I can’t advise you who to back, Lisa Nandy tells Rochdale voters

Lisa Nandy said Labour found itself in ‘an extraordinary and unprecedented position’
Lisa Nandy said Labour finds itself in ‘an extraordinary and unprecedented position’ - Eddie Mulholland for The Telegraph

A front bench Labour MP has told the people of Rochdale that she cannot advise them who to vote for in next week’s by-election.

Thursday’s contest takes place without an official Labour candidate after the party withdrew its support from Azhar Ali earlier this month.

The move came after it emerged Mr Ali had claimed that Israel deliberately let Hamas massacre its citizens to pave the way for attacking Gaza. He later apologised for the remarks.

Lisa Nandy, the shadow international development minister, said she would not advise voters to select any particular candidate because of the “extraordinary and unprecedented position” in which the party found itself.

Asked who she would advise people in Rochdale to vote for, she told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg: “Well, I wouldn’t advise them to vote for any of the candidates. I’m afraid we’re in the extraordinary and unprecedented position of having to withdraw our candidate in the by-election, so there is no Labour candidate to vote for.”

Ms Nandy had appeared alongside Mr Ali at a constituency event after the comments he made about Israel were first reported, and before Labour announced that it was suspending him after further comments came to light.

She said: “I would just say to people in Rochdale, if you are going out to vote, please consider voting for anybody who you believe will help to bring an end to this hate and division at a time when it’s spilling out onto our streets. We need political leaders who are prepared to stand up to it and not stoke it.”

She said that when she was in Rochdale she had seen “hate and division being stoked by particular candidates”, which she said “people in Rochdale don’t need and don’t want”.

Among the candidates standing are George Galloway, for the Workers Party of Britain, and Simon Danczuk, for Reform UK.

Mr Galloway has put the Israel-Gaza war at the centre of his election campaign, with some of his leaflets reading: “The people of Gaza don’t have a vote in this election; you do.”

There have also been billboards put up around the Greater Manchester town that accuse Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, of being “in the pocket of Israel”.

Mr Ali will still be on the ballot paper as the Labour candidate, but as he has had the party’s support withdrawn he would sit as an independent MP if elected.

Ms Nandy also criticised the Tories for what she described as “absolute poison that’s been allowed to seep into their political debate”.

Her comments came after Lee Anderson, the former Tory deputy chairman, lost the party whip for saying that Islamists had “got control” of Sadiq Khan, the London Mayor.

After Mr Anderson had been suspended, Rishi Sunak released a statement warning of an “explosion of prejudice and anti-Semitism” since the Hamas attacks on Oct 7 , but did not mention him or his remarks.

Ms Nandy took a swipe at the Prime Minister, who she said was “seemingly unwilling to even acknowledge the term Islamophobia, let alone stand up to senior politicians in his party dragging our politics into the sewer”.