Labour candidate in Rochdale Azhar Ali and Keir Starmer in happier times (Picture: Twitter/ Azhar Ali)

Labour’s campaign for the Rochdale by-election has collapsed after its candidate managed to enrage both Zionists and pro-Palestine voters. Azhar Ali was already facing potential defeat at the election set for 29 February. Thousands of people in the constituency are enraged by the Labour Party’s support for Israel in Gaza.

Then last weekend the Mail on Sunday published a recording of Ali saying Israel “allowed” Hamas’ attack on 7 October. He said “that gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want”. The remarks led to frenzied criticism from Zionist groups—and Ali rushed out an abject apology. 

He grovelled to pro-Israel groups, thereby cementing the view he won’t oppose imperialism. Labour shadow minister Nick Thomas-Symonds told broadcasters that Ali’s words were “completely wrong”, and “in no way represent” Labour’s views.

But unlike when left MPs are, wrongly, accused of antisemitism, the party was still backing Ali as the Labour candidate at the start of this week. Tory defence secretary Grant Shapps and Richard Holden, the Conservative Party chair, seized on the issue to urge Labour to cease campaigning immediately. The withdrawal of all other candidates is about the only way the Tories could win the election.

The Labour ferment will further boost the campaign by George Galloway for the Workers’ Party of Britain (WPB).  He is winning many votes because of his long-term support for the Palestinians and his high profile in previous anti-war movements. Unfortunately he is building such support while peddling his “for the workers not the wokers” reactionary politics. 

The WPB has rotten politics around migration, LGBT+ issues and the environment. It says, for example, that it “offers a migration policy that reflects the anxiety felt among the working class about an influx of migrants which appears to be out of control.

“People are not wrong to worry about undue burdens being placed on local services and about the cost of hosting escalating numbers of asylum seekers.” Rochdale desperately needs an MP who will be on the right side over Palestine and fight back against Tory policies. The constituency has one of the highest poverty rates in Greater Manchester with almost half of children living in poverty. 

Labour won back the seat in 1997 after the Liberals held it for 25 years. For most of that time the Liberal MP was the child sexual abuser Cyril Smith. The by-election sums up the wider crisis in British politics—Tories in free fall, Labour failing and nothing properly filling the vacuum.

Daniel, a Rochdale voter who is waiting to begin an apprenticeship, told Socialist Worker, “Whoever you vote for I reckon the politician’s main interest is themselves. People wrongly refer to Rochdale as a slum, but a lot still needs to change. 

“You’re told as a kid that because you’ve grown up in Rochdale you’ll always be stuck here.” William Howarth, co-founder of local group Parents Against Grooming UK, is also standing as an independent. While Howarth is not a fascist his campaign will push racist arguments around child sexual exploitation in the area.

Former Rochdale Labour MP Simon Danczuk is standing for the racist Reform UK party. Danczuk was the Labour MP for the constituency from 2010 to 2015.  He was suspended from the party in 2015 after it emerged he had sent explicit messages to a 17-year-old girl. He ridiculously claims to have been removed from the party for his early criticism of Jeremy Corbyn.

Independent candidate Mark Coleman has been a climate activist for many years and has recently been jailed twice for taking part in Just Stop Oil protests. Coleman told Socialist Worker, “How can Labour claim to fight for bread and butter issues but not defend the climate or call for a ceasefire in Palestine?”

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