Labour faces Rochdale byelection backlash after party withdraws support for candidate – UK politics live | Politics


Labour withdraws support for Rochdale candidate after Israel-Gaza remarks

Labour have opted not to send anybody out on the media round this morning to defend their position on Azhar Ali.

Labour sources said that campaigners in Rochdale were told to stop leafleting and social media activity on Ali’s behalf at 5.30pm yesterday afternoon – an instruction that came from party HQ.

On Monday night, the Daily Mail approached Labour with more comments Ali had made, prompting the action.

Martin Forde, the KC who led a report into Labour which concluded that a culture of factionalism led to a situation where allegations of racism and harassment weren’t being addressed, has spoken though.

He said:

If you want a fair and transparent system then it has to deal with people consistently, and I’m aware from discussions with some of the MPs within the party – who might be described as left-leaning – that they feel that when it comes to disciplinary action taken against them then things move rather slowly, but if you’re in the right faction of the party, as it were, then things are dealt with either more leniently or more swiftly.

Now that’s the perception, I can’t quantify it, but I do think it’s something that leadership should be concerned to, in a away, dilute, or if it is in fact the case, they need to give reassurance to members of the voting public and to their members that people will be treated fairly.

He said Labour MPs Kate Osamor and Diane Abbott both apologised immediately after they were accused of antisemitism, but “things seemed to drag on in terms of disciplining certain elements of the party, and be dealt with swiftly in others”.

Read more from Aletha Adu, Rajeev Syal and Eleni Courea here: Labour withdraws support for Rochdale candidate after Israel-Gaza remarks

Key events

Rishi Sunak gave some reaction to the news about Labour withdrawing its support for Rochdale byelection candidate Azhar Ali last night as the prime minister was conducting an hour long Q&A on GB News.

He said the Labour party had not changed under Keir Starmer, saying “[Starmer has] stood by and sent cabinet ministers to support [Ali], until literally five minutes before I walked on tonight, under enormous media pressure, has decided to change his mind on principle. No principles at all. So no the Labour Party hasn’t changed. It’s a con.”

Labour’s statement on the withdrawal read:

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. Keir Starmer has changed Labour so that it is unrecognisible from the party of 2019. We understand that these are highly unusual circumstances but it is vital that any candidate put forward by Labour fully represents its aims and values. Given that nominations have now closed Azhar Ali cannot be replaced as the candidate.

That means that Rochdale will have a choice of the following candidates on 29 February:

  • Azhar Ali (Labour, but no longer backed by the party)

  • Mark Coleman (Independent)

  • Simon Danczuk (Reform UK)

  • Iain Donaldson (Lib Dem)

  • Paul Ellison (Conservative)

  • George Galloway (Workers party)

  • Michael Howarth (Independent)

  • William Howarth (Independent)

  • Guy Otten (Green, but no longer backed by the party)

  • Ravin Rodent Subortna (Monster Raving Loony)

  • David Tully(Independent)

Worth noting as well, with all the focus on Rochdale, that there are two byelections this week, with the Conservatives attempting to defend the constituencies of Kingswood and Wellingborough. Poor results there for Rishi Sunak’s party might very well quickly turn the attention back to potential leadership challenges among the Tory ranks.

Housing minister Lee Rowley was on the media round for the government this morning, hoping to push their new housebuilding plans. He refused, however, to say how many more homes the government hopes will be built, telling the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he would not get into a “numbers game”.

Kiran Stacey reports for us on what the plans entail, writing:

Under the proposals, councils would have to approve new development on brownfield land – land which was previously developed but has fallen into disuse – unless they can offer a good reason why they cannot.

Limits will also be removed on the kinds of former commercial buildings that can be turned into flats, removing restrictions on how big the building can be before a developer has to apply for planning permission.

Ministers will also consult on making it easier for homeowners to extend their houses without seeking planning permission.

Speaking on Times Radio, Rowley said “There’s a lot of progress being made but we need to go further. We got housebuilding up to about 240,000 a year before Covid. We know there are challenges with inflation, we know that housebuilding has slowed down, we’re trying to support that.”

He added: “Of course it’s not perfect, I mean, I wouldn’t claim that was the case.”

Put to him later on the BBC that the Conservative government has failed to meet its 2019 manifesto pledge to build 300,000 new homes a year, he replied: “The government is focused on increasing housing in general and we have made good progress on doing that in the last ten years.”

He also took the opportunity to have a dig at London’s mayor, saying “I don’t have a specific number. What the government is trying to do is change the framework so that there are more that can come forward, so that we can give developers the opportunity to bring more through. You can see when you go around places like London, which has consistently failed to deliver on housing targets, where Sadiq Khan has consistently failed to do that.”

Read more of Kiran Stacey’s report here: Sunak reveals plan to boost brownfield homebuilding in England

The Suella Braverman column in the Telegraph, which they used to generate their lead story in print today, claims that “the desperation to see identity politics in every aspect of our lives is creating a divided society”.

In it, the former home secretary reminisces about childhood holidays in the countryside, and uses those as a backdrop with which to criticise a recent report by Wildlife and Countryside Link which has been framed in some parts of the media as claiming that the countryside environment is racist.

