Advertisement

Labour Rochdale by-election crisis live: Third politician spoken to over meeting that sparked antisemitism row

A third Labour politician has been spoken to during the party’s investigation into the meeting in Rochdale at which by-election candidate Azhar Ali was recorded making antisemitic remarks.

There is no suggestion that Hyndburn councillor Munsif Dad, who leads the local authority’s Labour group, made inappropriate comments at the meeting and no further action has been taken, it is understood.

It comes as Sir Keir Starmer faces questions over his party’s “shambolic” U-turn on withdrawing support for Mr Ali, who was initially backed by the party for his swift apology and retraction of claims that Israel had allowed the 7 October Hamas attack as a pretext to invade Gaza.

But in a dramatic climbdown on Monday night, the party said its support for him had been withdrawn following “new information about further comments”, and he was suspended from the party pending an investigation.

The Guido Fawkes website then published another recording in which Hyndburn candidate Graham Jones referred to “f***ing Israel” and said Britons who fight for the Israel Defence Forces should be locked up”. He was swiftly suspended pending investigation.

Key Points

  • Third Labour politician spoken to as party probes Rochdale meeting

  • Labour suspends second candidate over Israel remarks

  • Starmer breaks his silence over withdrawn support for by-election candidate Azhar Ali

  • Labour axes support for Rochdale candidate over ‘new Israel comments'

  • Sunak accuses Starmer of having ‘no principles at all’ over prospective MP

18:13 , Andy Gregory

We’re pausing the blog for this evening, thanks for following here – my colleagues will be back with more live updates tomorrow.

You can click here to read our latest political reports, or simply keep scrolling to catch up on the days events as we reported them:

Opinion | Rochdale is a disaster for Labour – but the Conservatives are in trouble, too

21:00 , Andy Gregory

In his latest column, our associate editor Sean O’Grady notes that “the people of Rochdale obviously deserve better than the current chaos over their next member of parliament, however short that term of office may turn out to be”. He writes:

More than half of those who voted in 2019, hardly a vintage year for Labour, chose the now-late Tony Lloyd, a distinguished public servant. Yet the party has somehow contrived to provide the electorate with a disgraced and disowned replacement whose name will still appear on the ballot paper.

Less well reported is how a similar fate has befallen Rochdale’s Green candidate, who is no longer campaigning or being backed by his erstwhile party after making “regrettable” social media posts “a number of years ago”. It’s a circus, and the most chaotic of elections in years.

The constituency has the additional and very special misfortune of having George Galloway wandering its streets stirring up trouble. Locals could opt for Simon Danczuk, their former Labour MP now running for Nigel Farage’s Reform UK, but Danczuk has a somewhat troubled history himself. Of course, they could vote Liberal Democrat, but the once-powerful movement in the area has suffered greatly from the now disgraced reputation of its famous leader, the late Cyril Smith MP. As I say, it’s a circus.

Somewhat lost in all this is the rather salient fact that the last party anyone seems to want to vote for in Rochdale is the Conservatives. The Tories should be making hay – but they’re never mentioned.

Rochdale is a disaster for Labour – but the Conservatives are in trouble, too

Who is Helen Harrison?

19:30 , Albert Toth

The Conservatives have three challenging by-elections to contest in February, with the Northamptonshire seat of Wellingborough looming large in the public eye.

Up for grabs after the departure of disgraced former MP Peter Bone, the local Conservative Party have selected his partner – Helen Harrison – as his replacement candidate.

Wellingborough’s former MP Peter Bone was suspended from Parliament for six weeks last year, following a watchdog report into his behaviour. The independent panel found he had bullied and indecently exposed himself to a member of staff, allegations which he continues to deny.

Ms Harrison has stood by her partner, telling the BBC that she believes the panel “got it wrong”. The former physiotherapist insists she is “proud” to have Mr Bone on the campaign trail with her, and that voters have not been raising the issue on the doorstep.

Read more below:

Who is Helen Harrison? Peter Bone’s partner standing in Wellingborough by-election

Labour on course for unprecedented majority, vast new poll suggests

17:50 , Andy Gregory

Amid a tumultous week, Sir Keir Starmer will be buoyed slightly by new polling which suggests the Conservatives could be left with just 80 MPs – while Labour win an even larger victory than Tony Blair in 1997.

MRP polling of 18,151 people conducted over the past three weeks by Find Out Now and Electoral Calculus suggests the Conservatives could lose three-quarters of their seats, leaving Sir Keir’s party with an unprecedented majority of 254, according to the Daily Mirror.

Tory casualties under such circumstances would include Jeremy Hunt, Grant Shapps and Penny Mordaunt, the pollsters found, with the Lib Dems picking up 53 seats, and Reform securing none, despite winning 10 per cent of the overall vote.

However, the research took place between January 24 and February 12 – largely prior to Labour’s current woes in Rochdale.

John Rentoul | The good ship Labour has sprung a leak – is there mutiny aboard?

17:01 , Andy Gregory

In his latest column, our chief political commentator John Rentoul writes:

Sue Gray, the former civil servant poached by Keir Starmer to be his chief of staff, was supposed to bring some of the discipline of running an actual government to Labour’s preparations for power.

But she has imported one of the more pointless rituals of government to the opposition: the leak inquiry. The Times reports that she interrogated Labour staff over the leak to The Guardian of the plan to ditch the £28bn-a-year green investment plan – and that some officials were left “in tears” by her alleged heavy-handedness.

It seems that the Labour Party is feeling the pressure of being a government in waiting. Not only is it springing leaks – and this is not the first inquiry that Starmer has ordered – but shadow cabinet members seem to be struggling to maintain public unity, while a second parliamentary candidate has been suspended and the party has taken fright at two opinion polls showing reduced Labour leads.

