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The War Of The Words

The War Of The Words

George Galloway after Rochdale by election win

While carnage continues in Gaza we in Britain can do no more than fret about it. Wringing our hands doesn’t change anything on the battlefield. But, as our Political Correspondent Peter Spencer reports, left wing firebrand George Galloway’s spectacular win in the Rochdale by election spells trouble ahead for both main parties.

He’s used the line before, and he adapted it in his victory speech. The Tory and Labour leaders are two cheeks of the same backside.

Though he did campaign on plenty of overdue local running sores in this most deprived of towns, his focus was on the Middle East, and on both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer’s continued caution in regard to the fighting.

And the timing of the vote could hardly have been more hideously apposite. More than a hundred Palestinians desperately gathering round aid trucks had just been slaughtered by Israeli troops.

This as barely contested figures revealed that the Palestinian death toll, mainly women and children, is now nudging towards thirty times the number of people killed in the Hamas atrocity that sparked the conflict.

Western support for Israel’s right to defend itself has largely held up, but it’s becoming increasingly nuanced, with even the US President reported to have said deeply uncomplimentary things about the Israeli Prime Minister.

Back here in Westminster there’s been open revolt on the Labour benches, as Keir Starmer steers clear of the tough line the rebels on his side are demanding.

There’s little sign as yet of Tories publicly breaking ranks, but there’s no doubting the deep unease felt by many moderates in the party. And George Galloway can be pretty much guaranteed to stoke it.

It was said of Winston Churchill that he was adept at weaponizing the English language. And however much of a thorn he can be in everyone’s side, Galloway’s oratory is second to none.

Much as many on the right of the political spectrum loathe and despise him, they also fear him. Because, in parliament, he’ll have a serious platform. And people will listen.

In the constituency he’s just so overwhelmingly won, almost a third of the punters are Muslim. But, across the whole of the UK, Islam is the second largest religion. Meaning support for the Palestinian cause stretches a lot wider than Rochdale.

Unsurprisingly, Sunak’s feeling chipper at what turned out to be a rare non-pasting for his side. Indeed, their chap managed to outvote the dumped ex Labour candidate even though he didn’t bother to campaign at all.

But the anti-Tory by election trend will probably come back with knobs on at the expected forthcoming local contest in the swing seat of Blackpool south, where their man looks to be booted out for breaking lobbying rules.

In the meantime, the passions inflamed by the ongoing Gaza tragedy continue to find expression in varying degrees of protest. Mostly peaceful, but some of it decidedly menacing.

Hence Sunak’s defensive declaration last week that we mustn’t allow democracy to be traduced by mob rule. Hence also the thirty-one-million pound package of support for MPs who’re under threat of violence.

Some will now be provided with bodyguards, and police will step up patrols outside their offices. As mood music goes, it’s nastily cacophonous.

And this bleak physical backdrop in compounded, from the the Prime Minister’s point of view, by menacing pointers relating to voting trends. It’s not just a matter of Labour’s commanding lead in the polls, but where other trends appear to be tilting.

In the latest YouGov poll for The Times, the right wing Reform party score fourteen per cent. That’s only half a dozen points behind the Conservatives, and double the Lib Dems’ rating.

None of this will be lost on the gathering gangs of hard right top Tories already circling Sunak like Brutus’s chums surrounding Julius Caesar on the Ides of March. And it’ll leave those on the party’s moderate wing wondering what chance they have.

So, while both main party leaders are currently facing a sea of troubles, some seas are more deep than others.

Apologies there to both William Shakespeare and George Orwell. But Starmer is sitting relatively, if at times precariously, pretty pretty just now.

Assuming, however, that predictions are correct and he is headed for Downing Street, he’ll face the devil’s own job keeping the nation onside. For proof of that, look no further than this week’s budget.

The smart money is currently on an audacious plan by the Chancellor to pay for the tax cuts he’s desperate to deliver by dumping the deal from which Sunak’s own wife used to benefit, the so-called non-dom tax break.

This enables people who in fact live here but claim their permanent home is somewhere else to save themselves an awful lot of what they’d otherwise have to shell out on their earnings.

Jolly handy for jolly rich folk, but, if it goes down the Swanee, loadsermoney for The Treasury.

Which is why for a long time it’s been the Shadow Chancellor’s big time get out of jail free card. Meaning, if the speculation is correct, she’ll have two tricky problems on her hands.

One, having espoused the idea, is she now expected to oppose it? And, two, if the money this change makes has already been spent, then how exactly will she pay for shoring up the nation’s crumbling public services?

The underlying point here is the possibility of the Tories nicking a flagship Labour policy. And it gives a certain credibility to Galloway’s taunt about the two leaders sharing just the one rear end.

In what already promises to be the longest and horridest general election campaign for decades, this man is certain to get both their bottoms smarting.

Shame people seem to have lost the knack of being nice to one another. Though there are significant and delightful exceptions.

Take Mr Ravin Rodent Subortna, for example. As Rochdale’s Official Monster Raving Loony Party candidate he campaigned both for the introduction of a ninety-nine pence coin, and for all new-build houses to be fitted with hedgehog homes.

He explained, supremely magnanimously, that he was aiming for zero votes. Because: ‘That would be fair, to give everybody else a chance.’

And, on an even more serious note, a former professor at the Albert Einstein medical college in New York City was also in the giving vein last week.

Ninety-three-year-old Ruth Gottesman, who chairs the school’s board of trustees and whose late husband was a Wall Street investor, went one up on delivering the expected pep talk to the students.

She also made sure that they’d leave the place without the normal monumental debt that so many young people face for the privilege of getting their degrees.

There, you can almost hear her saying, a billion dollars. That should cover it. At this, some leapt ecstatically to their feet. Others just dissolved into tears.

Can you blame them?

Watch Peter’s report at

Peter Spencer has 40 years experience as a Political Correspondent in Westminster, working with London Broadcasting and Sky News. For more of his fascinating musings on the turbulent political landscape, follow him on Facebook & Twitter.

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