Braverman writes:

To claim that the countryside is racist is one of the most ridiculous examples of Left-wing identity politics. It’s a symptom of a deeper problem within our society – the urge to constantly view everything through the lens of race or gender, plead victimhood and point the finger at an oppressor. Whether it’s the patriarchy, or colonial masters, this desperation to divide society is ripping through our institutions, creating a culture of fear and self-censorship.

At the time of the report a few days ago, head of the Wildlife and Countryside Link Richard Benwell was quoted as saying:

Sadly, evidence shows that people of colour in the UK are more likely to live in areas with less green space and that are more heavily polluted, and at the same time they are significantly less likely to visit natural spaces. There are multiple complex reasons behind this, as well as contemporary well-documented experiences of racism people encounter.

There is economic news this morning – UK pay growth has slowed, albeit by less than expected. My colleague Phillip Inman writes:

The ONS said annual growth in regular earnings, excluding bonuses, was 6.2% in October to December 2023, while pay rises including bonuses was 5.8%.

After wages were adjusted for inflation, the ONS said workers enjoyed a fourth month of real wage increases. Total pay rose on the year by 1.6% above the consumer prices index and regular pay rose on the year by 1.9% in October to December 2023.

The chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, said: “It’s good news that real wages are on the up for the sixth month in a row and unemployment remains low, but the job isn’t done. Our tax cuts are part of a plan to get people back to work so we can grow the economy – but we must stick with it.”

Read more here: UK pay growth slows less than expected as workers bid up wages

Here is a quick scoot around the front pages. The Daily Mail leads with its claim that Keir Starmer was “forced” to ditch Labour’s Rochdale candidate after its reporting.

Suella Braverman continues to position herself as a future Tory leader in the Telegraph, imploring that people aren’t made to feel guilty for being white. It is a news write-off of a column she has written for the paper. We’ve seen this model in operation before.

For the Times, the big story is government planning reforms.

The Sun is still fretting about Bill Roche’s tax bill, the Daily Express wheel of headlines landed on dementia today, while the Independent leads on foreign secretary David Cameron’s warning to Israel to halt its assault on Gaza.

For us, the paper lead with the Rochdale byelection story, pressure on Israel over Rafah, and an interview with Esther Ghey by my colleague Helen Pidd.

Updated at 

Labour withdraws support for Rochdale candidate after Israel-Gaza remarks

Labour have opted not to send anybody out on the media round this morning to defend their position on Azhar Ali.

Labour sources said that campaigners in Rochdale were told to stop leafleting and social media activity on Ali’s behalf at 5.30pm yesterday afternoon – an instruction that came from party HQ.

On Monday night, the Daily Mail approached Labour with more comments Ali had made, prompting the action.

Martin Forde, the KC who led a report into Labour which concluded that a culture of factionalism led to a situation where allegations of racism and harassment weren’t being addressed, has spoken though.

He said:

If you want a fair and transparent system then it has to deal with people consistently, and I’m aware from discussions with some of the MPs within the party – who might be described as left-leaning – that they feel that when it comes to disciplinary action taken against them then things move rather slowly, but if you’re in the right faction of the party, as it were, then things are dealt with either more leniently or more swiftly.

Now that’s the perception, I can’t quantify it, but I do think it’s something that leadership should be concerned to, in a away, dilute, or if it is in fact the case, they need to give reassurance to members of the voting public and to their members that people will be treated fairly.

He said Labour MPs Kate Osamor and Diane Abbott both apologised immediately after they were accused of antisemitism, but “things seemed to drag on in terms of disciplining certain elements of the party, and be dealt with swiftly in others”.

Read more from Aletha Adu, Rajeev Syal and Eleni Courea here: Labour withdraws support for Rochdale candidate after Israel-Gaza remarks

Welcome and opening summary …

Good morning. It was meant to be a tough week for Rishi Sunak, with the prospect of unwelcome economic news, two tricky byelections on Thursday, and the Rwanda deportation bill under scrutiny in the House of the Lords. And yet this morning the focus is very much on Keir Starmer and Labour’s decision to withdraw its support for Rochdale candidate Azhar Ali after his Israel-Gaza remarks, after backing him during most of yesterday.

Here are the headlines …

  • Labour has withdrawn its support for Azhar Ali, its candidate for this month’s Rochdale byelection, in the wake of controversial comments he made about the 7 October attacks on Israel. In line with electoral law, Labour cannot replace Ali with another candidate because the deadline passed on 2 February. He will stand as a Labour candidate on the ballot paper, but if elected he will not hold the party whip and will sit as an independent MP.

  • Rishi Sunak has said he is “absolutely committed” to his Rwanda policy during a one-hour Q&A session on GB News in which he insisted he understands the country’s frustrations after 14 years of Conservative-led government. The prime minister told voters that the Rwanda deportations scheme was necessary as a “deterrent” to channel crossings.

  • Sunak’s government is also announcing a series of proposed changes to the planning system on Tuesday to encourage developers to build more homes. It is a mover the Conservatives claim is designed to boost development in urban areas even while housebuilding slumps nationally.

The Commons is in recess. The Lords is sitting from 2.30pm. The Senedd and the Scottish parliament are not sitting. In Stormont there is a plenary session from 10.30am and a business committee meeting from 1pm.

It is Martin Belam here with you today. I do try to read and dip into the comments when I can, but if you want to get my attention the best way is to email me – martin.belam@theguardian.com – especially if you have spotted an error or typo.



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