The good ship Labour has sprung a leak – is there mutiny aboard? | John Rentoul

Video report: Sadiq Khan reacts to 'deeply upsetting' fake AI audio of him condemning Armistice Day

15:59 , Andy Gregory

David Cameron warns against repeat of ‘weakness displayed against Hitler in the 1930s’ toward Russia

15:09 , Zoe Grunewald, Political Correspondent

In other political news, the foreign secretary has called on the west to stand up against Russian president Vladmir Putin and “support Ukraine in fighting against completely unjustified aggression.”

Writing in Washington’s publication The Hill, Lord Cameron called on Congress to pass the funding package for Ukraine, which will provide further military assistance to the region.

Invoking the crisis of world war two, Lord Cameron wrote: “I do not want us to show the weakness displayed against Hitler in the 1930s. He came back for more, costing us far more lives to stop his aggression.”

He said: “I want us all — US, UK, European and other allies — to support Ukraine in fighting against completely unjustified aggression. It is hard to think of a clearer case of one country being invaded by another without the slightest justification.”

George Galloway: The political firebrand aiming for victory in the Rochdale by-election

14:47 , Andy Gregory

The suspension of Labour’s Rochdale by-election candidate has opened the door to a controversial possibility, George Galloway’s return to parliament.

It means Labour’s 10,000 majority in the late Sir Tony Lloyd’s seat is in peril, and a return for Mr Galloway is increasingly on the cards.

The political firebrand is standing for the Workers Party of Britain in opposition to Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s position on the war in Gaza.

Our political correspondent Archie Mitchell takes a look at the candidate’s history and political aims here:

George Galloway: The political firebrand aiming for victory in Rochdale by-election

Labour controversy leaves result in Rochdale by-election hugely uncertain

13:33 , Andy Gregory

Voters go to the polls in the Rochdale by-election at the end of the month, with the result now hugely uncertain following the Labour decision to drop support for Mr Ali.

Also running in the constituency are former Labour MP Simon Danczuk, now the Reform Party candidate, and George Galloway, of the Workers Party of Britain, who is campaigning against Labour’s stance on Gaza.

If elected, Mr Ali will sit as an independent MP and will not receive the party whip.

The decision means that Labour will also need to find a new candidate to contest the seat at the upcoming general election.

Report highlights past comments by Labour frontbenchers criticising Israel

13:13 , Zoe Grunewald

The Telegraph is now highlighting other comments about Israel made by Labour MPs over the last few years, including two shadow front-benchers, Thangham Debbonaire and Shabana Mahmood.

Ms Debbonaire is reported to have said in 2015 that selling arms to Israel was a “grave concern” and accused the Jewish state of violating international law, whilst Ms Mahmood, the shadow justice secretary, urged thousands of people to “boycott Israeli goods” and bombard their MPs at their constituency surgeries back in 2014.

The Labour party has been approached for comment.

Labour pledges to investigate antisemitism allegations as row deepens

12:52 , Andy Gregory

The shadow defence secretary has said Labour will “follow the hard evidence” to ensure anyone who does not meet the standards of the party will be investigated.

John Healey today urged anyone else at the meeting in Rochdale who witnessed antisemitism or unacceptable comments to report it to the party.

Our political correspondent Zoe Grunewald has the full report:

Shadow minister says Labour will investigate allegations as antisemitism row deepens

Dozens of protesters descend on Tory MP’s home accusing him of being ‘complicit in genocide’

12:26 , Andy Gregory

Pro-Palestine protesters have targeted a Conservative MP’s family home, accusing him of being “complicit in genocide”, my colleague Lucy Leeson reports.

Around 80 activists gathered outside Tobias Ellwood’s home in Dorset on Monday, holding flags, placards, and a megaphone, remaining there for several hours, with police called to the scene.

No suggestion of wrongdoing by Labour councillor spoken to about Rochdale meeting

11:40 , Andy Gregory

It is understood there is no suggestion of wrongdoing by Hyndburn councillor Munsif Dad, who leads the local authority’s Labour group, after he was spoken to by party officials investigating the Rochdale meeting.

Mr Dad is understood to have been spoken to as part of the information-gathering process into who was in attendance at the meeting.

Third Labour politician ‘spoken to’ over Rochdale meeting

11:02 , Andy Gregory

A third politician in Rochdale believed to have attended the Rochdale meeting at which Azhar Ali’s controversial comments were recorded has been “spoken to” by Labour officials, Sky News reports.

It is not clear whether Hyndburn councillor Munsif Dad, who leads the local authority's Labour group, made any contribution to the meeting and no further action has been taken, according to the broadcaster.

The Independent is approaching the party for more information.

Shapps claims antisemitism remains ‘a cancer in the Labour Party’

10:16 , Andy Gregory

The Tories have seized upon on the crisis hitting Sir Keir Starmer’s Labour, saying it showed the party had not really changed and there was still the “cancer” of antisemitism at its heart.

Defence secretary Grant Shapps told the Daily Telegraph: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that racism against Jewish people remains a cancer in the Labour Party. Keir Starmer is only acting now out of political expediency because he has been under media pressure, not out of principle. That’s weak leadership.”

Labour think-tank boss apologises for saying smuggling gangs should be shipped to Scotland

09:58 , Andy Gregory

The director of an influential Labour think-tank has apologised after suggesting the government should put people-smugglers on a barge and ship it to the north of Scotland.

Fuelling tensions just days ahead of Scottish Labour’s annual conference, Josh Simons apologised for his “poorly judged comment made in jest” – which was denounced as “stupid” and “cringe” by Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar.

Speaking to LBC on Monday, Mr Simons – whose group Labour Together has close links to Sir Keir Starmer’s top team – said his main concern with Rishi Sunak’s ailing policy of sending asylum-seekers to Rwanda “is not actually the human rights implications of it”.

