George Galloway: Britain’s newest MP is a pro-Gaza, anti-NATO firebrand

LONDON — Britain has a shiny new member of Parliament. He’s a familiar — and controversial — face.

George Galloway, a former Labour MP who has been a repeated thorn in his old party’s side, will sit in the House of Commons as the sole representative of the far-left Workers Party of Britain, after storming to victory in the at-times chaotic Rochdale by-election Thursday night.

It caps a remarkable comeback for the 69-year-old Scot — and hints at broader trouble for Labour on the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Who is George Galloway?

Rochdale’s new MP is a British political veteran.

First elected as a Labour MP in 1987 for Glasgow Hillhead, Galloway’s better known these days for his bust-ups with his old party, his anti-Israel stance, and thundering public speeches.

A serial rebel and strident opponent of Britain’s involvement in both Gulf wars, Galloway attracted attention in 1994 after a trip to the Middle East in which he told Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein: “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.”

He was admonished by then-Labour leader John Smith, but insisted he had been praising the Iraqi people, not Hussein.

In the early 2000s, Galloway was one of the loudest voices in the anti-Iraq war movement, opposing a foreign policy pushed by Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair.

He was eventually expelled from Blair’s Labour in 2003 for “bringing the party into disrepute.” Galloway described the process that saw him booted out — including on charges of inciting attacks on British troops — as a “politically motivated kangaroo court.”

He was grilled by the U.S. Senate in 2005 amid a probe into Iraqi oil sales — and used the fiery appearance to decry what he called the “pack of lies” case for war.

The returning MP’s stance on Israel has attracted much scrutiny. In 2013 he came under fire after walking out of a debate with an Israeli student at the University of Oxford, telling reporters later that he “refused this evening to debate with an Israeli, a supporter of the apartheid state of Israel.”

In 2019 he was sacked from talkRADIO after celebrating Liverpool football club’s Champions League win over Tottenham Hotspur — a north London team known for its strong Jewish following — by tweeting that there would be no “Israel flags on the Cup.”

Galloway is better known these days for his bust-ups with his old party, his anti-Israel stance, and thundering public speeches | Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Galloway has also worked for Press TV, Iran’s state-funded news channel, and Russian-controlled RT. His new party’s 10-point program promises an “end to imperialist wars and financial domination, staring with withdrawal from NATO.” In recent weeks, he said Tucker Carlson’s interview with Vladimir Putin would show people the Russian president is “not Vlad the Mad or Bad and that they’ve been lied to about him.”

Oh, and he also pretended to be a cat on reality show Celebrity Big Brother for charity back in 2006 (no, really.)

So what happened in Rochdale?

The fight for the Greater Manchester town has seen intense focus on the war between Israel and Hamas. The veteran pro-Palestinian politician campaigned heavily on the issue in a seat where some 18 percent of residents are Muslim.

His campaign received a boost after his longstanding foes in the Labour Party — which had been expected to hold the seat — pulled support for their own candidate amid a row over comments on Israel.

In the end, Galloway netted a comfortable majority of over 6,000 votes.

Speaking after his victory Friday morning, Galloway made clear the Israel-Hamas war would be front and center of his concerns in the Commons, warning his old party it would “pay a high price, in enabling, encouraging and covering for the catastrophe” in the Gaza Strip.

Labour accused him of being “only interested in stoking fear and division.”

This isn’t his first rodeo, is it?

No way. Galloway has form in upsetting Labour.

He gave Blair’s government a bloody nose in 2005, becoming MP for Bethnal Green and Bow under the anti-Iraq war Respect party banner, and unseating Labour incumbent Oona King after a bitter campaign.

In 2012 he took Bradford West from Labour in a by-election on a majority of more than 10,000 — something Galloway dubbed the “Bradford Spring.”

He then lost the seat in the 2015 general election and went on to stand unsuccessfully in Manchester Gorton in 2017 and Batley and Spen in West Yorkshire in 2021.

Getting re-elected in the same seats has proved trickier for Galloway, while bids for the Scottish Parliament and London mayoralty have been unsuccessful too. But Galloway has seized his chance in Rochdale.

What’s he promised to do as a Rochdale’s MP?

Galloway’s campaign leaflet says a vote for him is a “vote for Gaza.” He’s promised to fight for both the Palestinian cause and Rochdale, although his opponents have accused him of distracting from local issues.

Speaking to the Manchester Evening News on the Rochdale trail, Galloway said his first move in the House of Commons would be to “ask the prime minister to meet me urgently to hear from the frontline, what millions of British people think about what’s happening in Gaza.”

“But my second question will be on the A&E and the maternity services which are now non-existent in Rochdale,” he added.

There could be more trouble to come for Labour.

Galloway has promised to run a “full slate of candidates” at Rochdale’s local council elections this May — while Britain’s general election expected this year could see him battle for the seat all over again.