GEORGE Galloway’s by-election victory is going to “increase the tension” in the Labour party over Keir Starmer’s “reluctance” to speak up on Gaza, according to a leading political expert.

Professor John Curtice, the president of the British Polling Council, said Galloway’s victory was “a truly remarkable outcome” and may stoke fears among Labour MPs that they will be challenged by independent, pro-Palestine candidates at the General Election.

It comes after Galloway, a fringe figure in UK politics who failed to make a dent in Holyrood with his “Alliance for Unity” in the 2021 Scottish elections, became an MP again after winning the Rochdale by-election.

Galloway won 39.7% of the vote while David Tully, a local businessman and independent candidate, came second with 21.3%. The Tories won 12% of the vote while Labour’s disowned candidate Azhar Ali won 7.7%. The turnout was also 39.7%.

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Speaking to the BBC after the result, Curtice said: “The truth is this is a truly remarkable outcome. Let me just give you a couple of statistics.

“This is now the second time that George Galloway has managed to win a by-election in a Muslim constituency representing a party that is not currently represented inside the House of Commons. That's only happened on six occasions in the whole of the post-war period, and George Galloway is now responsible for two of them.

“The second is that, of those who turned out, only one in five voted for either Labour or the Conservative Party. That's the two principal parties in the United Kingdom. That is very easily an all-time low. So you can see that this is a very, very unusual result.”

Curtice said the question was whether Rochdale represented a “unique by-election result in unique and unusual circumstances, or does it have potentially wider ramifications for the future of British politics as we head towards a General Election”.

The polling expert went on: “Two things I think we should take away: one is, of course, we've already known that there was unease inside sections of the Labour Party, particularly Labour MPs who represent constituencies with substantial Muslim populations, about the fact that Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has been relatively reluctant to criticise Israel.

“He has certainly been no more critical of Israel and its involvement in Gaza than has the UK Government or indeed, the US administration in Washington.

“That's left Labour MPs with [large Muslim populations in their constituencies] rather unhappy because they are concerned that perhaps there will be other independent candidates standing against them in the General Election.”

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Curtice said that although it was unlikely that any independent candidates would present a challenge on the level of Galloway, “it's going to increase the tension inside the Labour Party”.

He suggested that a contingent of Labour MPs would be looking to Starmer to “toughen his stance on Israel” in order to try to combat any challenges from independent, pro-Palestine candidates.

Starmer has faced intense criticism over his stance on Gaza after he told LBC that Israel had “the right” to withhold power and water, despite doing so being in breach of international law.

He then faced a significant rebellion among Labour MPs, including frontbench resignations, after he tried to stop them backing an SNP motion calling for an immediate ceasefire in the region.

Starmer was able to avoid a second rebellion after Speaker Lindsay Hoyle changed Commons rules to allow a Labour amendment on SNP opposition day, sparking chaos and cross-party calls for Hoyle’s resignation.