BREAKING: Keir Starmer insists Labour ‘has changed’ amid Rochdale candidate row

Tuesday 13 February 2024

Sir Keir Starmer said he took “tough” and “decisive” action to withdraw support for Labour’s Rochdale by-election candidate, after a storm of criticism about remarks Azhar Ali made about Israel.

The Labour leader insisted the party had “changed” under his leadership after it was confirmed on Monday evening that Mr Ali, who is understood to be suspended pending an investigation, would have Labour’s backing withdrawn.

Mr Ali had apologised after he was recorded in a meeting of the Lancashire Labour Party suggesting that Israel had taken the October 7 Hamas assault as a pretext to invade Gaza.

But Labour said it moved to end its backing of the candidate “following new information about further comments”.

Speaking as he campaigned in Wellingborough, Sir Keir Starmer 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.

Rochdale: Keir Starmer in crisis after party withdraws support for candidate Azhar Ali after Israel comments

Labour withdraws its support for Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali after criticism of remarks about Israel

Labour MP says a party win at general election could have 'big implications' for Scotland and will 'do the public a great service'

“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.”

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

Sir Keir sought to move his party on from the Corbyn era, which was overshadowed by controversies over antisemitism.

But the party leadership is now being pressed on why Mr Ali had not been immediately suspended after the comments emerged.

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