UK

George Galloway, a deeply divisive figure in UK politics, returns to Parliament

The Scot has become an MP for the third time after another heated campaign.

George Galloway has built a political career on fierce opposition to Western foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East.
Rochdale by-election George Galloway has built a political career on fierce opposition to Western foreign policy, particularly in the Middle East. (James Speakman/PA)

George Galloway will return to Parliament after one of Britain’s most divisive politicians won the Rochdale by-election.

A firebrand orator and former Celebrity Big Brother contestant, Mr Galloway has enjoyed support from some left-wing groups for his staunch support of Palestinian causes, but been accused of stoking division and using sexist, homophobic and antisemitic language by his opponents.

It was Palestine that formed the cornerstone of his campaign in Rochdale, where he became the favourite after Labour withdrew support from its own candidate over remarks about the Israel-Hamas conflict.

And Palestine has been a major theme of Mr Galloway’s political career, one marked by ferocious opposition to British and American foreign policies, both in the Middle East and, more recently, in their support for Ukraine.

George Galloway proved a thorn in the side of the Labour leadership, but it was his opposition to the 2003 Iraq War that saw him expelled from the party
George Galloway. George Galloway proved a thorn in the side of the Labour leadership, but it was his opposition to the 2003 Iraq War that saw him expelled from the party (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

One of his first political campaigns as a youthful Labour Party activist was to press for his home town of Dundee to be twinned with Nablus on the Palestinian West Bank.

He first entered Parliament in 1987, winning Glasgow Hillhead from former home secretary and leading SDP figure Roy Jenkins.

But his relationship with Labour was not a happy one. As early as 1988, the executive committee of his constituency party passed a vote of no confidence in him, and he narrowly survived a selection contest in the next year.

He was widely criticised over a 1994 visit to Iraq when he was filmed apparently praising Saddam Hussein for his courage, strength and indefatigability – although he always insisted his comments were addressed to the Iraqi people.

His outspoken opposition to the 2003 invasion of Iraq finally brought his long-running feud with the Labour hierarchy to a head.

George Galloway won Bethnal Green and Bow from his old party in 2005 following his expulsion from Labour
General Election 2005 George Galloway won Bethnal Green and Bow from his old party in 2005 following his expulsion from Labour (Matthew Fearn/PA)

He was expelled from the party after accusing Tony Blair and George W Bush of acting “like wolves” and urging British troops to disobey their “illegal” orders.

He went on to found the Respect party, defeating Labour MP Oona King in Bethnal Green and Bow in 2005, overturning a 10,000 majority with a campaign aimed at the East London constituency’s Bangladeshi community.

He lost the seat in 2010, only to make an even more remarkable comeback two years later taking Bradford West from Labour in a by-election, after again targeting the seat’s largely Asian and Muslim communities.

He lost the seat again in 2015 after a campaign that saw him accused of sexism against Labour’s Naz Shah.

Away from Politics, George Galloway is probably best known for his appearance on Big Brother, where he impersonated a cat and pretended to lick milk from the hands of another contestant
SHOWBIZ Brother Galloway Away from Politics, George Galloway is probably best known for his appearance on Big Brother, where he impersonated a cat and pretended to lick milk from the hands of another contestant (Channel 4/PA)

Further bids for election came in the 2016 London mayoral contest, the 2017 and 2019 general elections, and the 2021 Batley and Spen by-election, a contest mired in claims of intimidation and homophobia.

Away from politics, he is perhaps best known for his appearance on Celebrity Big Brother in 2006, when he impersonated a cat and pretended to lick milk from the hands of another housemate.

He was also interrogated by a US Senate committee in connection with claims he had profited improperly from trading in Iraqi oil, claims he denied in a fiery Senate hearing. He was later accused by the same committee of lying under oath, which he again denied.