The Telegraph 2024-02-14 00:00:29

Starmer faces fresh crisis over anti-Israel remarks

Sir Keir Starmer faces a deepening anti-Semitism crisis after he was forced to take action against a second parliamentary candidate in 24 hours.

The Labour leader suspended Graham Jones, who was due to stand in Hyndburn, where he was MP until 2019, after it emerged that he referred to “f—ing Israel” at a public meeting and said that British volunteers in the Israel Defense Forces should be “locked up”.

He was pushed into the decision less than a day after he was forced to remove support for Azhar Ali, his candidate for this month’s Rochdale by-election, following an outcry over a string of anti-Semitic remarks made by Mr Ali at the same gathering that went unchallenged.

On Tuesday, Sir Keir insisted that his party had changed and vowed to punish any more candidates accused of making similar comments, saying any allegations would be thoroughly investigated.

However, he was criticised over his “shambolic” handling of the crisis and urged to “get a grip” on anti-Semitism in the party, instead of simply playing “racist whack-a-mole”.

Sir Keir will come under further pressure to investigate five more MPs and candidates who The Telegraph can reveal have been involved in controversies over Israel.

Two shadow cabinet ministers – Thangam Debonnaire and Shabana Mahmood – are among those to have expressed contentious views on Gaza, while Afzal Khan, a former shadow minister, previously compared the Israeli government to Nazis.

Zarah Sultana, the Left-wing MP, liked an anti-Israel social media post last month while a councillor running in Southampton allegedly attended a pro-Palestine rally in November.

Sir Keir is also facing growing demands to reveal which MPs and councillors were at the Lancashire meeting where Mr Jones and Mr Ali made their incendiary remarks.

The issue of anti-Semitism has long plagued the Labour Party, with Sir Keir vowing to “tear out the poison” after taking over as leader from Jeremy Corbyn, who was found to have overseen the spread of racism against Jewish people within the party.

Sir Keir has come under fire from his own party over his refusal to back a ceasefire in Gaza, with Labour MPs privately fearing that some could fail to get re-elected because of a backlash among Muslim voters.

One former Labour official, who was a senior figure in Gordon Brown’s No 10, said Sir Keir needed to swiftly “get a grip” and warned that anti-Semitism was still “rife” within the party.

“If we are going to clean it up, let’s clean it up – the test will be whether Labour keeps playing racist whack-a-mole or actually decides to get a grip,” they said.

Sir Keir faced criticism over his initial decision to stick by Mr Ali for two days after it emerged that the candidate had told a meeting of local activists in Hyndburn, Lancashire, that Israel may have “deliberately allowed” the Hamas terror attacks on Oct 7 to happen in order to justify its war in Gaza.

After Mr Ali apologised, a succession of frontbenchers were sent out onto the airwaves to defend him with Pat McFadden, Labour’s campaign chief, telling Sky News’ Trevor Phillips that Mr Ali had issued a full apology and retraction and he hoped he “learns a good lesson from it”. 

Nick Thomas-Symonds, a shadow Cabinet minister said Mr Ali “fell for an online conspiracy”.

But then on Monday night, a fresh recording of the meeting revealed Mr Ali had also railed against “people in the media from certain Jewish quarters”. Sir Keir learnt of the comments on Monday afternoon and finally withdrew his support three hours later.

The crisis intensified on Tuesday when a recording emerged of Mr Jones, a former Labour MP who had been selected to run again as the party’s candidate in Hyndburn, making his own speech at the gathering.

This time Sir Keir reacted much more swiftly and suspended him within the hour.

Labour sources said Mr Jones had been hauled into a meeting with party bosses on Tuesday evening to explain himself.

Charlotte Nichols, a former shadow minister, questioned why Sir Keir had acted swiftly in his case but had taken so long to drop Mr Ali.

She said the Labour leader had made “the right decision, in both cases” but added: “I’m glad that the second one was quicker than the first.”

