Labour has withdrawn its support for its candidate in Rochdale, Azhar Ali, after he made controversial comments about Israel and its role in the October 7 attack. Mr Ali had apologised for his remarks, which he said were “deeply offensive, ignorant, and false”, but Labour said they were “completely unacceptable” and “incompatible” with the party’s values. The decision comes as Labour leader Keir Starmer faces growing pressure from within his party and the Muslim community over his stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Mr Ali’s comments were made during a meeting of the Lancashire Labour Party on November 14, and were recorded and leaked to the Mail on Sunday. In the recording, Mr Ali can be heard saying that Israel had been warned about the October 7 attack, which killed more than 1,000 Jews in synagogues across the world, but had “deliberately took the security off” to allow it to happen. He also said that Israel had used the attack as a pretext to invade Gaza and commit “massacres” against the Palestinians.
Mr Ali also criticised Mr Starmer’s leadership, saying that he had “lost the confidence of the parliamentary party” and that he was “out of touch” with the grassroots. He said that many Labour MPs, including non-Muslims, felt that Mr Starmer had failed to address the Israel-Palestine issue and to condemn Israel’s actions.
Labour’s Decision: What It Involved and How It Was Announced
Labour’s decision involved withdrawing its support and resources for Mr Ali, who had been selected as the party’s candidate for the Rochdale by-election, which is due to take place on December 16. The decision means that Mr Ali will still appear on the ballot paper as the Labour candidate, but he will not receive any funding or campaigning assistance from the party. Labour also said that it would launch an investigation into Mr Ali’s conduct and consider further disciplinary action.
Labour’s decision was announced on Sunday morning, after the Mail on Sunday published the recording of Mr Ali’s comments. A Labour spokesperson said: “The comments made by Azhar Ali are completely unacceptable and incompatible with Labour’s values. They have no place in our party and we have withdrawn our support for him as a candidate. We apologise unreservedly to the Jewish community for the hurt and distress these comments have caused.”
The Implications: What They Mean and What They Coincide With
The implications of Labour’s decision are manifold and significant, such as:
- It is a rare and drastic move for Labour to drop a candidate so close to an election, and it could damage the party’s chances of retaining the seat, which it won by a narrow margin of 2,500 votes in 2019. Rochdale is a diverse and marginal constituency, with a large Muslim population, and Labour could face a challenge from other parties, such as the Conservatives, the Liberal Democrats, or the Greens.
- It is a reflection of Labour’s zero-tolerance policy on antisemitism, which Mr Starmer has vowed to uphold since he became the party leader in 2020. Mr Starmer has faced criticism from some former Labour members and supporters, who accuse him of being too harsh and unfair on those who express solidarity with the Palestinians or criticise Israel’s policies. Mr Starmer has also faced pressure from Jewish groups and MPs, who urge him to take swift and decisive action against any antisemitic incidents or statements within the party.
- It is a coincidence with the ongoing tensions and violence in the Middle East, which have escalated since the October 7 attack, which was claimed by Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza. Israel has launched a series of airstrikes and ground operations in Gaza, which have killed hundreds of Palestinians and destroyed many buildings and infrastructure. Hamas has fired rockets and missiles at Israel, which have killed dozens of Israelis and damaged many properties and facilities. The international community has called for an immediate and lasting ceasefire, and for a peaceful and just resolution of the conflict.