Talkshows, TikTok, Gaza: George Galloway and Rochdale, 100 days on

<span>George Galloway, seen here campaigning during the Rochdale byelection in February, said: ‘I have the largest audience in British politics.’ </span><span>Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian</span>
George Galloway, seen here campaigning during the Rochdale byelection in February, said: ‘I have the largest audience in British politics.’ Photograph: Christopher Thomond/The Guardian

George Galloway was in full flow as he addressed tens of thousands of viewers online one evening in late March.

In a five-minute monologue, the newly elected Rochdale MP dismissed what he described as the “official narrative” of the murders of the US president John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and senator Robert F Kennedy. They were, he said, “a pack of lies”.

Galloway, 69, then turned to more recent events: the murder of more than 140 people at Crocus City Hall in Moscow on 22 March, an atrocity since attributed by Russia to Islamic State. The four-time parliamentarian said he believed that “the United States, that the Nato allies and their proxy servant, the state of Ukraine, Romanian state of Ukraine, were in fact responsible for this mass murder”.

This may sound like the ramblings of someone on the wilder margins of the internet, but Galloway is one of the UK’s best-known politicians – with one of the biggest audiences at home and abroad.

The Guardian has found that instead of resiling from conspiracy theories in the 100 days since he was elected as Rochdale’s MP, which he will mark on Saturday, Galloway appears to have become further entrenched.

The leader of the Workers party of Britain has a bigger online audience than almost any other UK politician and receives thousands of pounds a month from his videos – money that, he has said, is pumped back into building his media profile further.

Yet his popularity comes amid growing concern about MPs spreading false and unfounded speculation online. Earlier this month, the Commons leader, Penny Mordaunt, produced a guide for MPs to spot conspiracy theories that could “pose a danger to democracy” while the thinktank Demos recently called for stricter rules to prevent parliamentarians fuelling disinformation.

But Galloway appears unfazed. In March, before the Princess of Wales revealed she was undergoing cancer treatment, the MP asked his 727,000 followers on X: “What are the royals covering up? Is she dead or has she downed tools?”

Later that night, he posted a slickly produced video to TikTok and X asking: “Is Kate the new Diana?”, attracting 400,000 views. He later told viewers of his twice-weekly series, the Mother of All Talk Shows (MOATs): “We know what can happen to individuals of the royal blood, never mind individuals who marry in to the House of Windsor.

“We know what happened to Lady Diana. We are determined that it shouldn’t be allowed to happen to Princess Kate.”

Galloway’s audience is huge and growing. On X, he has more followers than any member of the shadow cabinet except Keir Starmer, David Lammy and Ed Miliband. On YouTube, he boasts 440,000 subscribers.

On TikTok, which is expected to play a bigger role in the general election than ever before, he has as many followers as Labour, and three times more than the Conservatives. His pithy viral-style videos each regularly reach tens of thousands of people.

More than 1,200 people pay between £4.50 and £17 a month to get “direct access” to his polemics on Patreon, bringing in between £5,625 and £21,250 a month for his media work.

In a statement, Galloway said: “I have the largest audience in British politics, hard won and extremely valuable – which is why you are attacking me.

“I am personally unremunerated by any of my social media and broadcasting work. Any revenues are ploughed directly back into building the media work. If it were otherwise, it would be reflected in the register of members’ interests in parliament.”

Galloway was elected in Rochdale largely on a promise to speak up about the war in Gaza. In parliament he appeared to be delivering on his word, making nine speeches about the conflict out of 16 appearances in the Commons since his maiden speech on 12 March.

He has also raised issues closer to home, with remarks on the Rochdale grooming scandal and mould-ridden housing.

But online his focus is on the Middle East. A Guardian analysis of his video transcripts found the word Israel was mentioned 1,877 times in 2024, while Rochdale was mentioned only 161 times – 91 of which were around the byelection in February.

On TikTok, where his videos have a combined 20m views, Israel is the most commonly used hashtag on his page, appearing 202 times, followed by Gaza (195), Ukraine (137), and Biden (122). Meanwhile, Rochdale was tagged just 19 times.

Galloway added in a statement: “I arrived in Rochdale at the beginning of February. It would’ve been odd if I had been hashtagging Rochdale before I got here. Hence your comparisons between hashtags like Israel or Gaza and Rochdale are otiose. But you’ll make them anyway no doubt.”

There was little sign of life when the Guardian visited his constituency office, a former estate agency on the edge of the city centre, last week. Staff in two neighbouring businesses said they had not seen the MP since his election.

However, Galloway remains very popular with many of Rochdale’s Muslim community, which makes up about 30% of the town’s population.

“He’s a man of his words,” said Valeed Ali, 19, at the Kamran sweet centre last week. “He went to the House of Commons and talked about Palestine as he said he was going to when he was standing for election, so we want to see what he’s going to do next.”

Ali, a business management student, said Galloway was “standing up for the oppressed” while Starmer, he believed, “supports the genocide of Palestine”.

In the Farah clothes store, Farhan Ali, 32, said he had seen Galloway around Rochdale, visiting mosques, and he believed he could be re-elected on 4 July. “He’s very kind … he’s very humble, he’s very honest and he definitely can win the coming elections,” he said. “We all are supporting George Galloway – everyone around me is saying the same thing.”

Galloway has broadcast more than 52 hours of his talkshow in the 100 days since his election. But constituents might see him a little more over the next four weeks.

The veteran campaigner faces an uphill battle to cling on to Rochdale, a seat Labour is desperate to win back.

Yet in a campaign likely to be dominated by Gaza, and influenced by TikTok-friendly viral videos, Starmer’s party would be foolish to underestimate him – as it so often has in the past.