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Sunday, April 14, 2024

Does George Galloway’s landslide victory in Rochdale By-Election signal era of Independent politics?

George Galloway has achieved a spectacular election win in the Rochdale by election. Mr Galloway received 12,335 votes – 6,000 more than any other candidate.

Galloway, a both charismatic and controversial politician, will now take a seat in the Commons as a representative of the Workers Party of Britain. The party are a left – wing, populist party, who envision a socialist society for Britain.

Galloway himself has a long-standing advocacy for Middle East issues, and a major part of his campaign has been to highlight the current struggle of the Palestinian people. This is something that has gained him support in Rochdale, which has a large Muslim population, and is a sensitive issue within that community.

In his campaign, Galloway termed the by election as “a referendum on Gaza” Many political commentators have seen this as the key to his win, as many in Rochdale feel underrepresented by the mainstream parties, who have less defined policies on the Gaza crises.

This dissatisfaction with the main political parties in Rochdale was highlighted in Mr Galloway’s victory speech:

“Keir Starmer and Rishi Sunak are two cheeks of the same backside, and they both got well and truly spanked tonight here in Rochdale.”

The question that must be asked now is, does this simply reflect the politics of Rochdale or a potential shift in the politic landscape of the UK as a whole away from the two main parties and towards independent candidates?

The Rochdale result would certainly point towards this. Smaller parties have trounced mainstream candidates, with independent candidate Dave Tully securing second place with 6,638 votes – more than Conservative and Labour combined.

Former Labour Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali. Image: Lancashire County Council

This issue also highlights the plight of The Labour Party in Rochdale. Previously, they held a 10,000 majority withdrew their support for their candidate, Azhar Ali, after alleged anti-Semitic comments.

The current crisis in Gaza and the plight of the Palestinian people is a complex and divisive issue, with strong opinions on both sides. It would seem that Galloway’s determined support for the Palestinian people has hit a nerve for voters who feel failed by the main two parties lack of action on the issue.

So is this an isolated case or are independent candidates being turned to by voters who feel the major parties do not reflect their views on issues vital to them?

Many point to a dissatisfaction with the Conservatives, but also no confidence in Keir Starmer’s Labour Party as an alternative. Many independents are politicians that have resigned from the Labour Party.

Galloway himself is an ex-Labour politician, and he openly says his win is a win over the Labour Party.  He has even gone so far as to say the Labour Party would, “pay a high price” for their role in the Gaza crises.

Galloway served as Chair of The Scottish Labour Party and later won the Glasgow Hillhead seat for Labour. He was expelled from The Labour Party due to his outspoken opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

There have been many Labour MPs that have left to become independent, for a range of issues, including an ambiguous policy on Brexit, ideological differences with Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and accusations of anti – semitic in the Party.

In the last five years alone, seven Labour MPs have made the decision to leave the party and become independent. This is the biggest exodus since 1981, when a group split to form the Social Democratic Party.

Along with this, there is a notable trend from voters who are increasingly turning to Independent candidates.

The 2019 Elections saw a significant increase in the number of successful Independent candidates. Currently five district councils in Kent, Sussex and Surrey have Independent leaders or leaders from resident’s associations.

The success of these candidates seems to reflect how independent candidates can offer voters an alternative to national party policies, focusing on reflecting the wishes of their residents rather than adhering to the party line.

Cllr Doug Oliver Image: Rother Council

Doug Oliver, who is the leader of the Rother Association of Independents, shares his opinion on this shift:

“We put people before party politics. We listen to people. At the end of the day, it’s about reflecting the wishes of your residents.”

Being independent means that politicians can focus more and are more aware of concerns and understanding of grassroot level priorities. Many see this as a ‘quiet revolution’ where voters are gradually turning away from the major Westminster parties in favour of local, independent voices that they feel speak for their needs and opinions.

Galloway’ s outspoken opinion on an issue that Rochdale voters feel frustrated with has clearly been a major reason for his spectacular win. The question must be asked if he could be so outspoken, if he was a member of the two main parties? Or would the complexities of international relations that major parties by their nature have to consider bog him down and force him to dilute his stance?

This effects of the rise in popularity of independent candidates may have an impact not simply on a local level, but in the seat of UK power too. While independent candidates have historically faced challenges in making a significant impact in parliament, this trend may lead to them having a greater voice in UK politics overall.

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