2 MARCH 2024 | NEWS

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made a national address yesterday on the steps of Downing Street, following controversial former Labour MP George Galloway’s by-election victory in the constituency of Rochdale.

Mr Sunak warned of the dangers of extremism, saying that both Islamism and far-right extremists were two sides of the same coin. Mr Galloway, however, would far more likely identify with the far-left end of the political spectrum, which Mr Sunak did not refer to.

Mr Galloway achieved a majority of 5,697 with a 39.7% vote share, overturning the previous Labour majority of almost 10,000 held by the former incumbent of the seat, Mr Tony Lloyd, who passed away from leukaemia on 17 January.

He is the leader of the Workers Party of Britain, and is now its only MP. He had previously been an MP between 1987 and 2010, and again between 2012 and 2015. Standing first for the Labour Party, and then for the Respect Party, the Workers Party of Britain is his next political venture.

He has been known for making controversial remarks on a range of topics, including regarding his support for former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, when he said to him in a meeting 30 years ago: “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.”

Given that his new constituency has a 30% Muslim population, Mr Galloway ran parts of his campaign on his opposition to Israel’s war against Hamas in Palestine following their terrorist atrocities, indeed attacking the Labour leader when saying in his victory speech: “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 has also spoken out in defence of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine on the channel Russia Today, which caused sanctions to be imposed upon the station.

His victory comes after the Labour Party withdrew support for its own candidate, Azhar Ali, after a leaked recording revealed that, during a meeting, he had blamed “people in the media from certain Jewish quarters” for the removal of the whip from Labour MP Andy McDonald.

Because it was too late in the process for Mr Ali’s candidacy to be withdrawn entirely, he was left to contest the by-election as an independent. He achieved only 7.7% of the vote.

But Prime Minister Rishi Sunak – who Mr Galloway has said that he “despise[s]” – made an unusual intervention by addressing the nation yesterday, saying it was “beyond alarming” that voters in Rochdale had voted in such numbers for a candidate who, he said, had “dismissed what happened on 7 October [in Israel]”.

The Prime Minister’s full address can be watched here:

Mr Sunak made particular reference to people who were opposed to Britain’s role in and approach to the world, saying: “They want us to doubt ourselves, to doubt each other, to doubt our country’s history and achievements. They want us to accept moral equivalence between Britain and some of the most despicable regimes in the world.

“They want us to believe that our country and the West more generally is solely responsible for the world’s ills and that we, along with our allies, are the world’s problems. In short, they want to destroy our confidence and hope.”

But the Political Editor of The Express Online, David Maddox, has since pointed out that the Prime Minister made no reference to far-left voices of dissent in the same context.

He concluded in his article this morning: “Until Sunak and others are willing to call out the reality of the far-left – preferring to focus on the problems of Islamism and the far-right – we will never be able to address the problems of extremism in Britain.”

However, Labour and Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer spoke in support of the Prime Minister’s speech, saying he was right to “advocate unity and to condemn the unacceptable and intimidatory behaviour that we have seen recently”, adding that “this is something agreed across the parties and which we should all defend”.

But Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey was not supportive, saying: “The British people will take no lessons from a Prime Minister and Conservative Party who have sowed the seeds of division for years.”

The Prime Minister stated in his speech that it was now time to “draw a line” against threats to democracy, in reference to the fact that some MPs have publicly stated that they no longer feel safe in office. It is understood in Westminster that this reference was made to shore up support amongst colleagues from across the House.

Mr Galloway’s victory speech can be watched in full here:

It is anticipated that he will return to the Commons for the first time in nearly a decade on Monday. As he has not yet had the chance to appoint a team, it has not been possible to approach him for comment.

Patrick Timms
Patrick is a freelance translator and political journalist who makes regular media appearances, with a background in educational IT. In 2019, he stood as a Conservative Councillor candidate in Crewe West.


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