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‘Britain’s conscience is not dead’

As the charismatic rebel candidate for Rochdale GEORGE GALLOWAY sends a remarkable 326 candidates into battle against Labour, Andrew Murray sits down with him to discuss Gaza, Starmer, and the Workers Party’s agenda

ALMOST certainly a national election campaign has never been launched in Ashton-under-Lyne before.

Chalk it up as another first for George Galloway, on the stage in the market square to kick off a Workers Party election effort that will run to at least 326 candidates, enough to make the prospect of a Galloway premiership a mathematical possibility come July 4.

Standing before an imposing, yet shuttered and crumbling town hall — insert your own metaphor here, I’m going for something to do with the Labour Party — Galloway is also on his own final election outing.

Sitting in a cafe afterwards, we finally agree it is his 13th parliamentary contest. He himself is standing not far away, in the Rochdale seat he sensationally won in a by-election in February, largely on account of the Gaza crisis and his own peerless record on the Palestinian issue.

Win or lose, he will be going out ahead, since he has emerged victorious in seven of the preceding 12 contests. He is confident that Rochdale will make it eight, but it will be a tougher fight than the by-election when a differential turnout saw far more of the town’s Muslim community turn out to vote than the rest of the electorate.

That advantage will likely be eroded substantially come July 4. Nevertheless, Galloway’s central message, expressed in his pungent phrase that the two major parties are “two cheeks of the same arse and it’s time to give them a kicking,” has wider resonance.

And nowhere more so than in the Rochdales and the Ashtons, towns neglected by Labour and the Tories alike for generations. Here the shuttered Town Hall can do more symbolic heavy lifting.

Galloway has a famously street-fighting approach to politics, at the other end of the confrontational spectrum from Jeremy Corbyn’s “kinder, gentler politics.” It’s horses for courses, but elections in Ashton-under-Lyne are not especially decorous.

Seated among the crowd at the launch rally, the Star found Mobeen Hussein. Online you can see the video of her outside a polling station in support of an independent candidate in May’s local elections when she is run over by a car in a hit-and-run incident.

Police are investigating the matter, but the Ashton air is thick with rumours regarding motivation. Hussein herself sat bleeding in a hospital for 13 hours and is still suffering from concussion a month later.

Was she contacted by her local MP, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner, after the incident, I ask. “No,” she replied, and started weeping.

Galloway crouched down on his haunches to converse with her. He shares with Corbyn the gift of exuding empathy, even if he does not dispense it quite so liberally.

And so to the state of the left and the Labour Party, in a cafe interview endlessly interrupted by selfie-hunters. Back on the Commons benches after a nine-year hiatus, what does he make of the Labour left?

“It has no collective presence at all. Richard Burgon and Imran Khan are quite an effective pairing. But mainly they act alone when they are acting at all.

“They hardly raised a collective sniffle at the defenestration of Diane Abbott. It is ineffective to act singly. They keep their heads down.”

Opposition to the likely impending Starmer government could be powered by a high vote for the Workers Party and the independent left candidates standing across the country. Galloway hopes for some wins, but an impressive aggregate vote will provide a base anyway.

“If we are there in numbers it will have more effect, but there will still be hundreds of thousands of votes, potentially a million. The number of votes will determine how effective we are.”

For “every strike Starmer betrays, every group of workers he sells down the river, every war he supports” opposition will grow, he said.

I remind him that he told me a decade or so ago that he disliked Labour because it was full of the two political adherents he detested most — liberals and Trotskyists. Starmer he sees as a synthesis.

The Labour leader was indeed once a Trotskyist of the most milk-and-water tendency and for years posed as a liberal.

“I was in the hall when he called for Fifa to kick Israel out of football in 2015,” Galloway says, something which would debar anyone else from as much as standing for Labour today.

“In nine years he has become an unqualified supporter of Israel and providing cover for genocide.

“He is a servant of the state. I see all this — the removal of Corbyn and the election of the state prosecutor as leader — as a state coup d’etat.

“The state would have done whatever was required to stop Corbyn becoming prime minister — anything.” You don’t have to be a conspiracist to realise that sometimes there actually are conspiracies.

If encouragement is not be found amid the Labour left for Galloway, it is there on the streets.

“The Palestine movement is about something that is happening to other people far away. It is to the people’s credit” that they march for Gaza time and again.

“It shows that Britain is not dead, its conscience is not dead. And it will have a lasting impact.

“Even if there is a ceasefire, even if it lasts and — biggest if — it leads to something, the memory of the massacres will remain. There can be no sentient being in Britain who has seen those pictures and is not scarred for life.”

At the preceding rally, he had estimated that there were five to seven million people deeply affected by the Gaza situation and that if none of them voted Labour the party would be electorally dead.

It’s put to him that turning such numbers into a viable electoral force requires both Galloway and Owen Jones — using the campaigning journalist to represent the presently disenfranchised young, urban Corbynite voter.

Galloway, for these purposes designated the representative of an older school of socialism and with a vast following among Britain’s Muslims, does not disagree.

“It could be an alliance, not a common party, but a common front.” Differences need not be “a deal breaker.

“We can park issues, allow people to exercise their consciences and accentuate the positive.”

That is indeed what he proposed in the immediate aftermath of his Rochdale upset — an alliance headed by Corbyn spanning the left, including his own Workers Party. That was not Corbyn’s plan, however.

One issue Galloway identifies as challenging is the acquiescence of some of the left in Nato and Britain’s participation in the military bloc.

“They will have to wake up on Nato — too many think there is a ‘free world’ but if Nato leads us towards war with Russia, war with China there will have to be a re-evaluation.”

Conversely, many on the left were dismayed by Galloway’s own recent remarks concerning gay relationships, indicating that he did not believe that schoolchildren should be taught that such relationships are “normal.”

He vigorously denies homophobia, and points to a parliamentary record which earned him an award from Stonewall. The “idea I am gay-unfriendly is preposterous,” he asserts.

Some will accept that and others will not. “Normal” is at once a loaded and a slippery term. Otherwise Galloway-friendly gay people were upset. In this reporter’s view, the right to hold a belief — and Galloway’s relative social conservatism is unfeigned  — is not the same as an obligation to share it.

The Workers Party’s 10-point programme promotes sustainable living and the protection of the natural environment. Yet it has acquired a reputation for climate-change denial.

Galloway regards this as an issue which is “definitely elidable, if that is a word. We want a proper public debate and a referendum on net zero.

“We are not going to go quietly into a policy that is impoverishing the working class,” he says, declaring himself “environment-friendly.”

The present drive for net zero “is being driven by capitalists in their own interests. The working class will pay the price.

“As long as these people are in charge the workers will always pay the price.” That is true for everything, and looking around Ashton, the price has been exacting.

And with that, it is back to the swirl of a master campaigner’s last campaign. The proprietor of a clothing stall in Ashton market needs a photograph with Galloway before the candidate returns to Rochdale and his final encounter with the voters.

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