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After George Galloway’s Rochdale Victory: What Does His Workers’ Party Actually Stand for?

Those wishing an end to the war crimes in Gaza have gained a supporting voice in parliament with George Galloway’s Workers’ Party. But what of those opposing Putin’s war on Ukraine?

George Galloway arrives to be sworn in to Parliament on March 4th. Photo: ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Live News

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On Monday, George Galloway was sworn into Parliament as the MP for Rochdale. His victory in the by-election, on a ticket supporting Palestine, sent shockwaves through the political establishment, resulting in Rishi Sunak’s impromptu speech describing his victory as “beyond alarming” and calling for further restrictions on protest in the UK.

Few will fail to recognise Galloway due to his contentious headline-grabbing political career, but for many, this will be the first time they’ve heard of The Workers Party of Britain (WPB).

So, what do they stand for, and what does their victory hold for Rochdalians? Galloway is a founding member and current leader of the WPB, which was set up as a left- wing alternative to Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour following their defeat in the 2019 general election. 

You might suspect a left-wing party would primarily be campaigning against the Tories, but topping the WPB’s hit list is the Labour Party. Galloway, a former Labour MP, was ejected from the party in 2003 for bringing the party into disrepute over his comments on the Iraq war. 

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The 2023 WPB manifesto states, “the greatest block to working-class aspirations is not the Conservative Party but the Labour Party”, and it calls for trade unions, the primary source of funding, to disaffiliate from Labour. 

Galloway emphasised the WPB’s enmity towards Labour by declaring he wanted to oust Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner from her Ashton-under-Lyne constituency following his swearing-in as an MP. The 69-year-old from Dundee has also branded Labour the “greater of two evils” out of them and the Conservatives.

Many in Rochdale’s significant Muslim community, who swung away from Labour due to their initial failure to demand a ceasefire in Gaza, are celebrating the Workers’ Party win. Many voted for Galloway due to his long-standing support for Palestine during this latest episode in the long-running humanitarian disaster. Not everyone will be familiar with the WPB’s background or wider ideas however. 

The Ideology

The socialist and anti-imperialist credentials of the WPB are laid out in their manifesto, as is the support setting-up they received from the Stalinist Communist Party of Great Britain Marxist-Leninist (CPGB-ML).

As with many communist-inspired groups, the WPB steer clear of criticising communist parties and countries who they state “have attempted to break free of imperialist domination and build a different kind of world.” “We defend the achievements of the USSR, China, Cuba etc.” the Workers’ Party adds. 

The WPG and Galloway have often sung Russia and China’s praises, while failing to acknowledge Russia’s alleged war crimes in Ukraine and a global assassination programme killing dissidents to Putin’s regime. 

The communist chops of the WPG are also evidenced by the factionalism and splits that often afflict left-wing organisations. The Workers’ Party and the CPGB-ML are no longer affiliated. 

Intriguely, the WPG accounts for 2022 lodged with the Electoral Commission document a further split within the party caused by a group of “self-proclaimed revolutionary socialists” playing the “role of a Fifth column” (an enemy within), accusing the internal group of trying to create a social democratic party “in the same mould as the imperialist Labour Party.” The WPG’s apologist response to Putin’s war on Ukraine is understood to have played a role in the split. 

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On Russia

The Ukrainian community in Rochdale stretches back to refugees arriving during the Second World War. Their numbers have since been bolstered by refugees forced from the country by the Russian invasion in January 2022. They have some reason to question their new MP – who refuses to criticise Russia or Putin’s actions. 

In 2016, Galloway conducted an interview with former UKIP leader Nigel Farage on his Russia Today television show, Sputnik. The then-RT presenter said he believed the EU had incited Vladimir Putin to annex Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, adding: “I respect Putin and I think he’s very popular in Russia and that’s the point, he’s the leader of Russia” (Farage responded with “of course”, HuffPost reported). 

The Kremlin-funded Russia Today channel had its terrestrial TV broadcast licence revoked by Ofcom in 2022 for breaching the impartiality rules in its coverage of the war in Ukraine. Galloway went on to stream his own ‘Mother of All Talk Shows’ online and via Russian-funded Sputnik radio. 

On X/Twitter, Galloway has been accused of producing a stream of misinformation since the war in Ukraine began. He claimed Ukraine was “importing hundreds of Islamist fighters from Syria” into the conflict,” which they hadn’t. 