“My problem with Rwanda is it won’t work, so the question is what are you going to do instead? ... Why don’t you send the smuggler gangs and put them on the barge that has been set aside for the asylum seekers, and then ship the barge up to the north of Scotland for all I – you know, who cares?”

Labour MP hopeful apologises for saying smuggling gangs should be shipped to Scotland

Jewish Labour Movement chair says party has ‘gone through transformation – but not finest hour'

09:45 , Andy Gregory

Mike Katz, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, has said he would like any party members at the Rochdale meeting to be suspended if they failed to call out the language used.

But he also defended the progress made by the Labour leadership to tackle antisemitism, while admitting it had not been the party’s “finest hour”.

Mr Katz told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The idea that somehow we are still in the kind of the bad days of the Corbyn leadership is really ludicrous.

“We have gone through a transformation, the difference is like night and day in the way that we are treated as an organisation, the way that our members are treated.

“This has not been the party’s finest hour. We have huge lessons to learn, but the direction of travel is very much upwards. It’s very much in the right direction.”

Labour will investigate any member at Rochdale meeting who didn’t meet party’s ‘standards’ – John Healey

09:25 , Zoe Grunewald, Political Correspondent

Labour’s John Healey has said the Labour party will “follow the hard evidence” and ensure that anyone who did not meet the “standards” of the party during the Lancashire Labour meeting where by-election candidate Ali Azhar was found to have made antisemitic comments will be investigated.

He said: “Anyone at that meeting, if there is evidence that they have, that people acted or spoke in a way that doesn’t meet the standards, or is incompatible with the values of our Labour Party, they need to report it, provide it and the Labour Party will take it seriously and investigate it.

The party’s shadow defence secretary added: “It’s what we do with every case.”

Safeguarding minister says any discrimination ‘inconsistent with holding any kind of public office'

09:00 , Sam Rkaina

Safeguarding minister Laura Farris was pressed on whether the Tories also needed to ensure everything is “in order” with its own parliamentary candidates, amid the Rochdale row facing Labour.

The junior minister said: “Any discrimination by somebody who’s either a public official or seeking elected office is completely, completely untenable.

“And it’s completely inconsistent with holding any kind of public office. So if it occurs in our ranks, then yes, absolutely,” she told Sky News.

“But it is reasonable to look at what’s happened with the candidate in Rochdale and with the parliamentary candidate in Hyndburn. There were very strong views on Israel and Gaza, I can see that. But they were saying far more than that.”

Azhar Ali ‘was widely respected'

08:41 , Sam Rkaina

Pushed on whether there are flaws in candidate vetting, Mr Healey said: “Azhar Ali was widely respected, widely supported across communities, including the Jewish community in the North West, and there certainly are strong checks, the due diligence process as part of selecting Labour candidates.

“But you can’t see everything everywhere.

“What’s important is that if new information comes to light, as in this case, we will act to investigate, we will act to block those who are not fit to serve as MPs.”

Shadow defence secretary says Labour will take complaints seriously

08:39 , Sam Rkaina

Labour’s John Healey was pressed on calls for any party member at the Rochdale meeting, who failed to act on the inflammatory comments, should be suspended.

The shadow defence secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We will follow the hard evidence that’s presented to us or that comes to light.”

He said: “Anyone at that meeting, if there is evidence that they have, that people acted or spoke in a way that doesn’t meet the standards, or is incompatible with the values of our Labour Party, they need to report it, provide it and the Labour Party will take it seriously and investigate it.

“It’s what we do with every case.”

Starmer engulfed in second Labour antisemitism row after Rochdale by-election furore

06:00 , Joe Middleton

Sir Keir Starmer is at the centre of a second antisemitism storm after Labour was forced to suspend a would-be MP just 24 hours after it ditched its candidate in the Rochdale by-election.

The party acted after Graham Jones, the prospective Labour MP for Hyndburn, appeared to say that Britons who volunteer to fight for the Israel Defense Forces “should be locked up”.

His taped comments, in which he also referred to “f***ing Israel”, were reportedly made in a rant to Labour’s former candidate in Rochdale, Azhar Ali, at a now infamous meeting at which Mr Ali claimed that Israel had “allowed” last October’s Hamas terror attacks to take place so that it could use them as a pretext to attack Gaza.

Starmer engulfed in second Labour antisemitism row after Rochdale by-election furore

ICYMI: Keir Starmer says he took 'tough' and 'decisive' action to suspend Azhar Ali

05:00 , Joe Middleton

Labour’s Rochdale by-election row part of antisemitism ‘tornado’ in UK, expert warns

04:00 , Joe Middleton

Britain is facing a “tornado” of anti-Jewish racism working its way through the country, the government’s antisemitism tsar has warned.

John Mann, the government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, has called on political leaders from all parties to “get their collective acts together to sort this out”.

The ex-Labour MP’s dramatic intervention comes amid the latest antisemitism scandal engulfing Labour, after Sir Keir Starmer dropped the party’s Rochdale by-election candidate over comments he made about Israel.

Lord Mann told LBC that it was “hardly a surprise” Labour had been forced to pull its support for Azhar Ali, who was recorded saying Israel had allowed the October 7 Hamas attack to take place in order to invade Gaza.

Antisemitism tsar warns of ‘tornado’ of anti-Jewish racism in UK

Who cares if we pay for Matt Hancock’s Jag? We do (…but not as much as him)

03:00 , Joe Middleton

He’s been the ‘former’ health secretary since 2021, but still he was ferried to the Covid Inquiry in a taxpayer-funded limo. It’s a reminder how keen they all are to hang on to their perks until they get their P45s, says James Moore

Who cares if we pay for Matt Hancock’s Jag? We do (…but not as much as him)

It is difficult to imagine anything good emerging from the wreckage of the Rochdale by-election

02:00 , Joe Middleton

Editorial: Vague promises of ‘levelling up’ gone nowhere, grooming gangs, and now antisemitism – Rochdale deserves better than this

Editorial: Can any good emerge from the wreckage of the Rochdale by-election?

