George Galloway
George Galloway, centre, leader of the Workers Party of Britain, returns to parliament after winning the Rochdale by-election © Reuters

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Good morning. George Galloway — standing for the Workers Party of Britain — has won the Rochdale by-election, to no one’s particular surprise. Given the unusual circumstances this contest was fought in, it doesn’t tell us an awful lot, though I suspect power brokers in all the major parties will pretend that it does. But we’ll have more time to get into that next week. For now, some thoughts on what it does actually tell us.

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Yesterday once more

What does the Rochdale by-election indicate? Not a lot, given that the Labour party abandoned its candidate too late to replace him on the ballot paper and it was too late for the Liberal Democrats — who do have a history in this constituency — to mount a serious crack at it. George Galloway’s campaign was essentially the only serious, organised political machine in town and he duly triumphed handsomely and emphatically despite a very impressive performance by David Tully, a local businessman running as an independent. Galloway won nearly 40 per cent of the vote at 12,335 votes, and Tully came in second at 6,638 votes.

It does suggest a couple of things about the national picture, though. First and foremost, if I were a Scottish National party MP in Glasgow, I would be feeling very happy this morning. I would feel that this result suggests that I can leverage the difference between the SNP and Labour positions on the Israel-Hamas war to my electoral advantage.

Second, it is yet another very bad by-election performance for Reform. The party did worse in this by-election (1,968 votes, 6 per cent of the vote) than it did in its old-money Brexit party guise in the 2019 election. That would cheer me up a bit if I were a Conservative MP, though Rishi Sunak’s party of course continues to have many other electoral problems.

That said, there are several reasons why Reform’s bad performance was an anomaly. It may be because Simon Danczuk, the ex-Rochdale Labour MP who had been put up as Reform’s candidate, was suspended in 2015 over allegations he sent sexually explicit texts to a 17-year-old. But frankly I doubt it.

His apology at the time, in which he described himself as having been “an old fool”, wasn’t sufficient for the Labour party to let him stay as a candidate back in 2017, but it was not, I think, a barrier to him picking up Reform-curious voters. In my experience, whenever I meet voters contemplating Reform, they are much more likely to see incidents like Danczuk’s downfall as excessive punishment.

Paradoxically, Labour’s disastrous, detonated-at-launch campaign, in which its candidate was revealed to have claimed that the Israeli government allowed Hamas to attack on October 7 to justify a war, means that although Keir Starmer has endured an embarrassing and bruising campaign, he doesn’t wake up this morning to Labour MPs panicking about a defeat to Galloway. We’ll never know if Galloway would have won this contest regardless — and as such, Labour’s internal disputes over the Israel-Hamas war, which could have erupted into crisis had it been narrowly defeated, won’t be further aggravated by its fourth place finish.

Now try this

I went to see Dune at the cinema last night (or earlier this morning, depending on your perspective). As a six-hour adaptation of the original Dune novel of Frank Herbert it is near-flawless, I think, but I’m glad I didn’t see Part One in cinemas in 2021, as I think I would have found it very frustrating to watch half a film, and Part Two really doesn’t even pretend to be a proper film in its own right. I’m very glad I saw them together in the cinema.

If you’re after some much shorter recommended viewing, the FT’s video team chatted with some of my US colleagues about why they got into journalism and what it’s like in their respective cities: featuring Ed Luce, Rana Foroohar, Tabby Kinder, Brooke Masters, Rob Armstrong and Colby Smith.

However you spend it, have a wonderful weekend.

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