The Guardian view on Labour’s problem: Sir Keir Starmer cannot afford to take voters for granted | Editorial

The electorate is not obliged to cast ballots for any party. The public must be convinced by a platform that can fix 14 years of failure

There are lessons to be learned from the Rochdale byelection. One is that when Labour fails to listen to its supporters or blames them for defecting, it risks losing its strongholds. Another is that the Tories are being held responsible at the ballot box for the decay in urban Britain. While local concerns figured in George Galloway’s campaign, it was the geopolitics of the war in Gaza – and the inadequate responses from the main two parties – that helped the former Labour MP win the seat.

Mr Galloway, a strident critic of Israel, is living proof that there is power without office. Labour rushed this byelection – firing the starting gun before its last MP, Sir Tony Lloyd, was even buried – to stop Mr Galloway, a formidable campaigner, from building up momentum in the seat, where almost a third of voters are Muslim. A demagogic opportunist, Mr Galloway has represented four cities and three parties in his political career. Only Winston Churchill constituency-hopped as much. It is unlikely that local issues will often occupy Mr Galloway in the Commons, especially while there is salt to be rubbed into Labour’s wounds over Gaza.

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After George Galloway’s triumph in Rochdale, urgent questions loom for Keir Starmer – and the left, too | Owen Jones

Labour’s leader has left Muslim supporters disenchanted. And the left must think hard about what happens when his approach unravels

When Keir Starmer’s political project comes crashing down, as one day it will, George Galloway’s Rochdale triumph should be remembered as a portent. For hardcore Starmerites, this assertion is easily dismissed. Courtesy of the Tories’ comprehensive self-immolation, Labour is heading for a crushing landslide victory. With an average 19-point lead – an undeniably stunning turnaround from the party’s 2019 rout – there is no sign of the usual polling swingback a government enjoys in election year. Rishi Sunak is an inept prime minister leading an intellectually exhausted government, devoid of any ideas except doubling down on the same policies that left Britain with an unprecedented squeeze in living standards, stagnant growth and a shrivelled public realm. When Starmer becomes prime minister in November , as he almost certainly will, he is unlikely to be worrying much about Rochdale, which may well return to the Labour fold in a general election anyway.

Well, such complacency may prove a mistake. The Labour candidate was, of course, belatedly disowned by the national leadership after claiming that Israel deliberately allowed the 7 October atrocities to happen, and deploying a crude antisemitic trope about the influence of “certain Jewish quarters” in the media. Labour – which has today apologised to the people of Rochdale for failing to offer a viable Labour candidate – will easily dismiss the candidate’s derisory vote, and yet overall turnout – nearly 40% – was actually higher for than the last three byelections. This means that, despite some demoralised voters staying at home in a farcical election, Galloway won far more votes than the Labour, Tory and Liberal Democrat candidates combined: that is, he clearly enjoyed an enthused turnout, many rallied by the message summed up at his victory speech: “Keir Starmer, this is for Gaza.” Labour says Galloway won because there was no Labour candidate. That is highly debatable.

Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist

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