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HomeWorldLabour’s Rochdale byelection campaign engulfed in antisemitism row – UK politics live

Labour’s Rochdale byelection campaign engulfed in antisemitism row – UK politics live

Labour’s Rochdale byelection candidate apologises ‘unreservedly’ to Jewish community after Israel comments

The Labour candidate for the 29 February Rochdale byelection, Azhar Ali, has “apologised unreservedly to the Jewish community” for comments which he described as “deeply offensive, ignorant and false.”

After comments emerged in which he suggested Israel had allowed the 7 October to happen in order to have a pretext to attack Gaza, he said “Hamas’s horrific terror attack was the responsibility of Hamas alone, and they are still holding hostages who must be released.”

Describing them as “my inexcusable comments”, Ali said that “the Labour party has changed unrecognisably under Keir Starmer’s leadership” after years in which it has been claimed the party had failed to deal adequetly with antisemitism.

Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, said Ali’s comments were “completely wrong” and did not represent the party’s view, but that he would remain the party’s candidate for the byelection, where Labour faces a challenge from George Galloway.

McFadden 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.”

A recording obtained by the Mail on Sunday quoted Ali saying: “The Egyptians are saying that they warned Israel 10 days earlier. Americans warned them a day before there’s something happening. They deliberately took the security off”. He went on to suggest Israel allowed a “massacre that gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want.”

Key events

The House of Lords has just started sitting. After oral questions, which is down on the order paper for 40 minutes, they should move on to considering the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill. There is a live stream here if you’d like to watch.

The Conservatives are continuing to home in on the Labour party over comments by Rochdale byelection candidate Azhar Ali.

The party social media account has fallen back to a frequently used PMQs attack line from Rishi Sunak, that the current Labour leader supported the previous Labour leader during election campaigns, writing:

Labour have admitted that Keir Starmer’s candidate for Rochdale spouted an antisemitic conspiracy theory. But today they’re still fully behind him and campaigning for him to be their MP. Remember: Keir Starmer is the same man that backed Jeremy Corbyn to be prime minister.

Home secretary James Cleverly has also attacked comments made earlier by Labour party shadow minister without portfolio, Nick Thomas-Symonds, who said Ali had fallen for a conspiracy theory. Cleverly wrote:

I’m not sure ‘our candidate believed and repeated a vile and clearly antisemitic smear that he saw on the internet’ is quite the defence that Labour think it is.

Philip Nye at the Institute for Government has this wallchart of the MPs who have already announced they will not be standing for re-election later this year, which is now 90 in total, of which 57 are Conservative MPs.

Tracey Crouch, former sport minister and Conservative MP for Chatham and Aylesford, has announced she will be standing down at the next election

That takes to 90 the total number of announcements we’ve had so far, of which 57 are from Conservative MPs

— Philip Nye (@philipnye) February 12, 2024

The prime minister’s spokesperson has said that Rishi Sunak believes Ofwat is doing a good job of regulating water companies in England.

Speaking earlier today, the spokesperson said “of course” Sunkak thinks the regulator is doing a good job, “but we have also recognised that there have been significant challenges in this sector. So that is why we are taking further action, not least today in giving Ofwat the powers they need to ban water bosses from receiving bonuses in scenarios where a company has committed serious criminal breaches, which I think the public would expect”.

The environment secretary, Steve Barclay, is proposing to block payouts to executives of firms that commit criminal acts of water pollution, starting with bonuses in the 2024-25 financial year from April. Bosses took home more than £26m in bonuses, benefits and incentives over the last four years, despite illegally dumping vast amounts of sewage in waterways.

Ofwat has also announced that a new scheme to fine water companies for providing poor service to customers, although it has been dismissed as “nothing less than a gimmick” by Liberal Democrats who have been campaigning on the issue.

Updated at 

The Northern Ireland assembly is sitting in Stormont today, with a Sinn Féin motion on childcare costs to be debated. Unlike England, Scotland and Wales there is no free childcare provision in the country.

