Third Labour politician 'spoken to' amid anti-Semitism row, as Starmer battles to control crisis ahead of by-elections

14 February 2024, 15:08

Keir Starmer is facing an escalating anti-Semitism row
Keir Starmer is facing an escalating anti-Semitism row. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

A third Labour politician has been spoken to about comments made at a local party meeting, as party leader Sir Keir Starmer battles an escalating anti-Semitism crisis.

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Munsif Dad, a councillor for Hyndburn in Lancashire, has had talks with Labour officials about a meeting at the centre of an anti-Semitism row that threatens to engulf the party.

Labour withdrew its support for Azhar Ali, its candidate for the Rochdale by-election this month, after two sets of anti-Semitic comments emerged.

The party stood by him after the first remarks were reported, saying he had fallen victim to a conspiracy theory, before changing tack after the second set of comments - and questions have been asked about why Labour didn't withdraw backing straightaway.

Read more: 'This isn't what the honours system is for': Azhar Ali's OBE should be reviewed amid antisemitism scandal

Read More: 'Even Hamas would be shocked by Azhar Ali's comments,' Labour official says as second candidate is suspended over Israel remarks

Labour candidate for Rochdale, Azhar Ali in Rochdale town centre
Labour candidate for Rochdale, Azhar Ali in Rochdale town centre. Picture: Alamy

Graham Jones, Labour's former MP for Hyndburn who hopes to regain his seat at the next election, was also administratively suspended from the party pending an investigation after audio emerged of him at the same meeting appearing to use the words "f****** Israel".

The talks with Mr Dad were part of an attempt to work out what had happened in the meeting, rather than another disciplinary measure. He, Mr Ali and Mr Jones are thought to be the only Labour politicians to have attended the meeting.

The fresh row has come as a blow to Sir Keir Starmer after he said he had "torn anti-Semitism out of Labour", and comes with less than 24 hours before voting begins in the Wellingborough and Kingswood by-elections.

Graham Jones has been suspended
Graham Jones has been suspended. Picture: ParliamentTV

Rochdale is a Labour seat whose by-election was triggered by the death of longstanding MP Sir Tony Lloyd.

Labour's hold on the seat is threatened by George Galloway, standing for the Workers Party of Britain, who is a fierce critic of Israel and the war in Gaza. The Rochdale by-election will be held on February 29.

Munsif Dad
Munsif Dad has also been spoken to. Picture: Alamy

Mr Ali lost Labour support after he was reported to have made comments about a conspiracy claiming Israel knew Hamas would launch its October 7 massacre so it could invade Gaza in retaliation.

Sir Keir claimed on Tuesday that he had taken "decisive action" in ending support for Mr Ali. But the Labour leader has been accused of taking too long over the move.

The party only appeared to move after more comments leaked, with Mr Ali apologising after the first set of comments emerged.

Sir Keir Starmer on Wednesday
Sir Keir Starmer on Wednesday. Picture: Alamy

In his second set of comments, Mr Ali said Israel hoped to "grab" Gaza from the Palestinians and blamed "people in the media from certain Jewish quarters" for the suspension of Andy McDonald from the party after his statement about Israel and Palestine.

He cannot legally be removed as a candidate for the Rochdale by-election. He remains officially the Labour candidate but if elected, he will be an independent.

If Labour was to drop Mr Jones as the candidate for Hyndburn ahead of the general election, it would have to follow a formal process. He is believed to have attended an interview on Tuesday evening.

Mr Jones had been hoping to regain his Hyndburn seat after losing it to the Conservatives in 2019.

As well as Mr Ali and Mr Galloway, also running in Rochdale is former Labour MP Simon Danczuk, now the Reform Party candidate.

Mr Ali was quoted in the meeting last year saying he wanted "a kinder approach" to politics in the constituency in Lancashire.

Caller upset about the selective use of the term 'anti-Semitism'

The Jewish Labour Movement said: "We are dismayed that Jones was not only a bystander at the meeting where Azhar Ali made his antisemitic comments, but sought to inflame tensions further.

"Over the past two days, the importance of a zero tolerance approach to antisemitism in Labour has become clearer than ever.

"Labour must stand Graham Jones down as a parliamentary candidate and conduct a disciplinary investigation."

Labour NEC member Mish Rahman discusses Azhar Ali’s comments

Labour confirmed it was ending its backing for Mr Ali on Monday night.

"Keir Starmer has changed Labour so that it is unrecognisable from the party of 2019," a spokesperson said.

"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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