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This Charming Man

March 1st 2024

“This is for Gaza” said George Galloway, as he took to the stage having won yesterday’s chaotic Rochdale by-election.

A Labour loss, like this, at this point (with those polls) is remarkable. And so, whatever we might prefer, it begs some discussion.

What, if anything, does it mean? Well, almost nothing really.


It is important to dwell on the remarkableness of what has happened precisely to avoid overstating what has happened. Yes, Galloway stole a safe Labour seat in a by-election at a time when the Conservatives Party has never been more unpopular and the Labour Party rides high in the polls. Yes, he successfully leveraged the conflict in the Holy Land to return - yet again - to Parliament. But George Galloway does this. He did it in Bethnal Green. He did it in Bradford. He almost did it in Batley. It is what he does. In none of those instances has Galloway’s success translated into something bigger, something wider. He is a disruptor not a builder of movements.

Why is that?

In part it has to be acknowledged that it is his almost unparalleled skill as a showman. Who that witnessed it can forget - whatever their own feelings about the war in Iraq - his masterful destruction of a US Senate Committee as he was put on effective trial? Who but the hardest heartiest of us doesn’t crack a small smile, still, as he trots out his old joke about Labour and the Tories being ‘two cheeks of the same arse’? He is the Morrisey of our politics - revolting and charming all at once.

But he is also one of life’s great incompetents. Unable and unwilling to sustain friendships and alliances for long enough to capitalise on the political moments that he creates. Why do The Smiths spring to mind again?

There are seats like Rochdale where the demographics make an unseating of Labour on the question of Palestine theoretically possible. But there are not many. And the circumstances of a by-election - it doesn’t really matter who wins, fewer people turn out to vote - make replicating this result incredibly hard. And even if - by some miracle or balls-up - that were to happen, it won’t prevent Labour forming the next Government. To quote Moz, “it was probably nothing, but it felt like the world”.

Of course, Galloway’s win will lead to calls for a change of stance from those who have always wanted a change of stance. Starmer would be wise to ignore them. Labour already supports a ceasefire and allowing the Galloway tail to wag the Labour dog would be to undermine his claims to have changed his party.

Fundamentally, the news today - exhilarating and dramatic as it may be for some - is meaningless. Galloway is the son and heir of nothing in particular.