Labour’s campaign was thrown into chaos after it was revealed Azhar Ali had said Israel deliberately allowed 1,400 people to be killed on its own soil on October 7.
The Mail on Sunday reported Ali said Israel did so in order to give the “green light” to invade of Gaza, when at a meeting of the Lancashire Labour Party.
Labour stood by Ali after he apologised for his “inexcusable comments”. But on Monday night the position changed and the party withdrew its support.
Speaking on Tuesday afternoon, Starmer said: “Certain information came to light over the weekend in relation to the candidate.
“There was a fulsome apology. Further information came to light yesterday calling for decisive action, so I took decisive action.”
The Leader leader added: “It is a huge thing to withdraw support for a Labour candidate during the course of a by-election.
“It’s a tough decision, a necessary decision. But when I say the Labour party has changed under my leadership, I mean it.”
Martin Forde, the lawyer tasked by Starmer back in 2020 to conduct an inquiry into allegations of racism within Labour, this morning condemned the “shambolic” handling of the “clearly anti-Semitic” incident.
It is too late for Labour to remove Ali as their candidate and replace him with someone else as the deadline passed on February 2.
The move is likely to mean Ali will remain the Labour candidate on the ballot paper but the party will not campaign at all.
If elected, he could be forced to sit in parliament as an independent MP.
The disarray opens up the prospect of a win for former Labour MP George Galloway, who is standing as the Workers party candidate and campaigning against Labour’s stance on Gaza.
The by-election follows the death last month of sitting MP Tony Lloyd. Voters go to the polls at the end of the month.
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”.
Also running in Rochdale are former Labour MP Simon Danczuk, now the Reform Party candidate.
About 20% of the electorate and 30% of the population of the town are Asian, with polls nationally suggesting Labour’s vote could be hit by Asian people unhappy with the party over Palestine and its perceived support for Israel.