Keir Starmer under pressure to overhaul vetting of potential Labour MPs

Criticism comes after party suspended two parliamentary candidates in row over alleged anti-Semitism

Sir Keir Starmer is facing growing pressure to overhaul the vetting of potential Labour MPs, as he seeks to contain the spiralling fallout from the suspension of two candidates this week.

Mike Katz, chair of the Jewish Labour Movement, urged the Labour leader to revisit the due diligence processes that underpin candidate approval as the party was engulfed by a row over alleged anti-Semitism.

“We need to recognise that post October 7th, there’s been a quantum change in the amount of conspiracy theories and misinformation floating around social media,” Mr Katz said, referring to the Hamas attacks on 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 said.


Other Labour insiders share the view that tighter vetting is required. They argue that the October 7th attacks and the subsequent Israeli invasion of Gaza, which have fuelled anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, have had a radicalising effect on some party activists.

On Tuesday, Labour suspended former MP Graham Jones, the party’s candidate for Hyndburn in northwest England, over his leaked comments calling for Britons fighting for the military of “f*****g Israel” to be “locked up”.

It came just a day after Mr Starmer decided to drop Azhar Ali as the party’s candidate in an upcoming by-election in Rochdale, another constituency in northwest England, over leaked comments from the same event last October.

Mr Ali claimed Israel had allowed Hamas to attack the Jewish state on October 7th as a pretext for the invasion of Gaza.

Mr Starmer has faced mounting criticism over his handling of the debacle involving his party’s candidate in Rochdale, having initially defended Mr Ali after he apologised.

Labour’s decision to withdraw support came after further leaked remarks by Mr Ali were published by the Daily Mail, in which he blamed “people in the media from certain Jewish quarters” for fuelling criticism of a pro-Palestinian Labour MP.

John Healey, Labour’s shadow defence secretary, said there was already a robust vetting procedure for candidates. “There certainly are strong checks, the due diligence process, as part of selecting Labour candidates,” he told BBC Radio 4′s Today programme on Wednesday.

“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 said.

Mr Healey said not everyone in Labour was a “saint” but called for the party to be judged on its response to complaints and allegations.

He said Mr Starmer was “deeply aware” that restoring and retaining the trust of the Jewish community was a constant process. The Labour leader had pledged to root out anti-Semitism from the party’s ranks in 2020 when he took over from the far-left leader Jeremy Corbyn, who was heavily criticised for his handling of allegations of anti-Semitic abuse.

Mr Katz has urged Labour to suspend any party members who were present at the community meeting in Rochdale last October and heard the leaked remarks made by Ali and Jones but did not call out or report them.

– Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2024