UK

Silence is golden for Labour on ‘conspiracy theory’ Rochdale candidate

Azhar Ali has apologised after a recording of his remarks about Israel and the October 7 terror attack emerged.

Labour candidate for Rochdale, Azhar Ali
Rochdale by-election Labour candidate for Rochdale, Azhar Ali (Peter Byrne/PA)

Labour’s Rochdale by-election candidate was not around for interviews on Monday – with no sign of activity at the campaign HQ in the town.

And MPs and senior Labour figures who last week backed Azhar Ali, have also not been available for comment – though the party is standing by their candidate.

Mr Ali, Labour’s candidate following the death last month of sitting MP Sir Tony Lloyd, has apologised after a recording emerged of him in a meeting of the Lancashire Labour Party appearing to suggest that Israel deliberately lowered its guard to use the Hamas terror attacks as a pretext to invade Gaza.

His remarks, reported in the Mail on Sunday, have led to calls for Labour to take action.

Andy Burnham, the Mayor of Greater Manchester, was at the launch of Mr Ali’s bid to become the local MP, who he praised for tackling antisemitism and Islamophobia.

Last Wednesday at his campaign launch in Rochdale, Mr Ali, made an OBE for public service in 2020, told the media he had tackled the issue of extremism and antisemitism in his role as a government adviser on countering extremism and terrorism.

He said: “I don’t want to be a candidate that divides communities, I want to be a candidate that brings communities together.

“I was involved in calling it out after 7/7 and before.

“I’ve taken on the BNP and the EDL, I’ve had death threats myself, so you know, I’m not going to take any lessons from anyone saying to me, ‘you know you’ve not called it out’ – I’ve been there at the sharp end and still am.

“I work very closely with all communities and the Jewish community to make sure there’s no discrimination, there’s no antisemitism or Islamophobia and we can be a united community.”

Mr Burnham said he was a Home Office minister when Mr Ali was an adviser there.

He added: “And you did step forward and you called out hate of any kind, didn’t you, antisemitism and Islamophobia. I saw him do it with my own eyes.

“I think in this by-election it’s not what people say it’s what they’ve done and I saw Azhar do that at a difficult time but you did step forward and you were a massively important voice at that time.”

Wigan MP Lisa Nandy and Anneliese Dodds, the MP for Oxford East and chairwoman of the Labour Party, were out campaigning for Mr Ali in the constituency at the weekend.

Calls from the PA news agency for comment from either MP or Mr Burnham were not returned. None have used X, formerly known as Twitter, to make statements on the issue.

Labour shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds said he believed Mr Ali, had fallen “for an online conspiracy theory”, he told BBC’s Radio 4’s Today programme.

Mr Ali, who is also a Lancashire County Councillor, has apologised to the Jewish community and retracted his remarks, which he described as “deeply offensive, ignorant and false”.

The Tories have called for the aspiring MP’s campaign to be suspended and his Labour Party membership removed.