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‘This is for Gaza’: Galloway’s comeback fortifies pro-Palestine movement in UK

By Reza Javadi

Westminster’s House of Commons witnessed a seismic shift last week when prominent British politician George Galloway secured a decisive and landslide by-election win in northwest England's Rochdale.

Galloway, an outspoken and firebrand advocate of the Palestinian cause, dedicated the win to Gaza.

The founder of the Workers Party of Britain won the seat by 12,335 votes, succeeding the late Labour representative Sir Tony Lloyd, whose death in January paved the way for the by-election.

In his victory speech, Galloway referred to the disillusionment of voters with mainstream parties, dubbing Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer as "two cheeks of the same backside."

“They both got well and truly spanked tonight here in Rochdale,” Galloway was quoted as saying.

“This is for Gaza,” the triumphant veteran politician said, directly addressing Labor leader Starmer, who has been criticized for his party’s duplicitous position on the Israeli genocide in Gaza.

“You have paid, and you will pay, a high price for the role you have played in enabling, encouraging and covering for the catastrophe presently going on,” Galloway said, referring to the Gaza genocide.

The thumping by-election victory marked Galloway's latest and most significant political comeback, reflecting the sentiments of millions of Britons toward the unfolding crisis in the Gaza Strip.

Galloway echoed their sentiments, warning that they are underrepresented in the media.

“I believe I am speaking for millions of people in Britain whose hearts are broken, whose guts are wrenched by the slaughter in Gaza. And they are under-represented to the point almost of invisibility in the British media,” he was quoted as saying after his win on Friday.

“Even this evening, the political class in Britain are in a state of panic about [my win], both the Conservatives and Labour, because they know they have been rumbled.”

In his initial reaction to Galloway's victory, Sunak termed it "beyond alarming," accusing the newly-elected MP of extremism and sowing division in the country.

Galloway hit back at Sunak's comments in an interview with Sky News, which was shared widely on social media, emphasizing his democratic mandate and challenging the Prime Minister's credibility.

He told the reporters not to talk of the British Prime Minister as “someone who has come down from the mount with tablets of stone in his hand.”

Galloway rebuffed Sunak, echoing people’s disdain for him as their country’s leader while pointing to the overwhelming support he received from voters.

“You talk [of him] as if he is God! We are talking about little Rishi Sunak in the fag end of his prime ministership,” Galloway told a reporter in Rochdale.

“Who won the election? Me, or Rishi Sunak? I’ve got the democratic mandate here, not Rishi Sunak. He didn’t even come second. He was lucky to come third,” he hastened to add.

Galloway, without mincing words, said he “despises” the British Prime Minister like “millions of people” in the UK, adding that he “doesn’t respect the Prime Minister at all.”

Galloway was sworn in as an MP and introduced to the Commons by MPs Sir Peter Bottomley and Neale Hanvey on Monday, solidifying his presence in the Westminster political landscape.

Maverick politician who dares to defy

Galloway, a 69-year-old Scottish-born legislator known for his distinctive fedora hats and sharp retorts, has been a non-conformist as a politician and has routinely challenged the UK political establishment.

Once a Labour representative, he was expelled in 2003 by then-Prime Minister Tony Blair for opposing the UK-US invasion of Iraq, denouncing Blair and then-US President George W. Bush as "wolves."

Galloway served as an MP for the antiwar Respect Party in London’s Bethnal Green and Bow (2005-2010) and Bradford West in northern England (2012-2015), showcasing a penchant for fiery oratory.

His political acumen and ability to connect with voters have been acknowledged by all and sundry.

For example, Robert Ford, a political science professor at Manchester University, referred to his remarkable campaigning skills.

“He does have a remarkable campaigning ability, he’s very good at intuiting the emotive lines that will land in any particular context, and he’s proved that again,” Robert Ford, a professor of political science at Manchester University, was quoted as saying.

What his win means for pro-Palestine campaign in UK

During the election campaign, Galloway strategically appealed to the Muslim electorate, constituting around 30 percent of the constituency, and brought up his pro-Palestine advocacy.

