After George Galloway’s Rochdale triumph, pressing questions loom for Keir Starmer – and for the left too | Owen Jones

WWhen Keir Starmer’s political project collapses, as it will one day, George Galloway’s triumph in Rochdale should be remembered as an omen. For die-hard Starmerites, this claim is easily dismissed. Thanks to total Tory self-immolation, Labor is heading towards a landslide and landslide victory. With an average lead of 19 points – an undeniably stunning turnaround from the party’s 2019 rout – there is no sign of the usual polling backsliding that a government enjoys in an election year. Rishi Sunak is an incompetent Prime Minister leading an intellectually exhausted government, devoid of ideas except to double down on the same policies that have left Britain with an unprecedented squeeze on the level of life, stagnant growth and a shriveled public realm. When Starmer becomes prime minister in November, as he almost certainly will, he is unlikely to worry much about Rochdale, who could anyway return to the Labor fold at a general election.

Well, such complacency might turn out to be a mistake. The Labor candidate was of course belatedly disavowed by national leaders after claiming that Israel had deliberately allowed the atrocities of October 7 to occur and after deploying a crude anti-Semitic cliché about the influence of “certain Jewish neighborhoods” in the media. Work – which has today apologized to residents of Rochdale for failing to put forward a viable Labor candidate – will easily dismiss the candidate’s paltry vote, and yet the overall turnout – almost 40% – was actually higher than in the last three by-elections. This means that, although some demoralized voters stayed home in a farcical election, Galloway won far more votes than the Labor, Conservative and Lib Dem candidates combined: that is, he clearly benefited from an enthusiastic turnout, many of whom rallied behind the message summed up in his victory speech: “Keir Starmer, this is for Gaza. » Labor claims Galloway won because there was no Labor candidate. This is very debatable.

All this despite the fact that Galloway – while a compelling speaker and formidable campaigner – is, to say the least, a controversial figure, bitterly dismissed by most of the left (myself included) due to, shall we say, of vote Conservative in Scotlandappalling comments about rape, rapprochement with Nigel Farage in the Brexit referendum campaign, and issue statements such as: “As a father of six children, I am socially conservative. I don’t want my children to learn the kinds of things that Labor wants to teach them in schools.”

Undoubtedly, many of those who chose it are Muslim – understandably more aggrieved than the average Briton by Israel’s massacre of predominantly Muslim Palestinians. But Rochdale has a significantly smaller Muslim population than other seats Galloway successfully ran for, and he also gained wider support. The fact that he specifically sought support from Muslim voters has been described as somewhat ridiculous: this in itself speaks to the scale of Islamophobia in Britain, as if seeking to address the specific concerns of Muslim voters n It wasn’t legitimate.

The truth is that Muslim voters are an important and growing part of Labour’s electoral coalition, but the party treats them with contempt – as voting fodder that would otherwise embarrass it. Take the case of former Labor minister Phil Woolas, whose victory in Oldham – 16 miles from Rochdale – was overturned by a court in 2010 after he was found guilty of stoking religious tensions to win distributing a deeply Islamophobic leaflet. Some parliamentary colleagues came to his defense. In the brutal 2021 Batley and Spen by-elections – in which Labor defeated Galloway – party sources would have been informed that anti-Semitism among Muslim voters was losing Labor support and boasted that it had won Conservative voters at Labor’s expense. “Conservative Muslim vote on gay rights and Palestine”. According to a survey of Muslim Labor members in 2022, 46% felt Starmer had handled Islamophobia “very poorly”, with a further 18% opting for “fairly poorly”. When predominantly Muslim advisors resigned out of disgust in Gazaa party source reportedly boasted of “getting rid of the fleas”.

But it’s not just about Muslim voters, as important as that is. It was Iraq that poisoned Tony Blair among whole sections of the Labor Party’s natural electoral coalition. This was after he had been Prime Minister for many years. For Starmer, this happened in opposition: 52% of voters think Starmer is doing poorly as Labor leader, with just 33% saying he is doing well: remarkable for a man almost inevitably destined for Number 10. Why? Because Starmer falsely abandoned his solemn promises – “commitments”, as he called them – during his leadership campaign, such as taxing the rich, public ownership of public services, abolishing tuition fees and much more. other things too. He has failed to develop an alternative vision, even going so far as to destroy his most recent flagship £28 billion green investment fund. He promised to maintain Tory policies that push children into poverty, while refusing to reintroduce the cap on bankers’ bonuses, and locked the party into poverty policy. maintain arbitrary budget rules it means continued austerity. In comments on Gaza that he later clarified, Starmer said Israel had the right to cut off water and energy (a simple war crime). He presided over mass resignations and dismissals of opponents, then sabotaged an SNP movement condemning Israel for collective punishment.

Labor’s support is soft and superficial, driven almost entirely by revulsion at the Tories’ calamitous period in power. We can see in Germany and the United States how similar political projects came to power with the promise of providing stability, but both countries face acute political crises. The left – hounded by Labor leaders – must therefore make difficult decisions. Is he waiting for Galloway or the far right to fill the void when mass disillusionment with the Starmer government inevitably arises? Better start asking tough questions about what to do next.

  • Owen Jones is a columnist at the Guardian

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