Labour has withdrawn its support for Azhar Ali, its candidate for this month’s Rochdale byelection, in the wake of controversial comments he made about the 7 October attacks on Israel.
According to election regulations, the Labour party is unable to substitute Ali with a different candidate because the cutoff date was on February 2nd. While he will still appear on the ballot as a Labour candidate, if elected, he will not be bound by the party’s decisions and will serve as an independent Member of Parliament.
According to sources within the Labour party, organizers in Rochdale were instructed to cease distributing leaflets and using social media to support Ali at 5:30pm on Monday, at the direction of party headquarters.
The leaders were pressured by senior members and MPs of the party to ensure that Ali would face consequences if he won the byelection. This was due to his controversial comments made right after the 7 October attacks, which resurfaced during the weekend. In these comments, he insinuated that Israel purposely lowered their security measures despite being warned of a potential threat.
The Labour members and MPs expressed their worry about the leadership’s continued backing of Ali, stating that it was a significant and disappointing change from Starmer’s pledge to adopt a “zero-tolerance” stance towards antisemitism and all types of racism.
The Daily Mail contacted Labour on Monday evening regarding additional comments made by Ali, causing the party to retract its backing.
A source within the Labour party stated that certain members are contemplating backing Simon Danczuk, the ex-Labour MP for Rochdale who was expelled from the party for sending inappropriate messages to a minor.
According to a source, Simon is possibly the most effective strategy for preventing George Galloway, who is running for the Workers party in the byelection, from succeeding. The situation is like being caught between a rock and a hard place.
Danczuk, a candidate for the Reform party, stated that Labour should remove posters and discard leaflets endorsing Ali. Additionally, they should instruct their supporters to cease campaigning for him.
Keir Starmer’s leadership of the Labour party has involved actively advocating for an individual with anti-Semitic beliefs,” he stated. “The party must fully distance itself from this candidate. If the party appears to be silently endorsing him, it will be a shameful situation.”
Danczuk has shifted his focus to preventing Galloway from winning. He stated, “My goal is to inform the voters that they do not want an MP who puts Palestine before Rochdale. If I am elected, my top priority will be Rochdale.”
Galloway, who is concentrating on Rochdale’s sizeable Pakistani and Kashmiri Muslim community for votes, is expected to benefit from the row, with some local activists saying that Ali’s suspension makes him favourite to win on 29 February.
The experienced activist, who has served as a Member of Parliament for both the Respect and Labour parties, is asking for voters’ support in bringing attention to the struggles faced by the people of Gaza by electing him.
Some in the Jewish community would be horrified at the possibility of him returning to parliament. In 2014, he publicly advocated for Bradford to be free of any connections to Israel.
After a recording of Ali was released to the Mail on Sunday, he issued an apology for his comments. In the recording, he can be heard saying that the Egyptians claimed to have warned Israel 10 days before, and the Americans warned them one day before, about a potential event. He also stated that the deliberate removal of security allowed for a massacre to occur, giving Israel the freedom to act as they pleased.
Lisa Nandy, the opposition’s spokesperson for international development, and Anneliese Dodds, the opposition’s spokesperson for women and equalities, were canvassing for Ali in the district over the weekend.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow minister, stated on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that he thinks Ali was influenced by an online conspiracy theory and that he acknowledges the severity of the offense that has been committed.
A member of the leadership team stated: “This response arrived too delayed. The ongoing backing from our leaders may still result in a flood of others thinking they can evade consequences for antisemitic actions, simply by taking a photo with a banner advocating an end to antisemitism.”
A fellow member of Parliament, who holds a high-ranking position, stated: “The statements made by him were beyond the level of what is considered acceptable and, if he were a member of the Labour party, would require the removal of his privileges based on past instances.”
Ali has been suspended from the Labour party while an investigation takes place.
Ali was quoted in a recent Daily Mail article, stating that individuals in the media who identify as Jewish were causing trouble for Andy McDonald. McDonald, a member of Labour, was suspended for using the phrase “between the river and the sea” during a rally.
The article also reported that the former Labour nominee alleged that Israel had intentions to forcibly remove Palestinians from Gaza and seize land. It is believed that he made these statements during the same meeting as the original report.
“After receiving additional information regarding Azhar Ali’s recent comments, the Labour party has revoked our endorsement of him as a candidate in the upcoming Rochdale byelection,” stated a representative for the Labour party.
“Labour under Keir Starmer has undergone significant changes, making it virtually unrecognizable from its 2019 state. While we acknowledge the extraordinary circumstances, it is crucial that any candidate chosen by Labour accurately embodies the party’s principles and goals. As the nomination period has ended, Azhar Ali cannot be substituted as the candidate.”
During an interview with GB News, Rishi Sunak directly mentioned the scandal and accused Starmer of supporting the politician and lacking any principles.
During a one-hour Q&A session with a live audience, he stated, “The Labour party has not undergone any changes. It is a deception.”
The Campaign Against Antisemitism’s spokesperson stated that Sir Keir Starmer’s actions have tarnished his otherwise commendable reputation and raised doubts about his commitment to eradicating antisemitism within the Labour party.
Individuals must determine if the newly disclosed statements from Azhar Ali are truly more severe than the previously reported comments.
Instead of being seen as a principled choice, Labour’s decision to withdraw support for their candidate at this late stage seems more like a convenient move, similar to their unsuccessful attempt at defending him. This situation is the worst possible outcome for Labour.
In the previous year, Martin Forde KC, the senior attorney chosen by Starmer to examine the Labour party’s culture, expressed disapproval towards the leadership for promising a “zero-tolerance” stance towards antisemitism and other forms of racism without implementing clear procedures.
Forde stated that there should be a separate governing body to manage Labour’s disciplinary procedures, but this suggestion was ultimately dismissed. He believes that the issue of factionalism has arisen due to the belief that certain groups receive preferential treatment.
Activists in Rochdale have told of their shock at Ali’s remarks, saying he was known for being an ally and supportive of rooting out antisemitism from the party. They believe this is why the leadership had treated him with sympathy.
In January, Kate Osamor, a member of the Labour Party, was temporarily removed from her position for stating that Gaza should be recognized as a genocide on Holocaust Memorial Day. Similarly, in October, McDonald was stripped of her political privileges after expressing her support for Palestine at a rally and advocating for justice and peace for both Israelis and Palestinians in the region between the river and the sea.