By Dáire Cumiskey
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Labour dumps Azhar Ali as candidate in Rochdale by-election

The by-election sums up the wider crisis in British politics
Issue 2892
Labour candidate in Rochdale Azhar Ali and Keir Starmer

Labour candidate in Rochdale Azhar Ali and Keir Starmer in happier times (Picture: Twitter/ Azhar Ali)

Labour’s campaign for the Rochdale by-election has completely collapsed after it withdrew its support for its candidate Azhar Ali on Monday night. This is the most disastrous election campaign imaginable for Labour. Keir Starmer has boasted repeatedly that his party is “ready to govern”. But he has now abandoned Labour’s 10,000 vote majority in Rochdale.

Ali managed to enrage both Zionists and pro-Palestinians. He was already facing potential defeat at the election set for 29 February before being dumped as Labour’s candidate. Whatever the intricacies of what happened this week, the root cause that began Labour’s Rochdale troubles is the party’s backing for Israel’s murders in Gaza.

Thousands of people in the constituency were already enraged by the Labour Party’s refusal to support an immediate ceasefire. Then last weekend the Mail on Sunday published a recording of Ali saying Israel “allowed” Hamas’ attack on 7 October. He said “that gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want”.

It led to frenzied criticism from Zionist groups—and Ali rushed out an abject apology to “Jewish leaders for my inexcusable comments”. The Daily Mail then unveiled a longer recording on Monday. In it Ali blames “people in the media from certain Jewish quarters” for the suspension of Andy McDonald MP from the Labour Party.

Under Jeremy Corbyn, howls of rage would have followed from the Labour right at such revelations. Starmer would have denounced Labour’s leadership as antisemitic. Ali will still have Labour next to his name on the ballot paper as it’s too late for Labour to provide a replacement.

Unlike when left MPs are, wrongly, accused of antisemitism, the party was slow to move against Starmer-friendly Ali, and had backed him as the Labour candidate at the start of this week.  

Shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds said that Ali’s words were “completely wrong” but he had “unreservedly apologised”. The party HQ told campaigners in Rochdale to stop leafleting and social media activity for Ali on Monday afternoon before sacking and suspending him.

Rishi Sunak also chimed in to distract from his bad week to say Starmer has “no principles at all” for withdrawing support for Ali late. Tory defence secretary Grant Shapps and Richard Holden, the Conservative Party chair, seized on the issue to urge Labour to cease campaigning immediately. The withdrawal of all other candidates is about the only way the Tories could win the election.

The Labour ferment will further boost the campaign by George Galloway for the Workers’ Party of Britain (WPB).  He is winning many votes because of his long-term support for the Palestinians and his high profile in previous anti-war movements. Unfortunately he is building such support while peddling his “for the workers not the wokers” reactionary politics. 

The WPB has rotten politics around migration, LGBT+ issues and the environment. It says, for example, that it “offers a migration policy that reflects the anxiety felt among the working class about an influx of migrants which appears to be out of control.

“People are not wrong to worry about undue burdens being placed on local services and about the cost of hosting escalating numbers of asylum seekers.” Rochdale desperately needs an MP who will be on the right side over Palestine and fight back against Tory policies. The constituency has one of the highest poverty rates in Greater Manchester with almost half of children living in poverty. 

Labour won back the seat in 1997 after the Liberals held it for 25 years. For most of that time the Liberal MP was the child sexual abuser Cyril Smith. The by-election sums up the wider crisis in British politics—Tories in free fall, Labour collapsing and nothing properly filling the vacuum.  

Daniel, a Rochdale voter who is waiting to begin an apprenticeship, told Socialist Worker, “Whoever you vote for I reckon the politician’s main interest is themselves. People wrongly refer to Rochdale as a slum, but a lot still needs to change.

“You’re told as a kid that because you’ve grown up in Rochdale you’ll always be stuck here.” William Howarth, co-founder of local group Parents Against Grooming UK, is also standing as an independent. While Howarth is not a fascist his campaign will push racist arguments around child sexual exploitation in the area.

Former Rochdale Labour MP Simon Danczuk is standing for the racist Reform UK party. Danczuk was the Labour MP for the constituency from 2010 to 2015.  He was suspended from the party in 2015 after it emerged he had sent explicit messages to a 17-year-old girl. He ridiculously claims to have been removed from the party for his early criticism of Jeremy Corbyn.

Independent candidate Mark Coleman has been a climate activist for many years and has recently been jailed twice for taking part in Just Stop Oil protests. Coleman told Socialist Worker, “How could Labour claim to fight for bread and butter issues but not defend the climate or call for a ceasefire in Palestine?” Ordinary people deserve more than a choice between imperialist Labour and a pro-Palestinian movement centred on Galloway.

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