Why a parliamentary candidate can’t be removed by a party in the weeks up to an election

The electoral commission has strict rules regarding the withdrawal of a candidate ahead of an election

Zoe Grunewald
Sunday 11 February 2024 16:58
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The Rochdale by-election takes place on 29 February following the death of Sir Tony Lloyd

Labour’s candidate for the upcoming Rochdale by-election has sparked anger after reportedly saying Israel had been warned about the 7 October attack and allowed it to happen.

The Labour Party has since issued a statement on behalf of Mr Azhar Ali after the Mail on Sunday published his comments, which were taken from a recording before the Lancashire Labour party.

Mr Ali apologised for the claims, stating: “I apologise unreservedly to the Jewish community for my comments which were deeply offensive, ignorant, and false.”

He added: “The Labour Party has changed unrecognisably under Keir Starmer’s leadership, he has my full support in delivering the change Britain needs.”

Labour figures have insisted that Mr Ali will remain Labour’s candidate in Rochdale - but due to Electoral Commission rules it is too late for Labour to replace their candidate anyway.

Labour candidate for Rochdale Azhar Ali has apologised for his comments regarding Israel’s knowledge of the attack on October 7th

What is the process for replacing electoral candidates?

A nominated candidate can withdraw their candidacy if they do so before the deadline.

The withdrawal notice must be signed by the candidate, attested by a witness and delivered by 4pm on the 19th working day before the poll. In this instance, since the by-election is on the 29 Feburary, the notice would have to have been delivered by 2 February.

What happens if you withdraw after the deadline?

The short answer is you can’t.

After the withdrawal deadline it is not possible to withdraw from the election, and the name will appear on the ballot paper. If the election is uncontested, that name could be declared elected.

Voters across the UK will be taking to the polling booths in the next few weeks for three by-elections

What else can a party to do remove a candidate?

The party would not be able to prevent that candidate appearing on the ballot after the deadline.

A party could choose to suspend its campaign or advise voters not to support their candidate, or they could even endorse another candidate from a different party.

A party could also suspend or withdraw the whip entirely from the candidate.

This happened to Neale Hanvey in the last general election. Mr Hanvey stood as an independent for Kirkcaldy after he was suspended from the SNP.

He was eventually readmitted to the party in 2020, only to defect to Alba in 2021.

What will Labour do in this instance?

Labour has mantained it intends to keep Mr Ali on as the candidate.

Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign coordinator defended the Labour councillor’s candidacy on the morning news round, and told Sky News: “He’s issued a complete apology and retraction and I hope he learns a good lesson from it because he should never have said something like that in the first place.”

Mr Ali was out campaigning in Rochdale on Sunday.

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