He’s Back

7 March 2024

He’s Back!

by J.R. Thomas

Those of you tuning in for the latest update on the USA primaries, and puzzled by our header, are right to be perplexed.  Neither Mr Trump nor Mr Biden are yet “back” in any sense, and indeed are still plodding down the long road of the primaries.  Super-Tuesday was Tuesday this week but that does not work for Shaw Sheet deadlines, or time zones, so the results,  foregone conclusions for Joe, maybe a little surprise for Donald (we hope, if only to liven-up this dull contest), will be analysed next time.

But look who is back, one of this column’s favourite UK politicians, the irrepressible George Galloway.  Irrepressible indeed, uniting as he does Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer in mutual condemnation of his hat, his inflammatory words, and his general naughty-boy attitude.  (We’ll come back to that.)  But we find it difficult not to welcome a man who meets such criticism by describing these front bench ornaments as “two cheeks of the same backside”.  George recycled this from SNP Westminster MP Chris Law (who last year did not use the word “backside”).  But George knows how to make sure your jokes, and the political points behind them, get onto mainstream news.

He has a point, don’t you think?  What we have are two Me-Too Parties – we may indeed have three but the LibDems and their leader [remind me again somebody] seem to be away skiing, or perhaps on safari or painting the guest bedroom. Sir Keir Sunak and Mr Rishi Starmer currently seem devoted to mostly agreeing with each other, or stealing each other’s policies.  The centre has got very crowded, with little evidence that any mainstream party has any idea what the voters actually want.  It is always a mistake to assume that all voters just want compromise and moderation; that, chaps, is why you keep losing by-elections.  And LibDem types, the reason you are occasionally winning them, is not because of voter anxiety to have niceness, a moratorium on housebuilding, and compulsory electric cars, but because the electorate, the Tory electorate in particular, is sending a message to its party hierarchies.  

George’s opinions may not be those of you or I, but politics does need a George or two, because in an age of wokeness, political correctness, and cancellation, somebody needs to stand up in the Commons and make unpopular points.  As any mainstream party member doing this is liable to be defenestrated, George, owing nothing to anybody except the electors of Rochdale, can speak out.  Even wear his hat in the Commons.  Rather disappointingly, he didn’t for his swearing in on Monday.  Saving that battle for another day perhaps.  Or maybe George feels there are more important issues than hats at the moment.

But before he gets too big headed for the famous hat, let’s have a look at the support the folk of Rochdale have given him.  (Regular readers will know what comes next.)  The BBC described his victory as a landslide.  So you can be sure of one thing. It wasn’t.  Mr Galloway captured 12,335 votes, 39.7% of those cast.  The turnout was very low, in spite of all the controversy and general hoo-haa surrounding the election (a safe Labour seat in normal times, we should say); it was (coincidentally) 39.7% of those eligible to vote.  So Mr G got in with the positive support of 15.8% of the voters, a majority of 5,697.  That, dear silly Aunty Beeb, is not a landslide. It is not even a snowdrift.

George would correctly say, and repeatedly said it after the by-election, that he is the duly elected parliamentary representative of the people of Rochdale, and so he is.   Around 19,000 voters did not want him, voting for an array of mostly eccentric candidates.  Every other voter in Rochdale, barring the absent and sick, presumably did not care very much one way or the other.  Not enough to vote anyway. That is not an overwhelming mandate.

Almost more interesting than George winning, was who came second.  Not Labour, who had disowned their own candidate because of comments about Israel and Palestine, although their man had to keep his name on the ballot paper and got 8%.  Not the Tory, who got 12% of the votes, or the LibDem who got 7%. No, second with 21% was an unknown local businessman. He actually seemed interested in Rochdale and 6,600 voters thought that was worthy of support.  One suspects most of them were natural Conservatives – and that is what Rishi Sunak ought to worry about, not Mr Galloway. Reform, who had hopes, ran with former Rochdale Labour M.P, Simon Danczuk, who got just under 2,000 votes. Why did they chose him?  Nobody had checked his record, can be the only answer.  We won’t trouble our readers, but Wiki can provide.

So a common pattern of the last couple of years; very low turnout, suggesting apathy and protest voting; tactical voting to teach the mainstream parties a lesson. Mr Galloway is a clever man and a calculating politician and knows to look at local voting patterns and when he can seize the support of dissident voters. 

Mr G has, so far, represented four different Commons constituencies.  From Glasgow Hillhead where in 1987 he gloriously ousted Roy Jenkins, to Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005, Bradford West in 2012, then, via the Big Brother House, to Rochdale. He is now one constituency behind Churchill.  Readers acquainted with C19th Irish politics may know of other contenders. 

Mr Galloway is a man for causes and campaigns.  More than anything else, this has been in support of the Palestinian people, and for an independent Palestine.  The seats he has won in the last twenty years have high Moslem populations, who support his stance on Palestine; he is also popular with Muslims because of his knowledge of and interest in Islam and Muslim related issues, in particular his loud opposition to the Iraq War.  George is excitable and noisy and sometimes does not shut-up when he should, leading to accusations of anti-semitism.  Certainly his remarks have on occasion being ill-advised, and he has been careless with details of financial transactions, and litigious (often winning though).  He is inclined to get carried away rather than be prudent, and likes to wind up his opponents for the sheer joy of it.  That has certainly made him a bete noire of (for example) the Daily Mail. He was expelled from the Labour Party in 2003 over his opposition to the Iraq War, though he retained much support and respect for his campaigning from serious figures on the Left such as Tam Dalyell, Tony Benn, and Jeremy Corbyn. 

But we have to say, welcome back George.  You will have things to say that are worth listening to, different perspectives, and a sense of humour, something sadly lacking in modern politics.  If Mr Sunak had stronger political instincts than he seems to have, he too would welcome you back and delight in the trouble you will sow in the Labour back benches. And the people of Rochdale and of Gaza will enjoy having you on their side.

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