Labour’s Kim Leadbeater may be celebrating her triumph in Batley and Spen (though not as much as her leader Keir Starmer) but the by-election was another setback for George Galloway’s efforts to get back into parliament — any parliament. The serial candidate hasn’t been an MP since 2015 and Batley was the 15th time he has stood for elected office, and his ninth defeat.
What Steerpike admires most about Galloway is his geographical flexibility: he’s never let attachment to a particular constituency hold him back. From Bradford to Bromwich, Glasgow to Gorton, Comrade Galloway has always gone where the workers needed him. Some call him ‘Gorgeous George’, Mr S prefers ‘GPS George’.
His transient electoral career began in the late Seventies, the era of disco and Dallas, though in George’s case Dundee loomed larger. He got his first crack at the ballot box in the 1977 Scottish district elections, where he was selected to contest the Labour-held ward of Gillburn on Dundee District Council. Tayside politics being a brutal business, he lost to a pensioner called Bunty Turley, who stood as an independent.
A decade later, he had put that defeat behind him and gained Glasgow Hillhead for Labour from the SDP’s Roy Jenkins in the 1987 general election. Galloway would go on to retain Hillhead in 1992 and its successor Glasgow Kelvin in 1997 and 2001. That was to be the final time he fought an election for Labour, with the party booting him out in 2003.
He headed south in time for the 2005 election, where he ousted Labour in Bethnal Green and Bow under the banner of the Respect party. Come election 2010 and he crept a little further south, over the boundary into Poplar and Limehouse, but third place was the best he could achieve. The following year he was homeward bound for the 2011 Scottish parliament elections but his Respect slate came fifth on the Glasgow regional list and failed to elect any MSPs.
A return south of Hadrian’s Wall the next year proved fortuitous for our tireless traveller when he snatched Bradford West from Labour in the 2012 by-election. Unfortunately, the electors revolted three years after that and toppled George like a Saddam Hussein statue circa 2003.
Tony Benn said politicians were either signposts or weathercocks but George is an electoral sniffer dog: he can smell a ballot box from 200 miles away. So one year after his loss in Bradford he was back in London, this time standing for mayor. In the end, he had to settle for seventh place, coming only a whisker — or should that be Whiskas? — ahead of Britain First.
More adventures were to follow, with a relocation to Manchester Gorton for the 2017 election (third place) and West Bromwich East in 2019 (sixth place). This May brought his second tilt at Holyrood, as the face of anti-SNP outfit All for Unity, but it was all for naught. He managed 1.5 per cent on the South Scotland regional list. With a speed that HS2 will never match, he was promptly on the campaign trail in Batley — but was consigned to third place last night.
George has been on a journey. Many, many journeys. It's the longest march in socialism since the Chinese Red Army backed out of Jiangxi. Still, Steerpike cannot help but salute George’s indefatigability and looks forward to the next stop on the revolutionary roadshow.