ICYMI: Thousands of pro-Palestine protesters rally outside Downing Street

01:00 , Joe Middleton

Labour’s Rochdale by-election row part of antisemitism ‘tornado’ in UK, expert warns

Tuesday 13 February 2024 23:59 , Joe Middleton

Britain is facing a “tornado” of anti-Jewish racism working its way through the country, the government’s antisemitism tsar has warned.

John Mann, the government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, has called on political leaders from all parties to “get their collective acts together to sort this out”.

The ex-Labour MP’s dramatic intervention comes amid the latest antisemitism scandal engulfing Labour, after Sir Keir Starmer dropped the party’s Rochdale by-election candidate over comments he made about Israel.

Antisemitism tsar warns of ‘tornado’ of anti-Jewish racism in UK

Furious Briton rants at Rishi Sunak for more than one minute over Covid vaccine

Tuesday 13 February 2024 23:14 , Joe Middleton

Starmer engulfed in second Labour antisemitism row after Rochdale by-election furore

Tuesday 13 February 2024 21:05 , Joe Middleton

Sir Keir Starmer is at the centre of a second antisemitism storm after Labour was forced to suspend a would-be MP just 24 hours after it ditched its candidate in the Rochdale by-election.

The party acted after Graham Jones, the prospective Labour MP for Hyndburn, appeared to say that Britons who volunteer to fight for the Israel Defense Forces “should be locked up”.

His taped comments, in which he also referred to “f***ing Israel”, were reportedly made in a rant to Labour’s former candidate in Rochdale, Azhar Ali, at a now infamous meeting at which Mr Ali claimed that Israel had “allowed” last October’s Hamas terror attacks to take place so that it could use them as a pretext to attack Gaza.

Starmer engulfed in second Labour antisemitism row after Rochdale by-election furore

Government ‘looking closely’ at bringing injured Gazan children to UK for treatment

Tuesday 13 February 2024 18:00 , Matt Mathers

Lord Cameron said the Government is “looking closely” at the possibility of bringing children injured in Gaza to the UK for medical care.

He said: “This is Project Pure Hope, we are looking very closely at this – is it possible to take the people in greatest need and take them to British hospitals, as we have done in the past?

“The early work we’ve done is to say that there’s much we can do in the region and we should probably do that first, so helping in the field hospitals that have been established, helping to send medical teams to referral hospitals that are being used in the region supporting organisations like medical aid for Palestinians

“Now if that leads to the identification of specific cases where actually they would be better off taking that long journey back to Britain and going to Great Ormond Street Hospital, then we certainly don’t rule that out and continue to look at it.”

Breaking: Labour suspends second candidate over Israel remarks

Tuesday 13 February 2024 18:00 , Andy Gregory

Keir Starmer is at the centre of a second antisemitism storm after Labour was forced to suspend a would-be MP just 24 hours after it ditched its candidate in the Rochdale by-election.

The party acted on Tuesday after Graham Jones, the prospective Labour MP for Hyndburn, said Britons who volunteer to fight for the Israeli Defence Force “should be locked up”.

His taped comments, in which he also referred to “f**king Israel”, were reportedly made in a rant to Azhar Ali at a now infamous meeting in which Mr Ali claimed Israel “allowed” the Hamas terror attack as an excuse to attack Gaza.

Jewish Labour Movement, one of the oldest societies affiliated to the party, demanded an investigation and said the party should stand Jones down as a candidate.

My colleagues Kate Devlin and Archie Mitchell have more in this report:

‘Shambolic’ Labour delay in withdrawing support for Rochdale candidate

ICYMI: Sunak insists views on issues facing trans people ‘not controversial’

Tuesday 13 February 2024 17:30 , Matt Mathers

Sunak insists views on issues facing trans people ‘not controversial’

Watch: Israel should ‘stop and think very seriously’ before further action in Rafah, says David Cameron

Tuesday 13 February 2024 17:00 , Matt Mathers

Israel should ‘think very seriously’ before Rafah action, says David Cameron

Labour MP: Azhar Ali scandal ‘embarrassing’ for party

Tuesday 13 February 2024 16:20 , Matt Mathers

A Labour MP has said the scandal surrounding former Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali is “embarrassing” for the party.

But Steve McCabe insisted Sir Keir Starmer had not blundered his handling of Mr Ali’s anti-Israel comments.

Mr McCabe told GB News: “It’s obviously difficult and embarrassing for the Labour Party. But I mean I think when you are confronted with a situation like this, you don’t have a choice and you have to do what you believe to be right.

“I’ve been involved in times where allegations have been made about candidates.

Sometimes you have to weigh up. You know, you have to ask how important it is, what else is influencing it? I think the issue is that conditionally people were prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt that he said his apology in good faith.

“But I think with the further revelations it was too late and that was just the end of it in the end.”

David Cameron: UK will continue to challenge Israel’s bombing of Gaza

Tuesday 13 February 2024 15:52 , Matt Mathers

The UK will continue to challenge Israel over its actions in Gaza, as it judges “whether they are compliant with international humanitarian law”, Lord Cameron has said.

] Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle, the Green Party peer, had asked the foreign secretary about the UK’s actions to protect children in Gaza, and suggested it was “time to stop all arms shipments to Israel” as well as “implement targeted sanctions against members of the Israeli leadership, particularly those calling for new settlements in Gaza and on the West Bank”.

Lord Cameron replied: “We want to see an end to the suffering, an end to this killing. Let me just make this point that the pause we are calling for, we want to turn into a ceasefire by making sure the conditions are right for getting a stop in the fighting to mean a permanent ceasefire.

“The way you do that is by fulfilling a number of conditions. You have got to get in our view the Hamas leaders out of Gaza, otherwise any ceasefire won’t last because the problem will still be there.

