Andy Burnham should replace Sir Keir Starmer if Labour is to have any chance of becoming electable again, George Galloway has said.
Mr Galloway, a former MP who was expelled from Labour and is now running against the party in the forthcoming Batley and Spen by-election, said Sir Keir was a "catatonic, desiccated calculating machine" and Mr Burnham would be a better opposition leader.
The latest research shows Mr Galloway has the support of just six per cent of the Batley and Spen constituency ahead of the vote on July 1, but he insists pollsters have underestimated his backing and points to better odds from bookmakers.
His campaign has centred on the failings of Labour in Batley and Spen, with campaign organisers erecting posters that show Mr Galloway and the slogan "Starmer Out". He claims that if he is elected in the West Yorkshire seat, it will be "curtains" for Sir Keir.
A poster for George Galloway in Batley and Spen
Credit: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Europe
"It’s not that I want the Labour Party to succeed – I regard the Labour Party as jackals in sheep’s clothing," Mr Galloway told The Telegraph in an interview. "I want to tear the sheep’s clothing away, but the country definitely needs somebody, whether it’s Andy Burnham or someone else, that can actually play the role of Her Majesty’s Opposition."
Asked whether he would personally support Mr Burnham for the leadership, Mr Galloway replied: "No, he was a big supporter of the Iraq war. We will oppose him just as resolutely on that and other grounds. But there’s no doubt that Burnham has more electability than Starmer, and just proved it in the mayoral election in Greater Manchester."
Mr Burnham has made no secret of his designs on the Labour leadership, but has said he will not challenge Sir Keir until after the next election. Other frontrunners for the next leadership race include Angela Rayner, Sir Keir’s deputy leader, and Yvette Cooper, a former shadow foreign and shadow home secretary.
Mr Galloway was ejected from the Labour Party under Tony Blair for bringing it into disrepute. A party hearing in 2003 found he had incited troops to defy orders to fight in Iraq, threatened to stand against his own party and backed an anti-war candidate.
He has since been an independent MP for Bradford West, which he won in a by-election in 2012 and lost in the 2015 election.
Mr Galloway denied he had sought to exploit division between white and Asian voters in Batley, and claimed he would have dealt better with the protests over a teacher who showed a cartoon of the Prophet Mohammed in a classroom earlier this year.
"As soon as the horrific events in Paris occurred, I would have been into the Batley and Spen schools to ensure that nothing like that would happen here," he said. "And if it had happened, I would have provided leadership in response – leadership that was abrogated by the local politicians.
"I didn’t cause that problem. I’m not exacerbating it, or fanning it or any other pejorative that might be used."