Labour pledges to investigate all antisemitism allegations as row deepens

More Labour politicians dragged into antisemitism row as shadow cabinet minister says the party takes allegations ‘seriously’

Zoe Grunewald
Thursday 15 February 2024 11:09 GMT
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Keir Starmer has said he has taken full and decisive action over Mr Azhar Ali’s candidacy in Rochdale

The shadow defence secretary has said Labour will “follow the hard evidence” to ensure anyone who does not meet the standards of the party will be investigated.

His remarks come as Keir Starmer’s party was plunged into a damaging row about the handling of antisemitism allegations, with parliamentary candidate Graham Jones suspended on Tuesday, only a day after Labour was forced to suspend and withdraw its backing for Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali.

Mr Starmer was forced to act after audio, obtained by website Guido Fawkes, appeared to capture Mr Jones using the words “f****** Israel” at the same meeting Mr Ali attended, while also allegedly suggesting that British people who volunteer to fight with the Israel Defence Forces should be “locked up”.

John Healey today urged anyone else at the meeting who witnessed antisemitism or unacceptable comments to report it to the party.

Speaking to Sky News, the shadow minister said: “Anyone at that meeting, if there is evidence that they have, that people acted or spoke in a way that doesn’t meet the standards, or is incompatible with the values of our Labour Party, they need to report it, provide it and the Labour Party will take it seriously and investigate it.

He added: “It’s what we do with every case.”

Pushed on whether Mr Ali was properly vetted, Mr Healey said the Rochdale candidate was “widely respected” and “widely supported across communities, including the Jewish community in the North West”.

The upcoming by-election in Rochdale has been plunged into disarray after Labour withdrew its support from Mr Azhar Ali

He also said that there are “strong checks” and “due diligence” in the process. “But you can’t see everything everywhere. What’s important is that if new information comes to light, as in this case, we will act to investigate, we will act to block those who are not fit to serve as MPs,” he added.

It is too late now to replace Mr Ali as the Labour candidate so he will still appear on the ballot paper as the party’s choice.

On Tuesday the Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer addressed the controversy for the first time since the allegations broke.

Mr John Healey (left) is Keir Starmer’s shadow defence secretary

“Information came to light over the weekend in relation to the candidate [and] there was a fulsome apology. Further information came to light yesterday calling for decisive action, so I took decisive action,” he said.

The Labour leader added: “It is a huge thing to withdraw support for a Labour candidate during the course of a byelection. It’s a tough decision, a necessary decision, but when I say the Labour party has changed under my leadership I mean it.”

Labour has been criticised for not taking tougher action sooner, with some suggesting Mr Ali was given favourable treatment because he was an ally of the leadership.

Martin Forde, the lawyer who has previously investigated allegations of bullying, racism and sexism in the party, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “One does have to question how such individuals are selected in the first place – and also the disparity in treatment.”

He added: “One of the things that concerned us when we talked about weaponisation was certainly the perception that antisemitism was along factional lines.”

Mr Healy said the Labour party was “not a party of people who are saints” but “when people do things that may be wrong, say things that may be unacceptable, the important thing is how does the party respond”.

“We have an independent investigations process and when it concerns candidates or MPs, we expect as the public does the very highest standards,” he added.

Mr Healy’s comments come as scrutiny of antisemitism within the Labour party has been extended two further prospective parliamentary candidates that attended the same meeting.

Mr Azhar Ali and Mr Graham Jones have both been suspended from the Labour party following comments made during a meeting of Lancashire Labour

On Tuesday, former Labour MP for Hyndburn, Graham Jones - who is seeking to stand as a Labour candidate again at the next election - was suspended after allegedly referring to "f***ing Israel"and saying UK citizens who volunteer to fight for the Israeli Defence Forces "should be locked up".

It has also been reported that Hyndburn councillor Munsif Dad, who leads the local authority’s Labour group, is thought to have been at the gathering where two parliamentary candidates are alleged to have made antisemitic remarks and has since been “spoken to”. There is no allegation of wrongdoing.

The Telegraph is now highlighting other anti-Israel comments made by Labour MPs over the last few years, including two shadow front-benchers, Thangham Debbonaire and Shabana Mahmood.

Ms Debbonaire is reported to have said in 2015 that selling arms to Israel was a “grave concern” and accused the Jewish state of violating international law, whilst Ms Mahmood, the shadow justice secretary, urged thousands of people to “boycott Israeli goods” and bombard their MPs at their constituency surgeries back in 2014.

The Labour party has been approached for comment.

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