Deputy first minister Emma Little-Pengelly (DUP), speaking on the BBC yesterday, said she was glad there was cross-party support to make a plan, and suggested that actually it was an advantage to be able to learn from mistakes made in other areas of the UK. “The DUP had set out a 30-hours free childcare promise but that doesn’t mean it’s a cut and paste from the English system,” she said.

Before that, in the assembly there was some confirmation of the allocation of the chairs and deputy chairs of all the Stormont committees, and this has angered Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice party, and its only representative in the Northern Ireland assembly.

He claims he has been deliberately excluded from the committee working on post-Brexit arrangements and the Windsor framework. PA Media quotes him saying:

Last week we had a carve-up by the main parties and then an offer of the crumbs to the four of us in this corner of the assembly. And of course crumbs which didn’t meet any of the desires of those of us sent here on an equal mandate with everyone else.

The result of course, in my own case … I have been denied a place on the EU Brexit committee because deep-dive scrutiny is not what is required; rather it is the form rather than the substance of scrutiny that the protocol-implementing parties in this House wish to see.

On that committee or not, elsewhere I will continue to shine a light on to the dark deeds of colonial rule from the EU in this place.

The committee, which is to meet for the first time on Thursday, is charged with examining and considering new EU Acts and replacement Acts as they arise, and it can recommend the application of the Stormont brake to the UK Government.

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Crouch is the eighth MP – and the sixth Conservative – this year to announce they will quit Parliament at the next election, which is expected to take place later in 2024.

Overall, more than 80 MPs – of whom more than 50 are Conservatives – have already said they intend to stand down then. That is more than retired at the 2019 election and almost as many as retired in 2015.

In her resignation letter, Crouch says she will “continue to work tirelessly for my constituents” until the election, and looks forward to supporting whoever is selected as the Conservative candidate for her relatively safe seat.

In 2021, she chaired the review of football governance in England triggered by the backlash to the short-lived proposals to form a European Super League. The review had been promised in the 2019 Conservative manifesto following the collapse of Bury FC.

Among the recommendations were the creation of an independent football regulator to oversee financial regulation of the men’s professional game and the imposition of a “stamp duty” on transfers between Premier League clubs.

The UK has sanctioned four extremist Israeli settlers who have committed human rights abuses against Palestinian communities in the West Bank, the Foreign Office says.

Tracey Crouch, the Conservative MP for Chatham & Aylesford, has become the latest MP to announce they are standing down at the next election.

In a statement she said her reasons for not wishing to stand are “entirely personal and positive.”

Crouch, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020, and in 2023 reached the summit of Kilimanjaro while raising funds for a breast cancer charity, said:

While everyone’s cancer journey is different, for me going through a diagnosis and coming out the other side of treatment has been a life affirming experience. It has been an opportunity to pause and reflect on my own personal priorities, and based on that, I truly believe it is time to seek a new professional challenge. We spend far too much time in our relatively short lives putting things off but at some point, you have to say to yourself if not now, when and for me I have realised that when is now.

The former sports minister resigned from government in 2018 because she believed pro-gambling MP Philip Davies successfully went above her head to secure a delay to curbs on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), defying her on a policy she had overseen. Crouch was also the author of the fan-led review into football governance.

Cameron: it would be wrong for House of Lords to ‘frustrate’ Rwanda plan

David Cameron has asserted that it would be wrong for the House of Lords to frstrate the government over its plans to declare Rwanda a safe country and deport asylum seekers there for processing.

Sky News quotes the foreign secretary, who is a member of the unelected second chamber, saying:

All over the world you see problems of very visible, illegal migration and that’s what we have coming to our south coast with this terrible human trafficking of people getting into very dangerous dinghies and crossing the Channel.

Many lose their lives. You’ve got to make sure you can’t get in a boat, arrive in Britain and stay in Britain. Rwanda is a safe country in our view.

