Labour faces fresh anti-Semitism row after suspending two parliamentary candidates in 24 hours

14 February 2024, 01:05 | Updated: 14 February 2024, 07:23

Labour faces fresh crisis over anti-Israel remarks after suspending two parliamentary candidates in 24 hours
Labour faces fresh crisis over anti-Israel remarks after suspending two parliamentary candidates in 24 hours. Picture: Alamy

By Christian Oliver

Labour is facing a fresh, escalating anti-Semitism crisis after the party's leadership was forced to suspend two parliamentary candidates over their alleged anti-Israel remarks.

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With just 24 hours to go before voting begins in two crucial by-elections, Sir Keir Starmer's party is trying to limit the damage of its latest antisemitism row despite the opposition leader stressing he had "torn anti-Semitism out of Labour".

It came as Labour MP Graham Jones was understood to have been administratively suspended from the party pending an investigation after audio emerged of him at a Lancashire Labour Party meeting using the words "f****** Israel".

He allegedly suggested that British people who volunteer to fight with the Israeli Defence Forces should be "locked up".

Jones' alleged comments came in the same meeting that led to the party dropping its support for Rochdale by-election contender Azhar Ali.

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

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

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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.

The latest headache for Labour came less than a day after it suspended and removed its support from Azhar Ali after he allegedly made comments about a conspiracy claiming Israel knew Hamas would launch its October 7 massacre so it could invade Gaza in retaliation.

Mr Ali, who is believed to be suspended pending an investigation, was stripped of Labour's backing - but cannot legally be removed as a candidate for the Rochdale by-election at the end of this month.

Also running in Rochdale are former Labour MPs 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.

Rochdale by-election: See the full list of candidates here

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

Voting begins at 7am on Thursday in by-elections in Wellingborough and Kingswood, and the controversy may damage Labour's chance of gaining two seats won by the Conservatives at the last general election

Martin Forde on why Labour 'was right' to suspend Graham Jones

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."

Earlier on Tuesday, Sir Keir Starmer claimed he had taken "decisive action" in ending support for Mr Ali, who will appear on the Rochdale by-election ballot on February 29 as a Labour candidate because it is too late to make changes.

But the Labour leader has been accused of taking too long to drop support for Mr Ali.

The party only appeared to move after more comments leaked, with Mr Ali apologising after the first set of comments emerged. It has led to questions over who else attended the meeting.

Labour NEC member Mish Rahman discusses Azhar Ali’s comments

Sir Keir Starmer has had to suspend another candidate for election
Sir Keir Starmer has had to suspend another candidate for election. Picture: Alamy

Tonight with Andrew Marr | Watch again 13/02

The Mail said Mr Ali was recorded saying Israel hoped to "grab" Gaza from the Palestinians and blaming "people in the media from certain Jewish quarters" for the suspension of Andy McDonald from the party after his statement about Israel and Palestine.

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."

Reports suggest Labour activists are now turning their attention to stopping George Galloway, formerly of their party, from winning.

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