Although Rochdale has been mainly held by Labour since the Nineties, it seems the party has alienated the Muslim/pro-Palestinian vote to such an extent that the current candidate Cllr Azhar Ali will have anything but an easy ride and it is even possible he could lose the constituency.
A source close to the campaign admitted: “Labour is having real problems in Rochdale - hardly any of the members are helping out, those that are still left in the party are sitting on their hands, and they keep having to call on other CLP's in Greater Manchester to ‘volunteer’”
“They can't even whip the local councillors to come out and help. Wouldn't surprise me if Labour lost Rochdale”
Following the very sad death of veteran Labour MP Tony Lloyd in mid-January, the constituency has become a battleground with no less than 11 candidates standing for the seat, including firebrand George Galloway, who has experience as a Labour and Respect MP and is increasingly popular in the north, standing as leader of the Workers Party of Britain, who has said he is running ‘to teach Starmer and Labour a lesson’.
A lesson George Galloway might very well teach Starmer on the 29 February, too late and to his sorrow, given the response around Rochdale to the canvassing efforts of the unfortunate Labour candidate…
Mr Galloway is currently second favourite to win the seat, with at least one bookmaker giving odds as low as 2.5/1.
Labour candidate Cllr Azhar Ali, who is the leader of Lancashire County Council and lives over 30 miles from the constituency near Nelson, visited Rochdale during his campaigning, and was given short shrift by customers in a local café/takeaway, whose antipathy towards Labour, and Starmer in particular, has been further fuelled by the party’s backing of the Israeli slaughter currently happening in Gaza.
The rise of Islamophobia within Labour, and the party’s apparent sidelining of Muslims, has not helped; Starmer’s vocal backing of Israel might be enough to tip the balance in Rochdale.
The hapless candidate was met with shouts of ‘Free Free Palestine’, ‘F*ck Labour’ and told in no uncertain terms to ‘get out of here’ - several videos of the debacle have done the rounds on social media. If anyone has recorded a more positive response to Labour canvassing, they have not seen fit to share it on social media; neither has it aroused much interest.
Despite Labour’s throwing some heavyweight MPs like former socialist and Deputy leader Angela Rayner into the fray to help Mr Ali out, the undercurrent of general disgust towards the party cannot be ignored.
Support among Asians for Labour has dropped by a third recently, and previous Labour voters in Rochdale have become disenchanted with the council, specifically after a sexual harassment complaint against sitting Mayor Ali Ahmed was reported as being ‘hushed up’ until after he concluded his tenure.
Residents accuse Labour of fostering a culture reminiscent of a ‘boys’ club’ and keeping information from the public to protect reputations, including that of Shakil Ahmed, elected deputy Mayor despite a harassment complaint against him.
Cllr Ali, who was previously a Director of the Good Campaigns Company Ltd alongside Alex Barros-Curtis, Executive Director of Legal Affairs at the Labour Party and an adviser to the Blair and Brown governments, is hoping his history in politics will offset any mistrust among the public of candidates who lack a connection with Rochdale and, frankly, of titles – ‘Sir’ Keir Starmer and his eminence grise ‘Lord’ Mandelson have somewhat put voters off, even of OBE’s.
Given current opinions on anything even slightly connected with the Blair years, Mr Ali might just be dead wrong to put faith in his ‘history’.
The fact that Mr Ali would have been quite content to be MP for another seat, Heywood and Middleton, for which he was shortlisted just a year ago, or for Pendle, which he also tried to contest, belies his professed particular attachment to Rochdale.
Rather than any local commitment, it suggests just a wish to be an MP, for whatever seat’s going spare.
Labour is scarcely more popular among supporters of disgraced former MP, the odious Simon Danczuk, (who clearly is not self-aware enough to steer well clear of politics, and claims the party is ‘too woke’, whatever that means, standing for the Reform Party). It is widely felt locally that the constituency has had its fill of racists and sex pests, but the seat could easily go to Mr Galloway.
At a campaign launch in Rochdale on Wednesday morning, Labour activists were told “others” have come to the town “to try to divide us”.
But “others” aside, Labour's support among Muslim voters has dropped by around a third amid anger at Keir Starmer's Israel stance, according to a Survation poll. And even his own candidate in Rochdale has asked him not to come to the constituency before the election; the day after, but only if they win.
So desperate is Starmer to retain the constituency that he has even chosen to publicly ignore both his candidate’s appearance on RT and the fact that Mr Ali is reportedly a fundraiser and trustee for a mosque where extreme views have been expressed. Whether he’ll be able to continue ignoring that remains to be seen; smutrag the Jewish Chronicle has run the story (although that equally means the entire thing could be made-up).
Questions are certainly being asked about the apparent lack of a live hustings for the Rochdale seat – and queries on X (formerly known as Twitter) did not help – at least one hustings account didn’t seem to want to interact with prospective voters. There was no indication of an upcoming video on the YouTube hustings channel, either, and a Google search, while showing loads of information about hustings’ over the years, threw up nothing for 2024.
It’s going to be interesting…
NB: Green candidate Guy Otten has stood down as the Green candidate over opinions on Palestine he expressed on social media years ago – he is, however, still on the ballot as an Independent, although he has said he will not take part in any campaigning or attend hustings (if indeed there are any hustings).