“You have got to dismantle the operation of terrorist attacks, you have got to have a new Palestinian Authority government in place, you have got to give the Palestinian people a political horizon to a better future and a two-state solution, and crucially you have got to release all of the hostages and do that very quickly.

“She asked if we challenge the Israel government over individual episodes, yes we absolutely do. I have done that personally with them over for instance a building that was bombed that had UK medics and other charities in, and we will continue to do that as part of the very important process that we go through to judge whether they are compliant with international humanitarian law.”

File phot: David Cameron with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister (EPA)
File phot: David Cameron with Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s prime minister (EPA)

Revealed: Leaked audio of Labour Rochdale candidate Azhar Ali’s anti-Israel comments

Tuesday 13 February 2024 15:29 , Matt Mathers

Labour’s former Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali said Benjamin Netenyahu allowed the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel because he was “in political trouble”.

In the first audio recording of his controversial comments to be made public, the local councillor said the Israeli prime minister “deliberately took the security off” and “allowed the massacre”.

Full report:

Revealed: Leaked audio of Labour Rochdale candidate Azhar Ali’s anti-Israel comments

Watch: Keir Starmer says he took 'tough' and 'decisive' action to suspend Azhar Ali

Tuesday 13 February 2024 15:04 , Matt Mathers

In full: Starmer says he took tough action against Rochdale candidate

Tuesday 13 February 2024 14:29 , Matt Mathers

Keir Starmer has insisted he took “decisive” action after Labour was accused of a “shambolic” delay in withdrawing support for a candidate who claimed Israel had “allowed” the Hamas attack that killed 1,200 people.

In his first public comments since the row erupted on Sunday, the Labour leader also denied he would have dumped the would-be MP sooner if he had been on the left of his party.

Full report:

Starmer says he took tough action on Rochdale candidate after ‘shambolic’ delay

Why couldn’t Labour replace Azhar Ali and what happens if he wins?

Tuesday 13 February 2024 14:13 , Matt Mathers

According to Electoral Commission rules, a candidate can only withdraw from a UK parliament constituency election 19 days before voting takes place.

The Rochdale byelection Azhar Ali is standing in will take place on 29 February, meaning it was too late for him to be removed.

Therefore, he will appear as a Labour candidate on the ballot paper when voters head to the polls to choose their next MP.

However, Labour has withdrawn all support for Mr Ali and suspended him and the party will not campaign for the leader of Lancashire County Council over the next two weeks.

If Mr Ali wins the byelection then he will sit in the House of Commons as an independent MP. Labour will likely choose a different candidate to fight the next general election.

Full report:

What happens after Labour candidate loses support and what does it mean for Starmer?

Starmer: Any allegations against other Labour councillors present at meeting will be investigated

Tuesday 13 February 2024 13:52 , Matt Mathers

Keir Starmer also said any allegations against other Labour councillors present at the event at which Mr Ali made his widely condemned remarks would be “fully investigated by the party”.

Labour’s decision will add considerable uncertainty to the outcome of the by-election when voters go to the polls at the end of the month.

Also running in Rochdale are former Labour MP Simon Danczuk, now the Reform Party candidate, and George Galloway, of the Workers Party of Britain, who is campaigning against Labour’s stance on Gaza.

About 20% of the electorate and 30 per cent of the population of the town are Asian, with polls nationally suggesting Labour’s vote could be hit by Asian people unhappy with the party over Palestine and its perceived support for Israel.

Keir Starmer on a visit to Rushden (Getty Images)
Keir Starmer on a visit to Rushden (Getty Images)

Starmer denies factionalism played role in Ali case

Tuesday 13 February 2024 13:47 , Matt Mathers

Sir Keir on Tuesday denied that factionalism played a role in the handling of complaints or allegations of antisemitism.

“I set out four years ago to tear antisemitism out of the Labour Party,” he told broadcasters. “It’s the first thing I said I’d do as Labour leader, and to change our party.

“I have taken a series of decisions along those lines, ruthlessly changing our party, and it’s made no difference to me where somebody stands in the Labour Party.

“The change I’ve brought about is a Labour Party that is now back in the service of working people.”

Labour withdraws backing for Rochdale byelection candidate amid ‘new Israel remarks’ - recap

Tuesday 13 February 2024 13:35 , Matt Mathers

Sir Keir Starmer is under fire after pulling his support for Labour’s Rochdale by-election candidate over a series of remarks he made about Israel.

The Labour leader backed Azhar Ali to contest the by-election despite him having been recorded suggesting that Israel had allowed the allowed the 7 October Hamas attack to take place in order to invade Gaza.

Full report:

Rochdale by-election: Labour withdraws candidate backing amid ‘new Israel remarks’

Breaking: Starmer says he took ‘tough’ and ‘decisive’ action to withdraw support

Tuesday 13 February 2024 13:24 , Matt Mathers

Sir Keir Starmer said he took “tough” and “decisive” action to withdraw support for Labour’s Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali over his Israel remarks, insisting the party has “changed” under his leadership.

Speaking to broadcasters on a visit to Wellingborough on Tuesday, the Labour leader said: “Certain information came to light over the weekend in relation to the candidate. There was a fulsome apology.

“Further information came to light yesterday calling for decisive action, so I took decisive action.

“It is a huge thing to withdraw support for a Labour candidate during the course of a by-election.

“It’s a tough decision, a necessary decision, but when I say the Labour Party has changed under my leadership I mean it.”

His shambolic U-turn over the Rochdale candidate is Starmer’s biggest blunder yet

Tuesday 13 February 2024 13:20 , Matt Mathers

The time it took the Labour leader to drop his would-be MP for sharing antisemitic conspiracy theories suggests he’ll find the speed and pressure of making calls at No10 a worrying challenge, writes John Rentoul.

