Friday 1 March 2024

Politics after George Galloway's Victory

Following George Galloway's emphatic win in Rochdale on Thursday, a lot of excuses have got thrown into circulation. There were the unique set of circumstances after Labour disowned its candidate. There was the strong local independent. Reform had toured the town's gutters and dredged up the late career of mobile phone sex pest Simon Danczuk. The Greens disowned their candidate too, and the Galloway circus had rolled into town. We're led to believe that had Azhar Ali not made his ill-judged comments, the Labour campaign machine would have steamrollered the opposition and another by-election victory chalked up by Keir Starmer would have been the assured result.

This is fanciful nonsense. As Galloway noted in his victory speech, this is the first time since the war that neither of the dominant parties made it into the top two positions. Labour's vote fell by a record amount, and the Tories also saw a new record set for the largest vote share fall in a Labour-held constituency. A history maker all-round then. There was some faint hope in Labour circles that their erstwhile candidate would sneak through because his suspension came after the postal votes dropped, and he would still be appearing on the ballot with the party name. Hopes that were shredded like so many unread Labour leaflets. With Galloway now sitting on a cushion of 6,000 votes, or an effective majority of 10,000 if you take Labour's hopes of winning it back at the general election into account, there is a distinct possibility he could be around to annoy Starmer for the next five years.

Starmer has seen the polls and been told in no uncertain terms that there would be political consequences for supporting the massacre in Gaza. Indeed, the alarm went off loudly and clearly early last month when Survation reported a collapse in Muslim support. But Starmer has brushed it off. Toeing the US line on Israel is more important to him than responding to loyal supporters that have put him on the doorstep of Number 10. And given his entire project represents the take over of the state by the state, this shouldn't come as much of a shocker.

But what, if anything, does Galloway's galloping victory mean for politics? In the first instance, there will be some fretful Labour MPs out there. The chances of independent left challenges with a similar pro-Gaza, anti-genocide message can't be discounted. Nor can the window of opportunity for the Greens. It could help them secure the retirement of Thangam Debbonaire, and perhaps scoop up Sheffield Central as well. But while it's squeaky bum time for Labour MPs in "exposed" seats, Starmer is determined to press on as is. The reasoning is as straightforward as it is pigheaded. The polls show Labour is on for a thumping majority, therefore dropping a handful of seats at best to the Greens, Galloway, and the odd independent left is something Starmer can live with. For every Rochdale, there are three, four, many Wellingboroughs and Kingswoods.

The business-as-usual approach was reasserted this evening. In what looked like a panicky press conference, Rishi Sunak got out the Downing Street lectern to denounce division and hate in Britain. No, he wasn't talking about his own party but those evil protesters who refuse to quieten down about Britain's complicity in an ongoing massacre. It's a feeble attempt to try and cohere Tory unity around an enemy all wings of his fractured party hate - the Palestinian solidarity movement. Thus Galloway is invoked as a divisive bogeyman, a symbol of the non-existent no-go areas and the nudge, nudge, wink, wink Islamist wave the Tories cynically pretend is sweeping Britain. The protests have to stop. They are a threat to democracy.

Actually, what these complaints about the protests signal are deep anxieties among some sections of the establishment that they represent an unforeseen and unwelcome outbreak of mass political volatility, of which Galloway's election is a symptom. And Starmer agrees with this. As cabinet member after cabinet member have been talking up the threats of terrorism and the "intimidation" of MPs this last week, he's said Labour would back government measures to crank the handle of authoritarianism some more. As if we hadn't had enough from Boris Johnson. But here we encounter a potential problem for Starmer. His own MPs see this as a feeble overreach by Sunak, and so do some of his supporters among the centrist commentariat. In other words, he's badly misread the politics of the moment and runs the risk of damaging his standing among those who are his natural base. Which isn't good when it was looking a touch shaky even before he gave his blessings to Israel.

Going back to Galloway's victory speech, he talked about his victory being the beginning of a movement that could shake up politics. In this he's wrong. What happened in Rochdale is a moment in the shifting plates political struggle whose latest episode began in October. With both party leaders demonstrating their weakness by recourse to authoritarian laws and tone deafedness with regard to the message the protests and the electorate have sent, this is a process that has a long road to run yet.

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Anonymous said...

Green Party needs a candidate in Sheffield Central in order to win. The woman selected to stand is currently suspended from the party. Doesn't bode well!

Anonymous said...


Sean Dearg said...

It seems that Greens and Labour are crippling themselves from opposite directions. Labour are too centralised and sensitive to charges of 'antisemitism' while the Greens are too free and easy in who they select and sensitive to charges on a variety of issues, including islamophobia and anti-trans rights. Both are easy pickings for those who trawl old social media posts.

