Azhar Ali row: how Keir Starmer has handled other members’ behaviour | Labour

Rochdale Labor by-election candidate Azhar Ali's claim that Israel allowed the Hamas attacks of October 7 to provide a pretext for invading Gaza was, he admitted, “deeply offensive, ignorant and false “. Labor election strategist Pat McFadden said this was “completely wrong”.

So it might come as a surprise that Labor has spent so much time, energy and political capital trying to protect him this week. The party's view Monday morning was firmly that Ali had apologized and would learn his lesson. So much so, in fact, that a shadow minister was sent on the morning media tour to plead his case.

This lasted for most of the day, before Labor took the course some had been advising all along and withdrew its support on Monday evening.

But how does this compare to how Keir Starmer responded to outrage over other members' behavior?

Jeremy Corbyn

Undoubtedly the biggest fight that Starmer could have waged in his desire to convince the country that the party had changed compared to the one torn by the row over anti-Semitism: the political fate of his predecessor.

And it was a long-drawn battle: formal confirmation that Corbyn would not stand as Labor candidate in the next general election came almost two and a half years after his initial suspension. But Starmer could not be said to have avoided the fight. He personally proposed the motion that ultimately ended Corbyn's hopes.

Diane Abbott

Abbott threatened to reignite the row over whether Labor truly understood the severity of anti-Semitism last April when she suggested Jews were part of a group of “white-looking” people who suffered simple prejudices and not racism.

Her suspension as a Labor MP came very quickly – on the same day – but the investigation that will decide what ultimately happens to her continues.

Rebecca Long-Bailey

In terms of timing, this is one of the Labor leader's quickest and most decisive moves to enforce discipline. A few hours passed between Long-Bailey and her public endorsement of an interview in which actor Maxine Peake claimed that the Israeli state had trained American police to kneel on a person's neck and that she had been sacked as shadow education secretary.

Peake later retracted her claims, and Long-Bailey agreed to apologize and clarify that she did not intend to endorse anything the actor said. But Starmer, she said, “had already made up his mind”.

Kate Osamor

Another MP whose initial suspension was swift – another whose situation remains unresolved. But in Osamor's case, it only lasts a few weeks. She had her whip hung in January while under investigation for saying Gaza should remain a genocide on Holocaust Memorial Day.

Following the withdrawal of his support for Ali, Martin Forde – the KC whose report found Labor was failing to respond properly to allegations of racism – noted that although Osamor and Abbott had both immediately apologized , in their case, things had “seemed to drag on forever.” .

Andy McDonald

The former MP, who had previously resigned as shadow minister in disgust at the direction Starmer was taking the party, was suspended from his role as a Labor MP after profiting from an appearance at a march organized by the Palestine solidarity campaign to allude to the controversial phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, which some see as a call for the annihilation of Israel.

Although its meaning is disputed – others believe it is simply a call to respect the freedom of Palestinians living in Israel and Palestine – McDonald's choice to evoke it in an era of anti-Semitism increased was considered provocative.

He did not face immediate sanctions for the comments made in October – perhaps because they took place on a Saturday. But on Monday, he was suspended. And he remains so, sitting as an independent, pending the investigation.

Sam Tarry

When the former senior union official stood on a picket line with RMT strikers in July 2022, it was a direct challenge to Starmer, who had said no leading MP should TO DO. But it was the series of interviews he gave, deemed to be inconsistent with party policy, that convinced the Labor leader to act.

In Tarry's case, he did so quickly and decisively; sacking him as shadow transport minister within hours. A few months later, Tarry was deselected as an MP by members of his local party.

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