Read John’s piece in full here:

His shambolic U-turn over Rochdale is Starmer’s biggest blunder yet | John Rentoul

Rishi’s found his happy place: unhappily, it’s on GB News

Tuesday 13 February 2024 13:00 , Matt Mathers

Joe Murphy tunes into the one place a robotic, out-of-touch PM with an approval rating of minus 48 can look vaguely competent – the ‘undecided voter’ Q&A on a right-wing TV station where Mondeo Man has been replaced by Mogadon Man.

Read Joe’s piece in full here:

His shambolic U-turn over Rochdale is Starmer’s biggest blunder yet | John Rentoul

William Hague: ‘Keir makes so many u-turns he is going round in circles'

Tuesday 13 February 2024 12:45 , Matt Mathers

Sir Keir Starmer makes so many U-turns that he is “going round in circles”, former Tory leader William Hague has said, Archie Mitchell reports.

Lord Hague slammed the Labour leader over his handling of Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali’s antisemitic remarks.

“It’s yet another U-turn. Like last week, Keir Starmer’s got so many U-turns, he’s really going around in circles,” the Tory peer told Times Radio.

He added: “This is a pretty spectacular case of it, though, because, on multiple levels of the Labour Party, they have made a mess of it.”

“It’s the embarrassment for them of having selected a person like this in the first place who believes in crazy conspiracy theories and is clearly out of touch with reality,” Lord Hague added.

Lord William Hague
Lord William Hague

David Cameron to meet Chinese counterpart this weekend - report

Tuesday 13 February 2024 12:24 , Matt Mathers

David Cameron will reportedly meet with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi this weekend at the Munich security conference.

It would be his first meeting with a Chinese minister since he was appointed foreign secretary in November last year.

The Foreign Office has pencilled in a meeting between the pair, two government sources told The Guardian.

The former prime minister has come under fresh scrutiny about his links to China since taking up a second in the House of Lords to join the government.

Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said Donald Trump’s remarks regarding Nato were ‘not a sensible approach’ (Dan Kitwood/PA) (PA Wire)
Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said Donald Trump’s remarks regarding Nato were ‘not a sensible approach’ (Dan Kitwood/PA) (PA Wire)

Labour’s Rochdale by-election row part of antisemitism ‘tornado’ in UK, expert warns

Tuesday 13 February 2024 12:15 , Matt Mathers

Britain is facing a “tornado” of anti-Jewish racism working its way through the country, the government’s antisemitism tsar has warned.

John Mann, the government’s independent adviser on antisemitism, has called on political leaders from all parties to “get their collective acts together to sort this out”.

Full report:

Antisemitism tsar warns of ‘tornado’ of anti-Jewish racism in UK

Tory MP failed to declare wife’s BP shares during oil and gas debates

Tuesday 13 February 2024 12:00 , Matt Mathers

A Tory MP failed to declare his wife’s £50,000 shareholding in BP while speaking in debates about windfall taxes on the oil and gas industry, parliament’s standards watchdog has found, Archie Mitchell reports.

The parliamentary commissioner for standards said there were three debates last year in which David Duguid should have declared the £50,000 shareholding.

It came after The Guardian reported Mr Duguid, who worked for BP for a decade, had transferred his shares into his wife’s name five years before becoming an MP.

Standards commissioner Daniel Greenberg said that in the three debates, the shareholding “might reasonably be thought by others to influence [his] words or actions as a member”.

Mr Duguid said he did not believe “anything I could have, let alone actually, said or did as a member of parliament could have had any bearing on the BP share price”.

The MP for Banff and Buchan acknowledged the breach, apologised and agreed to attend training on the rules.

 (UK parliament)
(UK parliament)

Housebuilding plans are not about a ‘numbers game,’ minister insists

Tuesday 13 February 2024 11:47 , Matt Mathers

A government minister has refused to say how many new homes it hopes will be built under new plans aimed at expanding the use of brownfield sites.

Lee Rowley insisted he would not get into a “numbers game” when asked what the target was for further developments under the proposals.

Full report:

Housebuilding plans are not about a ‘numbers game,’ minister says

Labour lead up 2% - poll

Tuesday 13 February 2024 11:30 , Matt Mathers

Labour has increased its lead over the Conservatives by two percentage points, according to a poll.

A Deltapoll survey has the opposition on 45 per cent (+2) with the governing party on 27 per cent (unchanged) - giving Labour a huge lead of 18 per cent.

The Lib Dems were down two points to 8 per cent. Deltapoll surveyed 1,977 adults between 2 and 5 February.

Mapped: All the MPs standing down at the next election

Tuesday 13 February 2024 11:15 , Matt Mathers

Former sports minister Tracey Crouch has become the latest MP to announce that she will not stand for office at the next general election.

Ms Crouch, who represents Chatham and Aylesford in Kent and recently overcame a cancer diagnosis, said that her decision was “entirely personal and positive”.

Full report:

Mapped: All the MPs standing down at the next election

ICYMI: Rishi Sunak defends under-fire Rwanda policy as voters grill prime minister live on TV

Tuesday 13 February 2024 11:01 , Matt Mathers

Rishi Sunak has defended his under-fire Rwanda policy as the UK public grilled the prime minister live on TV.

Mr Sunak faced questions from an audience of undecided and swing voters in County Durham on Monday night, including over his flagship deportation scheme.

Full report:

Rishi Sunak defends under-fire Rwanda policy as UK public grills PM live on TV

Matt Hancock defends using taxpayer-funded Jaguar to get to Covid inquiry

Tuesday 13 February 2024 10:36 , Matt Mathers

Matt Hancock has defended his decision to use a chauffeur-driven Jaguar funded by the taxpayer to travel to the Covid inquiry despite leaving his government job more than two years ago.

A spokesman for Mr Hancock, the independent MP for West Suffolk, said it was “entirely reasonable” for the government to arrange his travel to the inquiry given that he was attending as the former health secretary.

