UK

Voters go to the polls in Rochdale by-election

George Galloway is the favourite as polls open in a divisive by-election in the town.

A woman walks past a sign for a polling station location in Rochdale, Greater Manchester
Rochdale by-election A woman walks past a sign for a polling station location in Rochdale, Greater Manchester (Danny Lawson/PA)

Voters in Rochdale go to the polls on Thursday in one of the UK’s most divisive by-elections in recent years.

Alleged death threats, candidates wearing stab vests and vandalism have been reported during campaigning to win the seat following the death last month of sitting MP Sir Tony Lloyd.

Former Labour MP and Celebrity Big Brother contestant George Galloway is the favourite to take the seat, he is now standing for the Workers Party of Britain.

Labour’s campaign was torpedoed days after launch after a recording surfaced of its candidate, Azhar Ali, speaking at a party meeting suggesting Israel was complicit with the massacre of its own people in the October 7 terror outrage.

Labour candidate for Rochdale, Azhar Ali (left), was joined by Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham in Rochdale as he launched his campaign before his party withdrew support
Rochdale by-election Labour candidate for Rochdale, Azhar Ali (left), was joined by Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham in Rochdale as he launched his campaign before his party withdrew support (Peter Byrne/PA)

Shadow cabinet members Lisa Nandy and Anneliese Dodds both campaigned for him before Labour eventually withdrew support amid growing criticism.

Mr Ali later apologised for his remarks.

Though no longer backed by Labour, he remains a candidate as it was too late to withdraw his name from the ballot papers.

He may sit as an independent if elected to Westminster.

Ex-Labour Rochdale MP Simon Danczuk, barred for standing for Labour in the 2017 general election after apologising for “inappropriate” text messages sent to a 17-year-old girl, is standing for the Reform Party.

Guy Otten, the Green Party candidate, has also had party support withdrawn over comments made on Twitter though, like Mr Ali, his name will still appear on the ballot paper.

Mr Galloway’s campaign is heavy on the Palestinian cause and Gaza, an issue close to the heart of many of Rochdale’s Muslim population.

Workers Party of Britain candidate George Galloway in Rochdale
Rochdale by-election Workers Party of Britain candidate George Galloway in Rochdale (James Speakman/PA)

His campaign believes 15,000 votes are enough to win most by-elections and Rochdale has a 30,000-strong Asian community.

There have been incidents of his campaign posters being torn down.

Mr Danczuk, who believes the poll is a two-horse race between him and Galloway, says his campaign is based on disaffection with mainstream parties and claims his rival Mr Galloway’s campaign has been divisive and he would be the “MP for Gaza”, not Rochdale.

Mr Danczuk reported being the subject of a death threat with police reportedly making an arrest.

Reform UK candidate Simon Danczuk speaking to PA during campaigning in the Rochdale by-election
Rochdale by-election Reform UK candidate Simon Danczuk speaking to PA during campaigning in the Rochdale by-election (James Speakman/PA)

The town, which is one of the most deprived in England and voted 60% in favour of Brexit, has also been the subject of Asian grooming gang scandals, with a major report in January concluding that young girls were left “at the mercy” of paedophiles due to failings by senior police and council bosses.

Billy Howarth, a local man, is involved in a group, Parents Against Grooming UK and is standing as an independent.

Mr Howarth said he has taken to wearing a stab-vest while campaigning, such are tensions in the town.

Also standing are Iain Donaldson, Liberal Democrats, Paul Ellison, Conservative Party, Michael Howarth, Independent, Ravin Rodent Subortna, The Official Monster Raving Loony Party and David Tully, Independent.

The number of postal votes in the election is high, standing at 21,810 out of an electorate of 82,615.

Polling stations are open from 7am to 10pm with the declaration result expected around 3am.