Labour has withdrawn support for Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali over comments he made about Israel.
Mr Ali was recorded in a meeting of the Lancashire Labour Party saying Israel had taken the October 7 Hamas assault as a pretext to invade Gaza.
A 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said: ‘Following new information about further comments made by Azhar Ali coming to light today, the Labour Party has withdrawn its support for Azhar Ali as our candidate in the Rochdale by-election.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.’
Labour’s national campaign coordinator Pat McFadden said Labour acted because ‘new information and more comments have come to light which meant that we had to look at this situation again’.
Mr Ali apologised for the comments but they received backlash from those within the party which put pressure on Sir Keir to act.
The Lancashire County Councillor said his comments were ‘deeply offensive, ignorant and false’.
Labour is being pressed on why Mr Ali had not been immediately suspended following the comments.
He has now been suspended from the party pending investigation.
A spokesperson for Campaign Against Antisemitism said: ‘Sir Keir Starmer has blotted an otherwise fairly admirable copybook and given the public reason to doubt the earnestness of his promise to tear antisemitism out ‘by its roots’ in Labour.
‘People will have to judge for themselves whether the additional reported comments by Azhar Ali are really any worse than the comments that had already been reported.
‘Rather than appearing as a principled decision, Labour’s withdrawal of support for its candidate at this late stage just looks as expedient as the failed attempt to defend him. It is the worst of all worlds for Labour.’
This is a blow for Labour who hoped to retain the seat following the death last month of sitting MP Sir Tony Lloyd.
Rishi Sunak hit out at Labour and said it was a ‘con’ that the party had changed.
He said at an event in County Durham today: ‘Keir Starmer has been running around for the last year trying to tell everybody “Okay, Labour Party’s changed”. Well, look what just happened in Rochdale.’
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He accused Sir Keir of having ‘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’.
‘No principles at all,’ he added.
Labour frontbenchers Lisa Nandy and Anneliese Dodds had been out campaigning for Mr Ali in the constituency at the weekend.
Shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds said he believed Mr Ali, had fallen ‘for an online conspiracy theory’.
Labour also recently suspended MP Kate Osamor after she appeared to say the Gaza war should be remembered as genocide on Holocaust Memorial Day.
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, are also running in the constituency.
Mr Ali will sit as an independent MP and will not receive the party whip.
Labour will need to find a new candidate to contest the seat at the upcoming general election.
About 20% of the electorate and 30% of the population in Rochdale are Asian, with polls suggesting Labour’s vote could be hit by Asian people unhappy with the party’s stance over Palestine.
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