Full report:

Matt Hancock defends using taxpayer-funded Jaguar to get to Covid inquiry

Handling of Ali case reveals ‘double standard’ - former Labour policy chief

Tuesday 13 February 2024 09:24 , Matt Mathers

Labour’s former director of policy has said the party’s handling of Azhar Ali’s alleged antisemitic comments “revealed a double standard”.

Andrew Fisher’s comments came after former MP Dame Louise Ellman told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I was very shocked when I read about and heard Azhar Ali’s comments, and I was very shocked because they were really at odds with my experience of him over a period of 20 years, where he consistently spoke out against extremism, against antisemitism.

“When I looked at his apology I could see that it was a proper apology, (he) apologised for what he said, not apologising for the words, or (like) some people say, for any offence caused.”

Mr Fisher, former director of policy under Jeremy Corbyn, responded on Today: “(The treatment of Mr Ali) revealed a double standard. I think you’ve heard that from Louise Ellman just now, she very openly said I worked with him, he was an ally of mine, we gave him the benefit of the doubt.

“That doesn’t apply to people who are on the left, ever, and that’s the double standard.

“These disciplinary processes are used for factional reasons within the Labour Party and that results in people like Azhar Ali being given the benefit of the doubt, being backed up by shadow cabinet ministers on the radio. Shadow cabinet ministers still going out campaigning for him on Sunday.”

Labour MP: Keir Starmer needs to stop ‘fence-sitting on big issues’

Tuesday 13 February 2024 08:44 , Matt Mathers

Rosie Duffield says her party needs to be clearer over what they stand for - and stop sitting on the fence on big issues, Archie Mitchell reports.

The Labour MP also criticised Keir Starmer’s decision to u-turn on the party’s key green spending pledge.

She told GB News : “I don’t have any sort of input into the future manifesto as a backbencher, but I know that a lot of Labour MPs would really like some clarity on our policies going forward because we’re always asked about it. I was really disappointed with the scrapping of the green pledges, as were lots of other vocal Labour MPs, so it would be nice to get a bit more clarity on those issues. A bit less fence sitting in the next few months.

“And we’re going to have to do that, aren’t we? So people know what we stand for?”

Asked if she, herself, felt she really knew what Labour stands for on some of the bigger issues she continued: “No. I think people are obviously developing our manifesto. So hopefully we’ll hear that quite soon.”

Ms Duffield also said her party had work to do when it came to being clearer over trans-issues.

She added: “We haven’t exactly been clear on those issues for the last few years, but I mean, what can I say I think we’re still in a bit of a mess about it, to be completely honest. I’m not sure sitting on the fence on this issue is really winning the Labour Party and your friends.”

Rosie Duffield (PA Archive)
Rosie Duffield (PA Archive)

Labour MPs feel there is a ‘disparity in treatment’ on antisemitism allegations

Tuesday 13 February 2024 08:26 , Matt Mathers

Labour MPs feel there is a “disparity in treatment” within the party about antisemitism allegations, the lawyer of the Forde Report has said.

Martin Forde KC led the 2022 report that found factional disputes between the party’s right and left under former leader Jeremy Corbyn, and that both sides had weaponised antisemitism.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Labour’s decision to withdraw support from its Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali 36 hours after allegations of antisemitism emerged “appears pretty shambolic”.

Mr Forde said: “If you want a fair and transparent system then it has to deal with people consistently, and I’m aware from discussions with some of the MPs within the party – who might be described as left-leaning – that they feel that when it comes to disciplinary action taken against them then things move rather slowly, but if you’re in the right faction of the party, as it were, then things are dealt with either more leniently or more swiftly.

“Now that’s the perception, I can’t quantify it, but I do think it’s something that leadership should be concerned to, in a away, dilute, or if it is in fact the case, they need to give reassurance to members of the voting public and to their members that people will be treated fairly.”

Labour accused of ‘going to ground’ as no front bencher on morning broadcast round

Tuesday 13 February 2024 08:24 , Matt Mathers

Housing minister Lee Rowley accused Labour of “going to ground” after no shadow minister appeared on Tuesday’s morning media round amid criticism of remarks made by Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali.

Mr Rowley told Sky News: “I mean, where is Labour? Where’s Labour today? Talking to people like yourselves, they’re not doing it.

“They’re going to ground.”

It was put to Mr Rowley that he was on “dodgy ground” accusing another party of going to ground when the government is “not always around”, to which he replied: “That is a party which has not changed. It’s a party which will say anything to win government, and I hope people are watching.

“They’ve got no plan and they’re getting themselves into a real mess over things like this.”

Housing minister Lee Rowley (PA Wire)
Housing minister Lee Rowley (PA Wire)

Full report: Labour axes support for Rochdale by-election candidate as ‘new Israel remarks’ surface

Tuesday 13 February 2024 08:20 , Matt Mathers

Sir Keir Starmer is under fire after pulling his support for Labour’s Rochdale by-election candidate over a series of remarks he made about Israel.

The Labour leader backed Azhar Ali to contest the by-election despite him having been recorded suggesting that Israel had allowed the allowed the 7 October Hamas attack to take place in order to invade Gaza.

But, in a dramatic climbdown on Monday night, the party said its support for Mr Ali had been withdrawn following “new information about further comments”. He has also been suspended from the Labour Party pending an investigation.

Full report:

Labour drops Rochdale by-election candidate as ‘new Israel remarks’ surface

Rwanda Bills ‘needs tightening to avoid legal challenges’, says Tory peer

Tuesday 13 February 2024 07:00 , Tara Cobham

The Government’s proposed Rwanda asylum legislation “needs further tightening to avoid potential legal challenges that would prevent it from achieving its aims”, according to a Conservative peer.

