Starmer claims he implemented ‘firm’ measures to withdraw backing from the Rochdale candidate.

Labour leader defends actions following new information regarding Azhar Ali’s remarks about Israel
Keir Starmer has justified his handling of the controversy surrounding Labour’s candidate in Rochdale, who was suspended by the party on Monday night after days of revelations about comments he made about Israel shortly after the Hamas attacks.
On Tuesday, Starmer stated that he took firm and decisive action against Azhar Ali, who will now campaign for the Rochdale seat without official party support.
The Labour leader faced criticism from both inside and outside the party for his initial handling of the matter. He initially supported Ali over the weekend but reversed his decision 36 hours later.
Speaking while campaigning in Wellingborough before Thursday’s byelection, Starmer maintained that he did the right thing.
“New information came to light over the weekend regarding the candidate, and there was a sincere apology,” he explained. “Yesterday, further information emerged that called for decisive action, so I took decisive action.”
Starmer added: “Withdrawing support for a Labour candidate during a byelection is a significant step. It’s a difficult decision, but I believe it was necessary. When I say that the Labour party has changed under my leadership, I mean it.”
Starmer addressed the controversy in person for the first time since allegations arose over the weekend that Ali had suggested during a private meeting in October that he believed the Israelis purposely allowed the October 7 attack to occur.
According to a recording of Ali’s comments reported by the Mail on Sunday, he stated: “[Israel] deliberately took the security off, they allowed … that massacre that gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want.”
Once these comments came to light, Ali issued an apology and received backing from the Labour leadership, with senior ministers confirming their intention to continue campaigning alongside him.
However, the Mail revealed on Monday night that Ali’s comments at the meeting extended beyond what was initially reported.
According to a recording obtained by the newspaper, Ali also defended MP Andy McDonald, who Labour suspended after he used the phrase “from the river to the sea” in reference to Palestinian independence. At the meeting, Ali stated: “The media – and some of the people in the media from certain Jewish quarters – were giving crap about what [McDonald] said.”
Starmer decided to withdraw support from Ali after his office was informed about the more recent comments. Nevertheless, Ali will still appear as the official Labour candidate on the ballot papers.
The Labour leader, however, has been criticized for not taking stronger action sooner and for seemingly treating right-wing figures like Ali more favorably compared to left-wing figures like McDonald who were suspended more swiftly.
Martin Forde, the lawyer commissioned by Starmer to investigate allegations of bullying, racism, and sexism within the party, expressed his concerns on BBC Radio 4’s Today program on Tuesday: “One has to question how such individuals are selected in the first place, as well as the inconsistency in treatment.”
He added: “One of the things that worried us when we talked about weaponization was certainly the perception that antisemitism was divided along factional lines.”

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