Martin Forde KC, a lawyer who led a 2022 review into anti-Semitism within the Labour Party under Mr Corbyn, said it was “very concerning” that nobody present at the gathering appeared to have pushed back against the comments.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism urged Sir Keir to publicly identify the attendees, saying that Labour must “put a line in the sand and declare that it will not tolerate extremist views”.

A spokesman for the group said: “The question remains who else was at that October meeting, what else was said, and who else knew, and why did nobody act?”

The Jewish Labour Movement said the two incidents showed that “the importance of a zero tolerance approach to anti-Semitism in Labour has become clearer than ever”.

Sir Keir defended his actions on Tuesday, telling reporters that he had taken “decisive action” to “make it absolutely clear that this is a changed Labour Party”.

Speaking before suspending Mr Jones, he added that if any other candidates were found to have made incendiary remarks then “any allegation that needs to be investigated will be investigated”.

Labour backbenchers were angered by how their leader handled the scandal, with one branding the last few days “shambolic crisis management”.

The MP said it would raise questions over whether the party’s vetting of candidates is up to scratch, saying it seemed officials “didn’t do due diligence”.

Left-wing MPs and activists accused Sir Keir of “double standards” by treating candidates on the Right of the party more favourably.

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Andrew Fisher, a former head of policy under Mr Corbyn, claimed that Sir Keir initially gave Mr Ali “the benefit of the doubt”, while Mish Rahman, a Left-wing member of Labour’s governing body, the National Executive Committee, also suggested vetting had been relaxed for allies of the party leader.

“It just shows clearly that the party’s due diligence, which should be done for all candidates, is not done properly, it’s not taken seriously,” he said.

Mr Jones, who was MP for Hyndburn from 2010 to 2019, had been embroiled in two separate anti-Semitism rows while in office.

In 2014 he was forced to apologise and delete a Twitter exchange with Justin Cohen, the then editor of the Jewish News, after he accused Israel of “a series of murders” in Gaza.

When Mr Cohen said that Israel was taking steps to avoid civilian casualties, Mr Jones replied: “You’ve lost any sense of humanity & justice. You’re killing children.”

The former MP was also spoken to by police after calling the Israeli ambassador a “t—er” at a Labour Party conference event in 2018.

Controversial remarks

The Telegraph can reveal that several other candidates, including two members of the shadow cabinet, have previously made controversial remarks about Israel that contradict Labour’s official stance.

Ms Sultana, the Left-wing MP for Coventry South who is running again, liked a post on Twitter, last month which accused Israel of “genocidal intent”.

Satvir Kaur, the Labour candidate for Southampton Test, allegedly attended a pro-Palestine demonstration on Remembrance Sunday last year.

Ms Kaur, who was leader of Southampton city council at the time, was among those gathered in the city centre on Nov 12.

Labour sources insisted she did not take part in the march through the city and had only briefly attended a “multi-faith peace vigil” for around 10 minutes.

Mr Khan, who resigned as a shadow minister last November over Labour’s stance on a ceasefire in Gaza, wrote on Twitter in 2014 that “the Israeli government are acting like Nazis in Gaza”.

Mr Khan, who was an MEP at the time, apologised for the post after being selected to run for the Commons, saying that he “did not endorse the content” of an article he linked to and that he had “made a mistake”.

Ms Debonnaire, the shadow culture secretary, said in 2015 that selling arms to Israel was a “grave concern” and accused the Jewish state of violating international law.

She wrote in a now-deleted blog post that the country appeared to have engaged in “internal repression” in the aftermath of its 2014 war with Hamas.

Ms Mahmood, the shadow justice secretary, urged thousands of people to “boycott Israeli goods” and bombard their MPs at their constituency surgeries back in 2014.

Speaking at a demonstration in Hyde Park, she told activists: “Please educate yourselves about the different boycott campaigns and get involved in them.

“Please keep up the pressure on your Members of Parliament, go to their advice surgeries, take 20 people with you and ask them to justify their views on Palestine and on Gaza.”

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The Tories leapt on the crisis engulfing Labour, saying it showed the party had not really changed and there was still the “cancer” of anti-Semitism at its heart.

Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, told The Telegraph: “It’s becoming increasingly clear that racism against Jewish people remains a cancer in the Labour Party.