Baroness Lawlor, speaking in favour of amendment 32 in a bid to disapply “relevant” domestic and international law from the Bill, told the Lords: “The first reason for this amendment is a practical one – it is pointless to make a law that is unlikely to work and that sadly seems to be the case for the present Bill unless it is amended.

“The second reason is a deeper one. There is no doubt that there’s a popular wish for the small boats to be stopped and that one of the reasons why the Government was elected was to control our borders.

“Unless it makes a law strong enough to withstand whatever challenge might be brought to it through national or international law, the Government will be failing the people on whose support the laws made to govern Britain should be grounded and trust in the democratic system – with its political parties, Parliament and government and the judiciary – will be lost.”

Rishi Sunak defends under-fire Rwanda policy as voters grill prime minister live on TV

Tuesday 13 February 2024 06:00 , Tara Cobham

Rishi Sunak has defended his under-fire Rwanda policy as the UK public grilled the prime minister live on TV.

Mr Sunak faced questions from an audience of undecided and swing voters in County Durham on Monday night, including over his flagship deportation scheme.

He argued illegal migration is “profoundly unfair” and is putting a strain on the country’s public services, while he cited “compassion” for vulnerable migrants who are being “exploited by criminal gangs” as another reason for implementing his plan.

Read more here:

Rishi Sunak defends under-fire Rwanda policy as UK public grills PM live on TV

PM defends Rwanda policy as necessary ‘deterrent’ to illegal migration

Tuesday 13 February 2024 05:00 , Tara Cobham

The Prime Minister defended his commitment to the Rwanda policy by saying it is necessary as “a deterrent” to illegal migration.

Rishi Sunak was asked by one voter at GB News’ People’s Forum, a retired woman from Middleton-in-Teesdale, why he was “so adamant” about the Rwanda policy “when public documentation shows it isn’t working and that it’s not going to work”.

Mr Sunak said it was needed to tackle illegal migration, adding: “In order to fully solve this problem, we need a deterrent.

“We need to be able to say pretty simply and unequivocally that if you come to our country illegally, you won’t get to stay.

“We want to be able to remove you either to your home country if it’s safe, like we’ve done with Albania, and for everyone else we need an alternative and that’s what Rwanda is about.

“So yes, we’ve made progress – down by third – but in order to fully solve this problem, we need a deterrent. That’s what Rwanda is all about and that is why I’m absolutely committed to getting this bill through Parliament and getting this scheme up and running.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during GB News’ People’s Forum (PA Media)
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak during GB News’ People’s Forum (PA Media)

Minister admits fresh Navy embarrassment ‘unacceptable’ as warship fails to set sail

Tuesday 13 February 2024 04:00 , Alexander Butler

HMS Prince of Wales finally sets sail for historic Nato drills after week of setbacks

Sunak accuses Starmer of ‘standing by’ Azhar Ali after Israel remarks

Tuesday 13 February 2024 03:00 , Alexander Butler

Sunak accuses Starmer of ‘standing by’ Azhar Ali after Israel remarks

Senior Tories to lose seats as rural Conservative vote collapses

Tuesday 13 February 2024 02:00 , Alexander Butler

Senior Tories set to lose seats as support in rural strongholds collapses

Why a parliamentary candidate can’t be removed by a party in the weeks up to an election

Tuesday 13 February 2024 00:01 , Alexander Butler

Why a parliamentary candidate can’t be removed by a party in weeks up to an election

Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda bill comes under fire from Tory and Labour peers

Monday 12 February 2024 23:00 , Alexander Butler

Rishi Sunak’s Rwanda bill comes under fire from Tory and Labour peers

‘We haven’t made enough of a dent in NHS waiting lists,’ admits PM

Monday 12 February 2024 22:43 , Tara Cobham

An issue that has blighted the entirety of Mr Sunak’s premiership is worsening NHS waiting lists.

In response to a question posed on the matter by an audience of voters on GB News, Mr Sunak cited investments in the health service that might only reap benefits in years to come but that he is still making because they are “the right thing to do”.

However, Mr Sunak admitted: “We haven’t made enough of a dent in the waiting list.”

Although he went on to blame Covid and now ongoing strikes over pay, insisting: “I know that we can get them down if we can get the strikes behind us.”

A question on NHS waiting lists was posed to Rishi Sunak by a voter on Monday night (GB News)
A question on NHS waiting lists was posed to Rishi Sunak by a voter on Monday night (GB News)

Sunak insists views on issues facing trans people ‘not controversial’

Monday 12 February 2024 22:40 , Tara Cobham

Rishi Sunak insisted his views on issues facing transgender people are “not controversial” after facing criticism for a jibe during Prime Minister’s Questions last week.

The prime minister faced backlash after accusing Sir Keir Starmer of not being able to “define a woman” while Esther Ghey, the mother of murdered transgender teenager Brianna Ghey, was visiting Parliament.

Speaking to the public during a GB News forum on Monday, Mr Sunak said: “When it comes to questions over women’s safety... biological sex is important

“I really don’t think that anything I just said is controversial.”

Holly Patrick reports:

Sunak insists views on issues facing trans people ‘not controversial’

Sunak accuses Starmer of ‘standing by’ Azhar Ali after Israel remarks

Monday 12 February 2024 22:39 , Tara Cobham

Rishi Sunak accused Sir Keir Starmer of standing by Labour Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali as he spoke to members of the public during a GB News forum on Monday, 12 February.

The prime minister said the Labour leader “stood by” the politician and “sent cabinet ministers to support him, until literally five minutes before I walked on tonight under enormous media pressure.”

Labour withdrew its support for Mr Ali following criticism of remarks he made about Israel.

Mr Ali apologised after he was recorded suggesting that Israel allowed the October 7 Hamas assault and used it as a pretext to invade Gaza.

“The Labour Party hasn’t changed. It’s a con,” Mr Sunak added.

Holly Patrick reports:

Sunak accuses Starmer of ‘standing by’ Azhar Ali after Israel remarks