Azhar Ali: Lancashire Labour leader and party's former Rochdale by-election candidiate suspended after further comments in wake of October 7th attacks emerge

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Labour has suspended Lancashire County Council opposition group leader Azhar Ali, after further remarks he made following the Hamas attack on Israel were published.

The party has also withdrawn support for him as its candidate in the forthcoming Rochdale by-election, although he will remain on the ballot in that capacity because the deadline for making changes has passed.

County Cllr Ali had alrerady apologised after he was recorded suggesting in a meeting of the Lancashire Labour Party that Israel had taken the October 7th Hamas assault as a pretext to invade Gaza. Whilst condemning the comments after they were reported at the weekend by the Mail on Sunday, Labour initially appeared set to stand by him.

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Azhar Ali: Labour's former Rochdale by-election candidate criticised by Preston ...
County Hall's Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali has been suspended by the party pending an investigationCounty Hall's Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali has been suspended by the party pending an investigation
County Hall's Labour opposition group leader Azhar Ali has been suspended by the party pending an investigation

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"Following new information about further comments made by Azhar Ali coming to light today, the Labour Party has withdrawn its support for Azhar Ali as our candidate in the Rochdale by-election.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

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According to a story published by the Daily Mail on Monday night, Mr Ali also said "people in the media from certain Jewish quarters" were "giving crap" about MP Andy McDonald, who was suspended by Labour after he used the phrase "between the river and the sea" in a speech during a rally.

The paper also said the now-former Labour candidate claimed that Israel planned to "get rid of [Palestinians] from Gaza" and "grab" some of the land.

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

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

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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.

The decision to withdraw backing for the candidate will come as a blow to the party, which had hoped to retain the seat following the death last month of sitting MP Sir Tony Lloyd.

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Mr Ali apologised "unreservedly to the Jewish community at the weekend and retracted his initially-reported remarks, which he described as "deeply offensive, ignorant and false".

He added: “Hamas’ horrific terror attack was the responsibility of Hamas alone - and they are still holding hostages who must be released.

"October 7th 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.

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

Frontbenchers Lisa Nandy and Anneliese Dodds had been out campaigning for Mr Ali in the constituency at the weekend.

Labour's national campaign coordinator Pat McFadden told broadcasters the party acted because "new information and more comments have come to light which meant that we had to look at this situation again".

Earlier, shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that he believed Mr Ali, had fallen "for an online conspiracy theory".

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Rishi Sunak, speaking to GB News viewers on Monday evening at an event in County Durham, said it was a "con" to suggest Labour has been reformed.

He said: "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."

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.