Labour says it has "withdrawn support" for its Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali after he allegedly told a party meeting that Israel had "allowed" the deadly attacks by Hamas gunmen on 7 October.
Ali's comments were "completely and utterly unacceptable", said shadow cabinet minister Nick Thomas-Symonds. However, he added, Ali understood the "gravity of the offence that has been caused" and had "unreservedly apologised", said the BBC. Rishi Sunak accused Labour of only withdrawing support for Ali due to media pressure. "That's not principled," Sunak said.
Just hours after the party insisted it would stand by Ali, Keir Starmer reversed his position. Labour sources told The Guardian that campaigners in Rochdale were told at 5.30pm yesterday to stop leafleting and carrying out social media activity on Ali’s behalf – an instruction that "came from party HQ".
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Withdrawing support for Ali will "add an extra layer of uncertainty" to the outcome of the by-election on 29 February, said the BBC. Labour cannot replace Ali as its candidate because nominations have now closed, reported The Telegraph. If he wins the by-election, the party may decide to remove the whip, making him an independent MP. This means Labour is "effectively conceding the Greater Manchester seat, where it has a majority of roughly 9,000", said the paper.
Starmer was "forced to ditch his man", said the Daily Mail, after the paper "uncovered more of his anti-Semitic comments". He had blamed "people in the media from certain Jewish quarters" for fuelling criticism of a pro-Palestinian Labour MP, said the paper.
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