Labour suspends candidate after 'unacceptable' Israel comments 'made at meeting with disowned Rochdale contender'

13 February 2024, 17:30 | Updated: 13 February 2024, 18:04

Labour has suspended another election candidate over Israel comments
Labour has suspended another election candidate over Israel comments. Picture: Alamy/ParliamentTV

By Will Taylor

Labour has suspended an election candidate after he called for Brits who travel to fight for Israel to be "locked up" at the same meeting that led to the party dropping its support for a by-election contender.

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Hours after Azhar Ali was abandoned over his comments on Israel ahead of the Rochdale vote, which were recorded at a meeting in Lancashire, Labour has administratively suspended former Hyndburn MP Graham Jones.

It comes after audio emerged of him allegedly saying at the meeting "f***ing Israel" as he suggested Brits who travel to fight for the Israel Defence Forces ought to be detained.

They are reported to have been made at the same meeting Mr Ali made comments about a conspiracy claiming Israel knew Hamas would launch its October 7 massacre so it could invade Gaza in retaliation.

It was reported on Tuesday afternoon that Mr Jones had been administratively suspended.

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

Last year, he was quoted as saying he wanted "a kinder approach" to politics in the constituency in Lancashire.

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

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.

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

It has led to questions over who else attended the meeting.

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.

Updates to follow

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