He did the same on previous successful campaigns in areas with significant Muslim South Asian populations, emphasizing his longstanding advocacy for the Palestinian cause and opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Observers note that Galloway's support for a ceasefire in Gaza, particularly resonating with the Muslim community, reflects a broader public sentiment, despite a seeming disconnect in Westminster.

While political figures within the British establishment may not be too impressed by Galloway’s stance on Gaza, the general public, as evidenced by recent protests, is overwhelmingly on his side.

Gavin Barwell, former Tory MP and Theresa May’s chief of staff asserted that the call for a ceasefire in Gaza has broad public backing, dispelling the notion that it is an extreme position.

“The extremists are a very small minority but the truth is the British people overwhelmingly support a ceasefire,” Barwell was quoted as saying.

Galloway, addressing critics within the political and media class, stressed that the majority of the British public sympathizes with the victims in Gaza rather than the Israeli perpetrators.

“[People] inside the toxic bubble of the political and media class support the genocide against the people of Gaza,” Galloway remarked, distinguishing Zionist apologists from the general public in the UK.

“But when you burst that bubble, you discover, actually, that amongst the general public – even in a country like Britain for all its imperial faults – most people’s sympathies are on the side of the victims and not the perpetrators,” he added.

Galloway takes firm stand against Labour's Gaza policy

Galloway's victory has accentuated the growing discontent within Labour regarding its stance on the Gaza war, deemed too lenient towards Israel by many Muslim voters and Labour Muslim politicians.

Over 60 Labour councilors nationwide have resigned in protest, and in November 2023, 56 Labour MPs defied the party leadership to support the SNP's call for an immediate Gaza ceasefire.

During his campaign, Galloway labeled Starmer a "top supporter of Israel," hinting at potential repercussions for Starmer's leadership. Galloway's return to Parliament is expected to position him as a vocal critic of his former party’s approach and a staunch supporter of Palestinian rights.

“Imagine — the people of Rochdale coming together to topple the hated Labour leader,” Galloway was quoted as saying.

Galloway, in his victory speech, emphatically declared that “All the plates have shifted tonight”, and Labour had "lost the confidence of millions of their voters."

In an interview with Sky News later, he said the Labour leader had "sold his soul to the Israel lobby" as he defended his "from the river to the sea" call.

The Labour Party now faces the prospect of losing ground to independent candidates in constituencies with significant Muslim voters, particularly where MPs opposed the SNP's Gaza ceasefire motion in November 2023.

Galloway's win underscores the need for Labour to address voters' concerns about Gaza, challenging the party's historically assumed support from Muslim voters, believe observers.

Support for Galloway after landslide victory

Following Galloway's landslide victory, hundreds of his supporters gathered outside the Civic Suite in Catford, Lewisham, waving Palestinian flags and pro-Palestine placards, as the newly elected MP attended a Lewisham mayoral election in support of candidate John Hamilton.

Galloway's endorsement of John Hamilton, a Workers Party of Britain candidate campaigning for Lewisham mayor, adds more momentum, highlighting genocide unfolding in Gaza.

John Hamilton has become known through his campaign slogan “If you vote Tory or Labour, you are voting for genocide”.

“I believe that politics has changed, as a result, not just of my victory but of the government’s panic response to it,” Galloway was quoted as saying to the crowd.

Social media has also been abuzz in recent weeks with netizens pouring out their support for the new Rochdale representative in the British parliament, and hoping it will fortify the pro-Palestine movement.

Support for Galloway comes amid growing anger against the Sunak government and its continued arms shipments to the Israeli regime used against Palestinians in Gaza.

Last week, the UK High Court dismissed a case calling for an immediate halt to British arms exports to Israel. The case was filed by Al-Haq and the UK-based Global Legal Action Network in December.

The legal challenge shed light on the sale of British arms to the Israeli regime across categories, including components for military radars, targeting equipment, combat aircraft, and naval vessels.

Reza Javadi has a PhD in British studies from the University of Tehran.

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