Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
The UK Labour party on Monday evening withdrew support for its candidate in an upcoming parliamentary by-election after he claimed Israel had allowed Hamas to attack the Jewish state on October 7.
Labour said it would no longer support Azhar Ali in the Rochdale by-election scheduled for February 29 following “new information” about comments he had made, having previously said it would stand by him.
Ali told a meeting of Labour party members soon after the October 7 assault by Hamas on Israel that the Jewish state had deliberately relaxed its guard after warnings of an imminent threat, according to a recording obtained by The Mail on Sunday.
“They deliberately took the security off. They allowed . . . that massacre that gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want,” the newspaper quoted Ali as saying.
Israel launched its war against Hamas in Gaza after the Palestinian militant group stormed southern parts of the Jewish state on October 7, killing 1,200 people and taking another 250 hostage, according to Israeli officials.
Israel’s air and ground offensive has since killed more than 28,000 people in Gaza, according to Palestinian officials.
Ali on Sunday apologised for his remarks, while Labour said at the time it would continue to support him.
He will remain on the ballot paper for Labour in the by-election because nominations closed at the beginning of the month.
But Labour said in a statement on Monday evening: “Following new information about further comments made by Azhar Ali coming to light today, the Labour party has withdrawn its support for Azhar Ali as our candidate in the Rochdale by-election.”
Ali had been suspended from the Labour party pending an investigation, according to officials.
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has sought to make a priority of stamping out allegations of antisemitism in the party after the issue came to the fore under his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn.
The party’s initial move to stand by Ali served to reignite the controversy over antisemitism.
But Starmer’s team had also feared that if Ali were to be suspended, it would help the rival campaign of pro-Palestinian candidate and former Labour MP George Galloway.
Nick Thomas-Symonds, shadow Cabinet Office minister, said on Monday morning that Ali had fallen for a conspiracy theory that Israel had deliberately relaxed its guard ahead of the Hamas attack to give it a pretext to assault Gaza, but had subsequently “apologised unreservedly”.
The Conservatives had called on Labour to suspend Ali and to withdraw campaign support.
Rishi Sunak said on GB News that Starmer had been “running around” telling people Labour had changed, and yet he had supported Ali despite him saying “vile, awful conspiracy theories” that were “antisemitic”.
“Until . . . tonight, under enormous media pressure, [Starmer] has decided to change his mind; that’s not principled,” added the prime minister. “So no, the Labour party hasn’t changed . . . It’s a con.”
Labour has previously suspended MPs over comments about the Israel-Hamas war, and persisted with action to dispel claims the party had tolerated antisemitism.
Labour MP Kate Osamor was suspended by the party last month after listing the war in Gaza among examples of genocide in a message about Holocaust Memorial day.
Corbyn has been blocked from standing for Labour at the next general election after he claimed the scale of antisemitism during his time as leader was “dramatically overstated”.