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The Kremlin itself later boasted Russia was recruiting Syrian soldiers to fight in Ukraine, with the blessing of Putin’s ally President Bashar al-Assad, who owed his survival as President to the intervention of Russian forces helping defeat the Syrian freedom fighters who rose against Assad’s brutal dictatorship during the civil war.

Galloway’s has backed Putin’s stated reason for invading, which he claimed was to “demilitarise and de-Nazify Ukraine.” Ukraine’s democratically-elected President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, is Jewish, which makes the ‘Nazi’ claim laughable. 

The WPB and Galloway are long-time critics of NATO, the military alliance which countries bordering Russia have been scrambling to join since Ukraine’s invasion. The WPG’s manifesto calls for a referendum on NATO membership, saying the alliance is a “clear and present danger to the security of the British population” and that they will “seek new collective security arrangements.” 

These new security arrangements would be with rising powers “led by China”, according to a report on Galloways No2Nato campaign’s initial meeting in London last year. It suggests a fundamental shift in diplomatic relations and alliances away from Europe and the US towards China and Russia. 

The new MP for Rochdale is poles apart from the previous incumbent, the late Sir Tony Lloyd, whose death in January triggered the by-election. In parliament, Lloyd expressed his admiration for the Ukrainian armed forces in opposing the Russian invasion, shortly after it occurred, and requested adequate arms supplies be sent to the Ukraine. He also called for a fast track visa scheme to be implemented to help displaced Ukrainian students and academics continue their work in the UK. 

One Ukrainian in Rochdale, who did not wish to be named, told Byline Times the late MP was “very supportive of the Ukrainian community in Rochdale” and would be “very sadly missed.”

On Galloway and his stance regarding Putin and Ukraine, she added: “As to how we feel about him as Ukrainians, we’re sad that he is pro-Putin, obviously, and we don’t know what, if any, influence he can have for or against the war in Ukraine. It’s just a wait-and-see. And I am not very happy about that wait-and-see. 

“We’re obviously not going to be supportive of anyone who is pro-Putin: Putin has invaded Ukrainian territory for no reason at all, apart from his wanting to erase the Ukrainian nation as he has said on a number of occasions.”


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Manifesto Medley 

The WPB’s ten-point programme boils down most of the party’s major manifesto pledges, which include rebuilding British industry, cheap housing for all, free preschool childcare and education, free lifelong education and educational training, free provision of social care for the elderly and disabled, and nationalisation of essential utilities. 

The one flagship policy in the manifesto to raise revenue is a one-off 5% per cent wealth tax, which they estimate would raise a £17 billion windfall to kick-start a national social and investment strategy. 

The WPB’s socialism has an anti-woke twist. The manifesto rails against “the hysteria of university-based cultural engineering” and the “weird theories of university theoreticians and the neuroses of American progressivism.” 

The criticism of intellectuals’ echoes of Mao’s demonisation of the educated during the Cultural Revolution. Indeed, shortly after setting up the WPG, Galloway visited Beijing to speak at a Chinese state-sponsored forum on democracy, where he criticised Western democracies. 

When it comes to environmental issues, the WPG’s can be characterised as ‘climate sceptical’. Its website states: “Climate change is constantly taking place. It has done so for thousands of years” – in other words, strongly downplaying the human impact of two hundred years of industrialisation and greenhouse gas emissions. 

The WPG calls for a Net Zero referendum so people can have an “informed debate” of whether they want to bear the costs of Net Zero. There is no mention of the costs of not striving for Net Zero. 

And on migration, policy statements on their site point to clamping down on “mass migration.” “We will undertake investment in border security and in fair and equitable visa and citizenship arrangements that discourage organised crime,” one party figure writes on the site. Other party documents rail against “mass migration”. 

The party is also opposed to clean air initiatives like London’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone, and state they will “not be seduced by the more apocalyptic Green hysteria that floods our media.” The environmental statements in the manifesto clash with point ten of their programme which promises a government committed to the, “solving of urgent problems such as the need to live sustainably and protect our natural environment.”

With whispers of an early election appearing in the media, Galloway’s tenure as the MP for Rochdale could be limited. Whatever time he does have serving Rochdale is sure to be filled with controversy. 

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Josiah Mortimer also writes the On the Ground column, exclusive to the print edition of Byline Times.

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