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Labour's Scrutiny Of Potential MPs Is In The Firing Line After Rochdale Row

Keir Starmer visits a Manufacturing Technology Centre in Coventry in February (Alamy)

3 min read

Labour insiders have defended the rigour of the process by which prospective MPs are selected after calls to tighten vetting in the wake of fallout over comments made by the party's former Rochdale by-election candidate Azhar Ali.

Ali was suspended from the party and had Labour support withdrawn from his Rochdale by-election campaign after comments he made at a local meeting, in which he suggested that Israel had “allowed” the Hamas attack in October, were reported by the Mail on Sunday. Ali has since apologised. 

Louise Ellman, the former Liverpool MP who resigned from the party in 2019 over her concerns about antisemitism in the party before rejoining in 2021, told Times Radio that there “clearly hasn’t been” scrutiny.

"What’s been disclosed in the last few days is really dreadful and one of the things it does show is that there clearly hasn’t been proper scrutiny in selecting candidates. Ellman, told the station on Wednesday. “Labour has to act and be very careful on the selection of future candidates.”

Mike Katz, the national chair of the Jewish Labour Movement raised similar questions, when he told the Financial Times that there needs to be recognition that “post October 7, there’s been a quantum change in the amount of conspiracy theories and misinformation floating around social media,” a reference to the Hama attacks in Israel.  

“It’s incredibly divisive and we need to ensure these haven’t been picked up or propagated by people who want to, or do, represent Labour,” he added.

Labour figures with knowledge of the selections process hope the events of the past week will motivate those responsible for selections to ensure the process is as robust as possible as the general election looms. But there remains a belief within the party machinery that the current system is rigorous. 

The party's due diligence process involves background checks including scrutiny of a potential candidate’s social media pages and an examination of Companies House data, among others. 

It is understood that checks carried out by Labour generally take place during the long-listing process. If somebody puts their name forward to become an MP, the party carries out a number of checks – including the social media checks – before the local party then takes over for the hustings and final selection process. 

Questions have been raised about how comments such as those made by Ali and Graham Jones – who was suspended as Labour candidate for Hyndburn after comments of his about Israel emerged from the same meeting – could have been picked up by a party’s internal processes. 

It has been argued that picking up comments such as those made in an informal meeting by Ali was difficult, as publicly he had shared different opinions. It is understood that it was not a Labour affiliated event, and details of what was discussed had not been publicly available until it was published by the Mail on Sunday last weekend. 

Shadow defence secretary John Healey told the BBC Radio 4’s Today programme earlier this week that “there certainly are strong checks” in place “but you can’t see everything everywhere”. 

"What is 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 said.

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