‘Gaza George’ Galloway washes away his past – and almost two decades of Labour rule in Rochdale

George Galloway outside the campaign headquarters of the Workers Party of Great Britain in Rochdale, Greater Manchester
George Galloway outside the campaign headquarters of the Workers Party of Great Britain in Rochdale, Greater Manchester - Lorne Campbell/Guzelian
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Under the leaden skies of Rochdale, George Galloway may feel the Lancastrian rain has washed away his own recent failures and 19 years of Labour rule.

The man once known as Gorgeous George, on account of his extramarital activities, rebranded himself as Gaza George for this bizarrest of by-elections.

Never far from controversy, the 69-year-old Scot stood on a relentlessly pro-Palestine platform which featured a string of personal attacks on Sir Keir Starmer.

With his laser-like pursuit of the Muslim vote and almost singular focus on a foreign policy issue, he once more sought to rewrite the rulebook of British politics.

Rochdale is just the latest waypoint in a political career that has spanned five decades and never seen Mr Galloway stray far from the national media spotlight.

Born in Dundee in August 1954, to a trade unionist father and a factory worker mother, he would describe his upbringing as having been “born in an attic in a slum tenement in the Irish quarter of Dundee, which is known as Tipperary”.

He showed signs of the rebellious streak that would define his political career at the age of 15 when he defied his headteacher’s orders to shave off his moustache.

George Galloway campaigning in Rochdale, Greater Manchester
George Galloway campaigning in Rochdale, Greater Manchester - Asadour Guzelian

By that point he had already joined Labour’s Young Socialists, rising to become the secretary of the Dundee Labour Party whilst still in his teens.

A Left-wing political prodigy, he became a member of the Scottish Labour Executive at just 20 and two years after that was elected as Dundee’s youngest councillor.

Mr Galloway’s colourful personal life came to the fore for the first time during that election, as a priest denounced him for “living in sin” with his future wife Elaine.

It was in his 20s that he first became associated with the foreign causes which would shape so much of his later career as an MP and campaigner.

He backed Dundee City Council when it flew the Palestinian flag, and was heavily involved in the city being twinned with a town in the West Bank in 1980.

In 1983, he became the general secretary of War on Want, a major charity which led the way on channelling aid into war-torn provinces of Ethiopia, which were hit by famine.

But once again, it was his extra-work activities which garnered the most attention, with rumours quickly spreading about how he was conducting himself.

Extraordinary press conference

At an extraordinary final press conference in September 1987, Mr Galloway admitted to having sexual relations with two women at a conference in Athens two years earlier.

The story earned him the nickname in the press of “Gorgeous George” and also cost him his first marriage to Elaine, with the couple separating shortly after.

But whilst his personal life was thrown into chaos, his political career took a huge leap forward as he was elected an MP for the first time that year.

Mr Galloway won the seat of Glasgow Hillhead in the 1987 general election, dethroning the Social Democratic Party’s Roy Jenkins to win the seat back for Labour by 3,251 votes.

He held the constituency in 1992 and then its successor, Glasgow Kelvin, in 1997 and 2001, significantly more than doubling his initial majority in the process.

During that time he met Amineh Abu-Zayyad, a Palestinian-born biologist. The pair married in 2000, but divorced nine years later on the grounds of his behaviour.

By that time, he already had a son by Rima Husseini, his Lebanese researcher, who he went on to “marry” in 2005 in a non-legally binding Islamic ceremony.

By then it was not just his personal life in tumult, with his political career again mired in controversy over his views on the Iraq War which prompted Labour to kick him out.

Mr Galloway had already become known as a serial rebel, voting against the whip 32 times between Sir Tony Blair’s landslide 1997 victory and his expulsion in 2003.

The final straw was an interview he gave to Abu Dhabi TV in March 2003, in which he “seemingly invited other Arab nations to fight against the British Army”.

He announced in December that year he would not fight for re-election in Glasgow, and in 2004 he set up the Respect Party, taking in a coalition of Left-wing groups.

Mr Galloway went on to fight against Labour in the East London seat of Bethnal Green and Bow at the 2005 election, unseating its MP Oona King in a shock victory.

His campaign was notable for his successful mobilisation of the large Muslim vote, with his opposition to the Iraq War said to have been the key factor in the result.

What followed a year later was the most bizarre episode of his career, when he swapped the bearpit of Westminster for the goldfish bowl of the Big Brother house.

Viewers across the globe watched in horror as, down on his knees, he pretended to be a cat licking imaginary milk from the hands of fellow housemate Rula Lenska.

Mr Galloway’s three weeks on the fourth series of Celebrity Big Brother in 2006 made him a household name whose fame reached well beyond that of most politicians.

George Galloway's campaign has been centred around Gaza
George Galloway's campaign has been centred around Gaza - Lorne Campbell/Guzelian

Other sitting MPs have since followed his lead, with Nadine Dorries and Matt Hancock having since embarked on reality TV careers.

He lost his seat at the 2010 election when the Tories took power, but was back two years later when he once again seized a Labour heartland seat.

Mr Galloway claimed another big scalp in the 2012 by-election by defeating his former party in Bradford West, another seat with a sizable Muslim vote.

He campaigned for British troops to be immediately withdrawn from Afghanistan and dubbed the result the “Bradford Spring” – a reference to the 2011 Arab Spring.

Fourth wife

The same year he married his fourth and current wife, Dutch-Indonesian anthropologist Putri Gayatri Pertiwi, in a civil ceremony at the House of Commons.

The couple have since had three children, taking his total number of offspring from all four marriages to six – three daughters and three sons.

His three years representing Bradford West were to be his last as an MP to date, with him going on to cede the seat back to Labour at the 2015 general election.

A series of failed campaigns to get re-elected followed. He ran in the 2016 race to be Mayor of London for Respect, but lost and the party disbanded shortly after.

Mr Galloway had a tilt at Manchester Gorton a year later, coming third behind Labour and the Tories, and West Bromwich East in 2019, when he lost his deposit with 1.4 per cent of the vote.

After the 2019 election and Jeremy Corbyn’s landslide defeat he founded his current movement, the Workers Party of Britain, to champion Left-wing populism.

He went on to contest the 2021 Batley and Spen by-election under its banner, coming third behind Labour and the Tories but still attracting 22 per cent of the vote.

The same year he also founded a second ill-fated party, All For Unity, to stand candidates in the Scottish elections against independence from the UK.

It folded the following year after winning no seats in Holyrood.

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