The Tories are a mixture of both in selection, but are insensitive to most charges other than of being anti-Brexit, or not Pro-Thatcher.

As for the Lib Dems...they remain the safe option for middle class lukewarm progressives in Tory areas.

Blissex said...

«Following George Galloway's emphatic win in Rochdale on Thursday [...] But what, if anything, does Galloway's galloping victory mean for politics?»

It was far from a famous win at just 12,000 votes and as usual percentages in elections that don't matter are pretty much meaningless. Since it was an election that did not matter to their material interests 12,000 voted on Gaza, 6,000 on a local independent, and the major parties were way behind. As usual and especially for by-election looking at percentages is misleading and it is much more informative to look at absolute numbers (and candidate percentages should be of electors rather than voters):

2005: 40,834/58.4%: Con 4,270, NLab 16,345, LD 16,787, BNP 1,773
2010: 45,907/57.4%: Con 8,305, NLab 16,699, LD 15,810, UKI 1,999, NFR 2,236
2015: 45,430/57.4%: Con 7,742, NLab 20,961, LD 4,667, UKI 8,519
2017: 50,044/64.1%: Con 14,216, Lab 29,035, LD 4,027, UKI 1,641
2019: 47,447/60.1%: Con 14,807, Lab 24,475, LD 3,312, BXI 3,867
2024: 31,107/39.7%: Con 3,731, NLab 2,402, LD 2,164, Ind 6,638, WRK 12,335

My impression from recent by-elections and past recent EU elections, elections that did not matter to material self-interest (primarily property):

* In the more distant past turnout was low and those who voted kept largely voting for the major parties.

* In the recent past those who vote instead largely switch their vote to protest (UKIP, independents, LibDems, even more abstaining), but in elections that matter they still vote for the major parties (most notably most tory "Remainers" still voted for "Get brexit done" in 2017 and 2019 to oppose the threat of Corbyn reducing their benefit from massive redistribution via property).

So my impression is that many voters are fed up with the "whig" thatcherism of Conservatives and New Labour, but still hold their notes and vote for one of them when their material interests are at stake.

Blissex said...

«And Starmer agrees with this [...] he's said Labour would back government measures to crank the handle of authoritarianism some more.»

True to his "mentor":
“After the election, David Blunkett was promoted to the Home Office. He promised Blair he would 'make Jack Straw look like a liberal'. He was bragging, there's not a politician in Britain who can do that. But again it tells you something about the PM that Blunkett was obliged to make it.”

Rodney said...

One thing notable by its absence in coverage of the byelection was scrutiny of the far right running a groomer as a candidate in Rochdale. After so much howling about the need to protect kids and smearing of all Muslims because of the crimes that took place in the town it was the most hypocritical thing in the world for Reform to run Danzcuk.

Even if he was very unlikely to win, the media still had a duty to raise how the far right were going against one of their biggest rallying cries. Not least because the media itself have been very keen to focus scrutiny on child abuse in Rochdale.

stu said...

The Greens are no challenge to Labour in Sheffield Central. No candidate (as pointed out above) and a huge majority with a strong LP candidate who has been (gently) critical of national LP Gaza stance. As in Sheffield Heeley (Louise Haigh - no ceasefire vote) they will eat into Labour's vote but not enough to cause them a problem. The Greens' local electoral successes in Sheffield don't translate easily into general elections

Anonymous said...

Your comment that just a handful.of seats are at threat takes a static view of the world.

What is going to happen in Ukraine and to NATO? What will be the political fallout from that? Will there be a Starmer supported escalation?

More importantly, what if Israels strategy of starving Palestinians in an effort to force them over the border into the prison being built by Egypt sees many thousand children starve to death? Starmers comment that Israel have the right to withhold food and water will return to haunt him.

It's likely the Tory collapse under the cost of living crisis will see Labour form the next government, but the Tories effort to rally the support of those who see immigration as a primary cause of the problems we face caused Labour's Red Wall to collapse, they are trying to use a similar strategy now, and Scotland seems out of reach, despite the travails of the SNP.

First past the post insulates the main parties of course, but the collapse of social democratic parties across Europe shows Labour are not immune. All it takes is pure hate of Labour and/or the belief that voting for an alternative is not a wasted vote. Perhaps Rochdale can ignite that belief.

Anonymous said...

Anon 08:08 - Yes, I think your onto something about the WPGB Rochdale win being a potential catalyst for change. People are tired of how rotten things have become, and aren't up for this "TORIES OUT" "GENERAL ELECTION NOW" lesser of two evilisms stuff that Labour seem to always go for instead of actual pro working class politics.
The fact Sunak came out immediately after to give a pathetic speech is a big giveaway about how worried the establishment are.