Outsider George Galloway running an ‘increasingly divisive’ by-election campaign against Labour

Campaigners concerned by ex-Labour MP running against sister of murdered Jo Cox for Batley and Spen seat

BATLEY, ENGLAND - JUNE 14:  A campaign poster for Workers Party of Britain candidate George Galloway adorns a house in the Batley and Spen constituency on June 14, 2021 in Batley, England.  (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Anti-racism group Hope Note Hate has accused George Galloway of being “increasingly divisive” as he continues his bid to win next week’s by-election in the former seat of murdered MP Jo Cox.

The former Labour politician is using his support of Palestine to galvanise backing in Batley and Spen for his alternative Workers Party of Britain.

In one election leaflet he tells voters that he has "fought for Muslims at home and abroad all of my life".

Ms Cox was murdered by a far-right extremist five years ago and the area in northern England has been troubled by racial tension.

Hope Not Hate, which is monitoring the presence of the far right in the by-election, has also analysed Mr Galloway's language.

“He has become increasingly divisive in his politics and his language,” the group said.

“Since leaving Parliament, Galloway has achieved media notoriety with fiery rhetoric – and divisive language.

“In 2019, he was sacked from his role on TalkRADIO after making a comment that saw him condemned by Tottenham Hotspur Football Club for 'blatant anti-Semitism'.

“Galloway is another example of someone from outside the area who is seeking to come in and take advantage of local circumstances to further his own career – and ego,” the campaigners added.

BATLEY, ENGLAND - JUNE 14:  Kim Leadbeater, Labour candidate for the Batley and Spen by-election talks to constituents, who are supporting Workers Party of Britain candidate George Galloway,  as she campaigns on the streets on June 14, 2021 in Batley, England. Ms Leadbeater is running for the parliamentary seat previously held by her sister, Jo Cox, the MP who was murdered in 2016. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

Residents in his former constituency of Bradford accused him of leaving a bitter legacy during his time as the MP there between 2012 and 2015.

“If you think Galloway represents your positions you are utterly insane,” one tweeted.

“Go ask the Muslim community in Bradford if he fulfilled his promises.”

Mr Galloway lost his Bradford West seat to Labour's Naz Shah in the 2015 UK general election.

Latest polls have put Mr Galloway in third place with a 6 per cent share of the vote.

The seat has been held by Labour for decades but the party recently suffered a series of defeats to the Conservatives in its traditional strongholds.

Five Muslim groups in Batley and Spen recently wrote an open letter to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer warning him his party is taking their “loyalty and votes” for granted.

They called for urgent action to tackle Islamophobia and for the party to speak out against the treatment of Palestinians.

Mr Starmer wrote back to assure the community that Labour's policy on Palestine had not changed and that the the party needed their support as it rebuilds its electoral position. “Your steadfast and enduring support has been, and always will be, crucial to the Labour Party," he wrote. "And I am clear that we cannot take the support of any community for granted – every vote must always be earned.”

Mr Galloway has highlighted the Palestinian cause in his campaign messaging. In one leaflet seen by Politico, he said a defeat for Labour could lead to the end of Mr Starmer's leadership.

The letter was addressed directly to Muslim voters in the constituency.

"I, George Galloway, have always come to the side of the people of Palestine in their agony - and am doing so again now as Gaza is burning," he says.

"With your support on July 1, and if God wills it, I will give the remaining days of this Parliament to the service of all the people in Batley and Spen, as your MP."

One resident of Bradford said the Scottish political veteran sought to exploit the shifting political tides. “He’s somewhat of an opportunist but the communities are really in the mood to punish Labour for its neglect and complete lack of support on important issues,” the man who refused to be identified said.

Labour is fielding Ms Cox’s sister, Kim Leadbeater, as its candidate and is promoting her ties in the community.

Dr Paul Stott, a research fellow at the Centre for the Response to Radicalisation and Terrorism at the Henry Jackson Society, told The National that Mr Galloway could divide Labour's vote.

“First he was Labour, then he took an anti-war stance, then he had his Respect Party and now his Workers Party,” he said.

"He is not necessarily going to move in the same circles as he did when he stood in Bradford and Bethnal Green but he is a skilled politician and will work on getting the momentum of the community leaders. That will only work against Labour.”