Labour’s Rochdale byelection campaign engulfed in antisemitism row – UK politics live | Politics


Labour’s Rochdale byelection candidate apologises ‘unreservedly’ to Jewish community after Israel comments

The Labour candidate for the 29 February Rochdale byelection, Azhar Ali, has “apologised unreservedly to the Jewish community” for comments which he described as “deeply offensive, ignorant and false.”

After comments emerged in which he suggested Israel had allowed the 7 October to happen in order to have a pretext to attack Gaza, he said “Hamas’s horrific terror attack was the responsibility of Hamas alone, and they are still holding hostages who must be released.”

Describing them as “my inexcusable comments”, Ali said that “the Labour party has changed unrecognisably under Keir Starmer’s leadership” after years in which it has been claimed the party had failed to deal adequetly with antisemitism.

Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, said Ali’s comments were “completely wrong” and did not represent the party’s view, but that he would remain the party’s candidate for the byelection, where Labour faces a challenge from George Galloway.

McFadden told Sky News: “He’s issued a complete apology and retraction. And I hope he learns a good lesson from it because he should never have said something like that in the first place.”

A recording obtained by the Mail on Sunday quoted Ali saying: “The Egyptians are saying that they warned Israel 10 days earlier. Americans warned them a day before there’s something happening. They deliberately took the security off”. He went on to suggest Israel allowed a “massacre that gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want.”

Key events

A few more quotes from shadow minister without portfolio Nick Thomas-Symonds who was out defending Labour’s Rochdale candidate on the broadcast round this morning. Azhar Ali has apologised after a recording emerged of hi, suggesting that Israel allowed Hamas’s 7 October attacks to take place to provide grounds to invade Gaza.

Asked whether the incident reflected a problem at large with the Labour party in Rochdale, Thomas-Symonds told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’ve got, as I understand it, a short clip from a meeting, so I think it would be unfair to draw a wider conclusion in that way. Let me first say the remarks that have been made are completely and utterly unacceptable. I was very shocked and appalled to see them and they in no way represent the views of the Labour party.”

Labour recently suspended the MP Kate Osamor after she appeared to say the Gaza war should be remembered as genocide on Holocaust Memorial Day.

On Sky News, Thomas-Symonds was pressed about whether, should he win in Rochdale, Ali would be allowed to stand again by the larty later in the year at a general election, but wouldn’t be drawn, saying “we are all sunject” to a selection process for that.

Minister: writing off £4.3bn in fraudulent Covid loans by government was ‘unacceptable’

Kevin Rawlinson

The writing off of £4.3bn in fraudulent Covid loans by the Conservative government was “unacceptable” a Tory cabinet minister has said, suggesting more should have been done to tackle fraud during the pandemic.

Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, has been touring the broadcasters to push the government’s announcement of new anti-fraud measures this morning. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he described as an “extremely good point” the suggestion it would be better to rethink now how Covid fraud was addressed.

The point I’m making is that £4.3bn is an awful lot of money. And, frankly, this is a completely unacceptable outcome for the British people.

In 2022, HMRC figures showed fraudulent claims for furlough and other business relief schemes had resulted in a loss of an estimated £5.8bn. Of that, £4.3bn was written off. The scandal led to the resignation of the anti-fraud minister Theodore Agnew, who called the oversight of the scheme “nothing less than woeful” and accused officials of “schoolboy errors” on multiple fronts.

Speaking in the House of Lords at the time, he accused the government of “arrogance, indolence and ignorance” in its attitude to tackling fraud estimated to cost £29bn a year.

Rishi Sunak has insisted the economy “has turned a corner”, despite the anticipation that official figures this week will show a rise in inflation and that the country has been in a “technical recession”.

Speaking to reporters while visiting a bus depot in Harrogate, Sunak said:

At the start of this year I really believe the economy has turned a corner and we are heading in the right direction. You can see inflation has come down from 11% to 4%, mortgage rates are starting to come down, wages have been rising consistently now.

He said recent years had been “undoubtedly difficult”, PA Media reports.

Rishi Sunak visits a bus depot in Harrogate. Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters

“What is a technical recession?”, I hear some of you ask. The ONS defines it as “two consecutive quarters of negative growth”, with Darren Morgan, ONS Director of Economic Statistics saying “You could get a -0.1% or +0.1% change, but how different really was the economy at that point in time? I would say it was broadly flat, but some people do get excited about it.”

Back to Rishi Sunak’s week for a moment, we know that he has already acknowledged that he has failed to keep his promise to cut healthcare waiting lists in England, with the situation worsening under his watch. Official figures on Thursday will show whether the UK slipped into recession, despite Sunak’s promise to grow the economy, the day after an anticipated rise in inflation is announced.

Chief secretary to the Treasury Laura Trott, fresh from her tricky appearance with Radio 4’s PM presenter Evan Davis last week, told the Sunday Times: “There will be bumps in the road and on Wednesday we can expect inflation to slightly increase when data for January is published.”

UK inflation rose unexpectedly to 4.0% in December in the first increase for ten months. The Bank of England target is 2%.

The main challenge today for Sunak however is the House of Lords beginning its committee consideration of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill.

There are 38 pages of amendments to be debated, including moves that would insert into the bill clauses that require positive UNHCR advice on the safety of Rwanda to be laid before parliament before claims for asylum in the UK may be processed in Rwanda, would seek that the House of Commons have to reassert that Rwanda is still a “safe country” every six months, and delay any possible deportations until after all the clauses of the separate UK-Rwanda treaty, which require some reforms on Rwanda’s part, are implemented.

