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Rochdale by-election: George Galloway ‘only won because Labour ditched candidate’, says Starmer | Politics News

Left-wing firebrand George Galloway only won the Rochdale by-election because Labour ditched its candidate, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

Apologising to voters in the Greater Manchester seat, the opposition leader insisted it was the “right decision” for the party to withdraw its support for Azhar Ali after he became engulfed in an antisemitism row.

George Galloway. Pic: Reuters
George Galloway’s win marks a political comeback. Pic: Reuters

Sir Keir also vowed to field a “unifier” as a candidate for the seat in the upcoming general election.

Politics Live: Starmer reacts to Rochdale defeat as Galloway questioned over Israel-Palestine comments

His comments came after Mr Galloway secured a political comeback by taking Rochdale for the Workers Party of Britain with almost 40% of the vote – following a campaign dogged by controversy and dominated by the Israel-Hamas war.

The former Labour MP and Celebrity Big Brother contestant, who received 12,335 votes, on a turnout of 39.7%, dedicated his victory to Gaza and claimed the Labour leader had “sold his soul to the Israel lobby”.

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Pressed over whether he accepted it was Labour’s fault that Mr Galloway was returning to the Commons, Sir Keir said: “Galloway only won because Labour didn’t stand a candidate.

“I regret that we had to withdraw our candidate, I apologise to voters in Rochdale, but I took that decision – it was the right decision – and when I say I’ve changed the Labour Party, I mean it.

“Obviously, we will put a first class candidate, a unifier before the voters in Rochdale at the general election.”

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‘No state has a right to exist’

Mr Galloway had campaigned heavily on the plight of Palestinians in Gaza, courting the Muslim vote in Rochdale.

In his victory speech he said: “Keir Starmer – this is for Gaza. And you will pay a high price, in enabling, encouraging and covering for, the catastrophe presently going on in occupied Palestine in the Gaza strip.”

He added: “This is going to spark a movement, a landslide, a shifting of the tectonic plates in scores of parliamentary constituencies.

“Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak are two cheeks of the same backside and they both got well and truly spanked tonight.”

Speaking to Sky News later he said no state, including Israel, had a right to exist, as he defended his use of the slogan “from the river to the sea”.

The phrase is viewed by some pro-Israel supporters as a way to call for the eradication of the Israeli state.

Some pro-Palestinian supporters reject this, saying it is simply expressing the need for equality for all inhabitants of historic Palestine.

Mr Galloway said: “What is objectionable about people being free between a river and sea?”

Asked if he did not want Israel to exist, Mr Galloway told Sky News: “Well, no state has a right to exist.

“Not the Soviet Union, not Czechoslovakia, not the Zionist apartheid state of Israel.”

Electoral Dysfunction
Electoral Dysfunction

Don’t miss analysis of the Rochdale result this afternoon from Beth Rigby, Jess Phillips and Ruth Davidson in a new weekly podcast from Sky News

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Conservative former minister Tobias Ellwood said campaign literature produced by Mr Galloway was “full of hate” and “designed to rally fear”.

The senior Tory backbencher said: “He plays politics very very well indeed, but he offers no political leadership.”

The Board of Deputies of British Jews said: “His election is a dark day for the Jewish community in this country and for British politics in general.”

The contest was triggered by the death of Labour stalwart Sir Tony Lloyd, following a battle with leukaemia.

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