Labour withdraws support for Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali after Israel claims

Labour had come under serious pressure after the remarks emerged, ITV News Political Correspondent Carl Dinnen reports

Labour has withdrawn its support for Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali after criticism of remarks about Israel, a party spokesperson said.

Mr Ali had apologised after he was recorded suggesting Israel had taken the 7 October Hamas assault as a pretext to invade Gaza.

Despite a backlash against the remarks, which were reported from the meeting of the Lancashire Labour Party by the Mail on Sunday, the party remained supportive of Mr Ali.

But, it has now withdrawn its support, saying new information about further comments had changed the party position.

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “Following new information about further comments made by Azhar Ali coming to light today, the Labour party has withdrawn its support for Azhar Ali as our candidate in the Rochdale by-election.

“Keir Starmer has changed Labour so that it is unrecognisable from the party of 2019.

“We understand that these are highly unusual circumstances but it is vital that any candidate put forward by Labour fully represents its aims and values.

“Given that nominations have now closed Azhar Ali cannot be replaced as the candidate.”

Azhar Ali has apologised for his ‘deeply offensive’ comments about Israel Credit: Peter Byrne/PA

Rishi Sunak said Labour's decision shows Keir Starmer "has no principles at all".

"Keir Starmer has been running around for the last year trying to tell everybody the Labour Party’s changed", the prime minister said in a live, televised "People's Forum" programme on GB News.

"Well, look what just happened in Rochdale, a candidate saying the most vile conspiracy theories, antisemitic, and what happened? He’s stood by and sent cabinet ministers to support him, until literally five minutes before I walked on tonight, under enormous media pressure, has decided to change his mind on principle", Sunak added.

Labour had come under serious pressure after the previous remarks emerged, with the comments condemned by figures inside the party as well as political opponents.

Sir Keir Starmer has sought to move his party on from the Corbyn era, which was overshadowed by controversies over antisemitism.

But the party leadership had been pressed on why Mr Ali had not been immediately suspended after the comments emerged.

Labour recently suspended the MP Kate Osamor after she appeared to say the Gaza war should be remembered as genocide on Holocaust Memorial Day.

It is understood Mr Ali has now been suspended from Labour pending a party investigation.

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The Mail on Sunday reported that Mr Ali told the meeting: “The Egyptians are saying that they warned Israel 10 days earlier … Americans warned them a day before (that) there’s something happening.

“They deliberately took the security off, they allowed…that massacre that gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want.”

Hamas launched an attack on southern Israel on 7 October 2023, in which 1,300 people were killed and more than 240 kidnapped.

Israel retaliated with months of attacks on the Gaza Strip, killing and wounding thousands.

Mr Ali is also reported to have said that Sir Keir Starmer had “lost the confidence” of some of his MPs on the issue.

The by-election, which will be held on 28 February, was triggered by the death of sitting MP Sir Tony Lloyd.

Mr Ali, a Lancashire County councillor and former government adviser who was made an OBE in 2020 for public service.

After the remarks were made public he said: “I apologise unreservedly to the Jewish community for my comments which were deeply offensive, ignorant and false.

“Hamas’s horrific terror attack was the responsibility of Hamas alone, and they are still holding hostages who must be released.

“October 7 was the greatest loss of Jewish life in a single day since the Holocaust, and Jews in the UK and across the world are living in fear of rising antisemitism. I will urgently apologise to Jewish leaders for my inexcusable comments.

“The Labour Party has changed unrecognisably under Keir Starmer’s leadership, he has my full support in delivering the change Britain needs.”

Rochdale by-election: Candidates list

  • Azhar Ali, Labour Party

  • Mark Coleman, Independent

  • Simon Danczuk, Reform UK

  • Iain Donaldson, Liberal Democrats

  • Paul Ellison, Conservative Party

  • George Galloway, Workers Party of Britain

  • Michael Howarth, Independent

  • William Howarth, Independent

  • Guy Otten, Green Party

  • Ravin Subortna, The Official Monster Raving Loony Party

  • David Tully, Independent

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