A quick scoot around the newspaper front pages. For the Daily Mail, the Labour Rochdale story leads, with the paper asking “So has Labour really changed?”

That story also made the front of the Times, with the bonus ban at water companies being the lead item. Our Helena Horton reports the plans have been described as “a gimmick”.

The Daily Express headline lucky dip came up with “woke” again today, although the Telegraph also decided to go with the accusation that there are “woke extremists” in the British armed forces.

The Sun features King Charles on the front, as did the Independent, while the Mirror had an interview with kidnapped chid Alex Batty as its lead. The Independent also ran with a story about another Brexit black hole.

For us at the Guardian we led with Amelia Gentleman’s exclusive on the Home Office English test scandal, and Emine Sinmaz reporting from Jerusalem.

Louise Ellman has reacted to Azhar Ali’s remarks by saying that they were out of character for him, and saying that over a long period of time he had been an ally of her when she had been subjected to antisemitic attacks.

She said:

I have known Azhar for over twenty years and he consistently supported me when I was subjected to antisemitic attacks. He should now have the opportunity to work with the Jewish community to restore the loss of trust his actions have caused.

Ellman rejoined Labour after quitting over former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism.

Labour: Rochdale candidate had ‘fallen for a conspiracy theory’

Kevin Rawlinson

The Labour party’s shadow minister without portfolio, Nick Thomas-Symonds, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Azhar Ali had fallen for a conspiracy theory, and that his apology should be taken at face value.

“Councillor Ali has apologised unreservedly, he’s retracted those remarks, and he’s also shown a sense of the gravity of the offence that has been caused, and the need now to do tremendous amounts of work to rebuild trust with the Jewish community, which is going to be absolutely essential. So it’s for those reasons that he hasn’t been suspended.”

Mike Katz, the national chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement, said his group would not campaign in Rochdale because Ali had “destroyed his past record of allyship with the Jewish community” with his “totally reprehensible” comments.

But he stopped short of calling on Labour to drop the candidate, warning that the “alternative in Rochdale is George Galloway”, whose victory would “harm the Jewish community far more than electing Ali”.

He added: “We know how far the party has come under Keir Starmer in tackling antisemitism and that the party, from Starmer down, is as shocked and disgusted by Ali’s comments as we are.”

You can read Kevin Rawlinson’s report here: Labour criticised for backing Rochdale candidate after ‘offensive’ Israel remark

Labour’s Rochdale byelection candidate apologises ‘unreservedly’ to Jewish community after Israel comments

The Labour candidate for the 29 February Rochdale byelection, Azhar Ali, has “apologised unreservedly to the Jewish community” for comments which he described as “deeply offensive, ignorant and false.”

After comments emerged in which he suggested Israel had allowed the 7 October to happen in order to have a pretext to attack Gaza, he said “Hamas’s horrific terror attack was the responsibility of Hamas alone, and they are still holding hostages who must be released.”

Describing them as “my inexcusable comments”, Ali said that “the Labour party has changed unrecognisably under Keir Starmer’s leadership” after years in which it has been claimed the party had failed to deal adequetly with antisemitism.

Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, said Ali’s comments were “completely wrong” and did not represent the party’s view, but that he would remain the party’s candidate for the byelection, where Labour faces a challenge from George Galloway.

McFadden told Sky News: “He’s issued a complete apology and retraction. And I hope he learns a good lesson from it because he should never have said something like that in the first place.”

A recording obtained by the Mail on Sunday quoted Ali saying: “The Egyptians are saying that they warned Israel 10 days earlier. Americans warned them a day before there’s something happening. They deliberately took the security off”. He went on to suggest Israel allowed a “massacre that gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want.”

Welcome and opening summary …

Good morning. I would say we were expecting a quiet week in UK politics with most of our institutions – including Andrew Sparrow – enjoying a half-term break, but there are significant political headwinds gathering for both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer.

Sunak faces the prospect of potentially losing two byelections in Kingswood and Wellingborough later this week. Before that his flagship Rwanda deportation plan faces scrutiny in the Lords this afternoon, inflation figures are due out midweek, and Thursday’s GDP figures might show the country has been in a recession. He is out campaigning in Yorkshire today, and will sit through a one hour grilling from voters on GB News at 8pm, which will be another test of how well he is likely to hold up in contact with the public during an election campaign.

It is the Rochdale byelection on 29 February that is giving Starmer a headache, with George Galloway threatening the party’s votes from the left with his uncompromising stand over Gaza and Palestine, while Labour try to work out how to handle comments by candidate Azhar Ali back in October suggesting that Israel might have let the Hamas attack happen on purpose in order to justify significant military intervention. Shadow minister without portfolio Nick Thomas-Symonds has been having an uncomfortable time on the morning media round as a result.

Here are the headlines …

The Commons is in recess. The Lords is sitting from 2.30pm, and the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill will begin its committee stage there at 3,20pm. The Senedd and the Scottish parliament are not sitting. In Stormont there is a plenary session from noon.

It is Martin Belam here with you this week. I do try to read and dip into the comments when I can, but if you want to get my attention the best way is to email me – [email protected] – especially if you have spotted an error or typo.





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