Mass exodus of Labour councillors in Pendle amid accusations of antisemitism

Several of the councillors were being questioned by the party following allegations of antisemitism


(Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Twenty councillors in Lancashire have resigned from Labour after accusing the party of “bullying tactics” and criticising Sir Kier Starmer’s stance on the war in Gaza.

Several of the councillors who resigned were being questioned by the party following allegations of antisemitism and other serious disciplinary matters.

The Pendle group accused the Labour Party of "targeting local councillors" by "preventing them from standing for elections" and "using aggressive bullying tactics to suppress fairness and free speech".

The move marks the largest exodus of Labour councillors since Starmer became Labour leader. Independent groups will now form on Pendle Borough Council, Brierfield Town Council and Nelson Town Council.

Among those to resign from the beleaguered group is Mohammed Iqbal, who was suspended from the party in June 2022 after implying that Israel was comparable to Nazi Germany during a debate on whether the Palestinian flag should be flown over the council building. The motion passed and the flag was hoisted over the town hall. 

After 18 months, Iqbal’s suspension was lifted.

This week, Iqbal said he was suspended from Labour “for advocating on behalf of my constituents”.

He added: “However, senior figures within the party are attempting to stifle free speech and threaten dedicated councillors with removal as candidates. I, for one, cannot stand by and allow this to happen. The bullying needs to stop.”

The resignations come six months after the leader of Pendle Borough Council, Asjad Mahmood, called on Starmer to resign over Gaza. Mahmood said in November that Starmer had "failed to listen" to calls for a ceasefire to "stop the innocent loss of lives".

Fellow councillor Yvonne Tennant also resigned from Labour. Tennant frequently tweets in support of former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who presided over the party’s antisemitism crisis and was suspended after refusing to accept the findings of an antisemitism report.

Tennant has also shown her support for former Labour MP Diane Abbott, who was suspended from Labour pending an investigation into an allegedly antisemitic letter to the Observer for which she later apologised.

Other posts retweeted by Tennant proclaim support for the Palestine Solidary Campaign and controversial singer and activist Charlotte Church.

The mass resignation from Labour comes less than two months after the Rochdale by-election candidate, Azhar Ali, was suspended from the party following accusations of antisemitism. Ali was embroiled in scandal when it emerged that he told a meeting last year that Israel “allowed” Hamas’ October 7 attack so it could get a “green light to do whatever they bloody want”.

Ali apologised for the comments but was suspended from the party days before the by-election, paving the way for George Galloway’s victory at the ballot box.

The former Labour candidate sits as an independent councillor in Lancashire County Council.

Labour has lost control of four councils since the war started – Burnley, Oxford, Norwich and Hastings – as dozens of councillors have resigned from the party since October 7.

A spokesperson for Labour said: "The Labour Party's focus is on winning the General Election so we can improve the lives of those we are elected to serve.”

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