What next for Labour supporters in Rochdale as party withdraws support for candidate?

Voters in Rochdale are being faced with the bizarre prospect of a by-election in which they cannot back anybody from Labour - while three former candidates sit on the ballot.

The party withdrew its support for candidate Azhar Ali after offensive comments he made about Israel were leaked to the media.

But, Mr Ali will still be listed as the party's candidate on the ballot paper, as the deadline has passed for finding a replacement.

The decision to withdraw support means Rochdale, a Labour stronghold, will not be represented by the party in Westminster, even if Mr Ali is elected.

In an even more unusual twist, two other of the party's former candidates are also on the ballot paper.

Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali has had Labour support withdrawn Credit: Peter Byrne/PA

Why will Azhar Ali still be listed as a Labour candidate on the ballot paper?

Laws around elections mean ballot papers cannot be changed after the candidates are published.

Nominations to run in an election are closed 19 working days before the date of the ballot - and as Mr Ali was confirmed as the Labour candidate on 2 February, the date has passed.

Labour's withdrawal of support was too late to change the ballot paper, and for publication purposes, Mr Ali will remain as the Labour candidate.

Green candidate Guy Otten will also be listed on the voting slip, despite the Green Party withdrawing its support, and him standing down from the election after social media messages surfaced making reference to the Muslim faith and Gaza conflict from 10 years ago.

Professor Jon Tonge, a Professor of Politics at the University of Liverpool, says the decision to withdraw its support by the Labour party may leave many feeling disenfranchised.

"A candidate will still appear on the ballot paper in the Rochdale by-election by the name of Azhar Ali," he said.

"The Labour affiliation will be under his name, but he is not an official Labour candidate, Labour has dropped him unceremoniously.

"Labour could have acted earlier to remove him, but it was too late for this by-election.

"The Labour party goes into this by-election, having won with handsome majorities at recent elections without an official candidate - the voters of Rochdale will not have an official candidate to vote for come by-election day.

"I suspect there will be an awful lot of angry people in Rochdale who feel this is no longer a 'proper by-election', and they have been in effect disenfranchised and they're going to have to find another candidate to vote for, or they are going to stay at home."

Azhar Ali during his campaign launch. Credit: PA Images

Who else is on the ballot paper?

Mr Ali is joined on the ballot paper by former Labour MP for Rochdale Simon Danczuk, standing for Reform UK.

Danczuk was suspended from Labour in 2015 after sending inappropriate messages to a teenager.

Meanwhile political firebrand George Galloway, another former Labour MP, is standing for the Workers Party of Britain with a fiercely anti-Labour and pro-Gaza ceasefire stance.

He is targeting the sizeable Asian and Muslim communities in Rochdale.

Both Mr Danczuk and Mr Galloway will be emboldened by the mess Labour finds itself in and be confident of some voters turning towards them.

Labour's majority of 9,668 will take some overturning though.

Whoever wins will write their name into the next chapter in the town's political history...

What could happen in the by-election?

Loyal Labour voters may well see them squeeze through and win this by-election.

In any case, the party will look to choose a new Rochdale candidate for the general election - expected later this year.

If Azhar Ali wins, he will sit as an independent MP and will not receive the party whip.

Has this happened before?

Professor Tonge says there is no precedent, "this is unheard of where the party that holds the seat drops its candidate after the ballot paper has been printed," he said.

"We are in unchartered territory here.

"It's worth remembering at the last two general elections the Labour attracted more votes than all the other parties put together, so Labour is out of the game on it. It may well be that somebody may well vote for Mr Ali, but he doesn't stand for the Labour Party."

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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