The Lords begins its committee stage scrutinising the Bill at 3.20pm today, and has published 38 pages of potential amendments in advance. [See 9.43am GMT]

James Cleverly, meanwhile, has also added to the social media pressure on Labour’s candidate for the Rochdale byelection, reposting a message that asked how Labour could still be supporting Azhar Ali’s candidacy when the party had withdrawn the whip from Kate Osamor and Andy McDonald over comments which included references to Gaza the party had deemed offensive or controversial.

Osamor, the MP for Edmonton, appeared to have said Gaza should be remembered as a genocide on Holocaust memorial day, and McDonald was placed on a “precautionary suspension” after a Labour party spokesperson said comments he made that included the words “between the river and the sea” at a pro-Palestine rally were “deeply offensive”. McDonald subsequently threatened legal action against Conservative MP Chris Clarkson for defamation after Clarkson commented.

Diane Abbott, herself also suspended by the Labour party after comments in a letter to the Observer about racism, has added pressure on Keir Starmer’s stance over a ceasefire in Gaza this morning. Quoting Starmer’s message yesterday in which he said “an Israeli offensive [in Rafah] would be catastrophic”, she said:

Surely the decision for Labour to oppose a ceasefire was a mistake, then? An apology is called for and the party should vote for immediate ceasefire at the first opportunity. Otherwise, this is fraudulent. Just hot air before a tricky byelection.

On the government’s media grid this morning was the launch of a new anti-fraud campaign, which was being championed by home secretary James Cleverly and security minister Tom Tugendhat.

Describing the new campaign as “a powerful tool”, Cleverly said that as well as the campaign, the government was delivering “a world-first agreement from tech firms to prevent online fraud and the rollout of a national fraud squad that has 400 expert investigators.”

The campaign website – Stop! Think Fraud – can be found here.

💻 Fraud costs the taxpayer an estimated £6.8 billion per year.

Our new campaign takes the fight to criminals, giving you the skills to spot fraud and protect you from its devastating impacts.

— Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) February 12, 2024

During the morning media round, Tugendhat cautioned that “fraud ruins lives”, while also claiming that the Conservative givernment he was representing was wrong to write off £4.3bn in fraudulent Covid loans. [See 9.58am GMT]

Labour’s Emily Thornberry was somewhat less impressed, with the shadow attorney general pointing out the government had overseen a near eightfold increase in the crime, adding that “After 14 years spent sleepwalking through the escalation of the crisis, launching an ad campaign in response is the definition of too little, too late.”

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Sunak: scrapping northern leg of HS2 has benefited local bus routes

During his visit to Harrogate this morning, Rishi Sunak has claimed that local buses have benefited from his government’s decisions to scrap the northern leg of HS2.

PA Media reports the said:

Every penny from HS2 in the North, almost £20bn, is going to stay in the North. We’re here at a bus depot, which is benefiting from the £2 bus fare that we were able to put in place as a result of the reprioritisation.

Local road schemes across the North, railway stations being reopened – those are the types of the projects I think people want us to invest in alongside road maintenance, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Sunak said “Talking to the team here, as a result of that policy, they’ve seen a 15% increase in bus numbers in this area – I’m here in Harrogate, in North Yorkshire. That demonstrates that policy is working and the plans we’ve put in place are the right ones.”

Rishi Sunak meets with bus drivers in Harrogate this morning. Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

The prime minister said the £2 bus fare cap was a direct result of his decision on HS2. The initial three month cap came into effect in January 2023, with the Department for Transport saying the average fare for a three-mile journey was about £2.80, meaning that passengers would save 30% of the price every time they travelled.

Sunak announced the scrapping of the northern leg of HS2 in October 2023. Last week the public accounts committee of MPs said the remaining London-Birmingham line will be “very poor value for money” and the government does not yet understand how the remaining £67bn high-speed line will now function as a railway.

Police have announced they will take no further action against Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell after he was arrested on suspicion of rape, sexual assault and misconduct in a public office. Scotland Yard said a “thorough investigation” had been carried out and the evidence threshold for criminal prosecution had not been met. In a statement, a spokesperson for the Romford MP said he had been “completely exonerated”.

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