray that somehow, even after the fiasco of their campaign, it does not come to pass; while the masses on the streets for Palestine, and the besieged people themselves, will cheer if it does.


  1. Hit pieces all over the papers this weekend, they know George has won.