Protesters in London chanted
Protesters in London chanted "Keir Starmer shame on you" Photo: Isai Marijerla

Editorial of the Socialist issue 1262

Starmer’s New Labour is on course to win the general election as the only available governmental alternative to Sunak’s hated Tory government. Nonetheless, millions will not be able to bring themselves to vote Labour, given Starmer’s programme of continuing Tory austerity, and his support for the Israeli government’s murderous and appalling onslaught on the Palestinian people trapped in Gaza.

Events in the Rochdale by-election, being held on 29 February, were looking set to be an illustration of the anger at Starmer’s pro-capitalist New Labour even before the national party withdrew support from their candidate, Azhar Ali. For 24 hours Labour tried to maintain support for Ali, a loyal supporter of the party leadership, despite reports that he had spoken at a meeting about Israel “allowing” the deadly 7 October attack on Israeli civilians, in order to justify the brutal invasion of Gaza.

Last October it was widely reported, including in the Israeli press, that right-wing Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been warned by Egyptian intelligence that some kind of attack from Hamas was planned from Gaza. It is not unlikely that his motivation for not acting on the Egyptian warning was the hope of a pretext to go to war.

However, Starmer’s machine has cynically used false charges of anti-semitism as a bludgeon to justify driving Jeremy Corbyn and the left out of the party. Andy McDonald MP, for example, still remains suspended merely for saying: “We will not rest until all people, Israelis and Palestinians, between the river and the sea, can live in peaceful liberty.” While just last month Kate Osamor MP was suspended for referring to the horror in Gaza as genocide.  In those circumstances it became unsustainable for Labour to continue to campaign for Ali.

For many of the voters from Muslim backgrounds, who make up around 20% of the electorate in Rochdale, he had already lost their vote exactly because he was standing on a Labour ticket, and has been a loyal supporter of the Starmer leadership. There have been reports of him being shouted down with chants of ‘Free Palestine’ when he visited a local takeaway.

George Galloway, standing for the Workers Party of Britain, is attempting to mobilise that anger, and is the only anti-austerity, anti-war candidate on the ballot paper. He is urging voters to lend him their vote as “the ultimate protest vote”, and there is no doubt that a vote for him is the best way in this by-election to send a message to all the pro-capitalist parties in Westminster.

However, Galloway is not the only means of protest being offered. Simon Danczuk, previously Labour MP for Rochdale before being suspended, is standing for the right-wing populists of Reform UK. Some Labour activists are reported to be campaigning for him as the best means to stop Galloway! Danczuk’s ‘attack line’ on Galloway is to argue that “If elected, I will prioritise Rochdale over Palestine.”  But a Reform UK MP will do nothing for the fight against the austerity and cuts to public services suffered by all working-class communities in Rochdale.

On the other hand, if Galloway was to achieve a victory it would send a shudder through the capitalist establishment, and would raise the sights of all those looking for a party that represents the working class, indicating that it is possible to stand a significant workers’ list in a general election, which suspended and expelled left Labour MPs should take part in.

However, it is not automatic that those possibilities will be realised. George Galloway has twice before been elected as an MP outside of Labour, first in Bethnal Green and Bow, and then in Bradford West. Unfortunately, the opportunity for this to be a step towards a democratic mass workers’ party was not taken. A parliamentary figurehead alone is not an alternative vehicle for working-class political representation.

This time, with a pro-capitalist Starmer-led government looming, it is urgent that this election campaign forms part of the process, collaborating with others in the trade union and socialist movement, towards building a powerful political voice for the working class. The Socialist Party is calling for a vote for George Galloway in Rochdale with that goal firmly to the fore.