Labour’s Rochdale controversy is more than just a gaffe

Feb 12, 2024 by

by John Oxley, UnHerd:

The Rochdale by-election should have been a cakewalk for Labour, but controversial comments made by its candidate have thrown the party into a tailspin. In recordings released a few days before the vote. Azhar Ali discussed the 7 October attacks and said that Israel “allowed […] that massacre that gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want”. He has been roundly condemned and issued a rapid apology — but the Labour campaign remains a mess.

It is too late to stand down the candidate. Ballot papers are printed and postal votes have already been sent out. Labour is now faced with repudiating its own candidate, as the Tories have called for, or battling on through the headlines for another few days before then having another troublesome MP in Parliament. It’s turned an easy, 10,000-majority by-election into an embarrassment.

This will refresh Labour’s biggest fears about the coming general election. It is a reminder of how quickly things can go wrong, whether on a local or national scale. Candidates can slip up under the full glare of an election, and issues previously missed in vetting can pop up. Too many of these, and it starts to look like an institutional problem which might drag the whole party down. These events will likely make Labour even more risk-averse as we tick down to the election.

The incident also highlights one of Keir Starmer’s weaknesses. He has set out his stall by tackling the cloud of antisemitism that hung around the party under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership. His pitch to voters has been that he fixed the party and can now focus on the country. A candidate in a prominent election being caught making comments such as Ali’s throws that into doubt. Problems still lurk within Starmer’s Labour, despite the work he has done.

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Read also:  Pressure on Starmer over Rochdale by-election candidate who claimed Israel ‘allowed’ Hamas attacks by Amy Gibbons, Telegraph


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