“Keir Starmer is only acting now out of political expediency because he has been under media pressure, not out of principle. That’s weak leadership.”

Duchess of Sussex joins podcast company that wants to make life ‘suck less’

The Duchess of Sussex has signed a new podcast deal with a female-founded company that wants to “make life suck less”.

The Duchess, who produced one series of her podcast Archetypes for Spotify before parting ways with the company, has signed with Lemonada Media to develop and host a new series.

The announcement came shortly after the launch of the Sussexes’ new website, which used the Duchess’s old coat of arms to illustrate the words “The Office of Prince Harry & Meghan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex”. 

The revamped website described the Duchess as a “feminist and champion of human rights and gender equity” as well as “one of the most influential women in the world”.

‘Mission to make life suck less’

Critics questioned the suitability of using the coat of arms, with one arguing it could clash with the “spirit” of the couple’s understanding with Buckingham Palace to not trade on their royal status.

The Duchess said she was “overjoyed” to be joining the “family” at Lemonada, which describes itself as an “award-winning, independent, audio-first podcast network, with a mission to make life suck less”.

“I’m proud to now be able to share that I am joining the brilliant team at Lemonada to continue my love of podcasting,” the Duchess said.

“Being able to support a female-founded company with a roster of thought-provoking and highly entertaining podcasts is a fantastic way to kick off 2024.

“Our plan to re-release Archetypes so that more people can now have access to it, as well as launching a dynamic new podcast, are well in the works.

“I’m so eager to be able to share it soon, and am overjoyed to be joining the Lemonada family.”

Lemonada Media’s best-known podcast to date is “Wiser Than Me with Julia Louis-Dreyfus”, with more than 50 other audio shows spanning topics from ageing to parenting in crisis, being trans and having “good sex”.

Founded in 2019 by Jessica Cordova Kramer and Stephanie Wittels Wachs, celebrity signings so far include comedian Sarah Silverman and singer Meghan Trainor.

Steve Wright, ‘truly wonderful’ BBC Radio DJ, dies aged 69

Steve Wright has been praised as a “truly wonderful broadcaster” following the news that he has died at the age of 69.

Wright was one of the BBC’s longest-serving presenters, hosting shows on Radio 1 and Radio 2 for more than four decades.

His family released a statement announcing the death of their “beloved Steve” and spoke of “the millions of devoted radio listeners who had the good fortune and great pleasure of allowing Steve into their daily lives as one of the UK’s most enduring and popular radio personalities”.

Wright was last on air on Sunday with a Valentine’s special, promising listeners that he would be back next week.

Tributes were led by Tim Davie, BBC director-general, who said: “All of us at the BBC are heartbroken to hear this terribly sad news. Steve was a truly wonderful broadcaster who has been a huge part of so many of our lives over many decades.

“He was the ultimate professional; passionate about the craft of radio and deeply in touch with his listeners. This was deservedly recognised in the New Year Honours list with his MBE for services to radio.

“No one had more energy to deliver shows that put a smile on audiences’ faces. They loved him deeply. We are thinking of Steve and his family and will miss him terribly.”

Wright joined Radio 1 in 1980 and presented his Steve Wright in the Afternoon show from 1981-93, pioneering the “zoo format” that would be much copied.

He moved to Radio 2 in 1996 and hosted the afternoon slot for 24 years. But he was removed in 2022 as the station aimed to attract a younger audience.

Wright remained as the host of Sunday Love Songs and became the presenter of Pick of the Pops. He was awarded an MBE in the 2024 New Year Honours list for services to radio.

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Former Radio 1 colleague Mark Goodier said: “He’s gone too young. He always had plans and always had ideas. Nobody ever did anything like Steve did it.”

Danny Baker, Wright’s friend, said: “Steve Wright was a thoroughly good man, a genuine radio star and a loyal chum. This is a dreadful shock.”

Sara Cox paid an emotional tribute to Wright on her Radio 2 drivetime show after the news was announced, saying that all at the station were “absolutely devastated and shocked and blindsided” to hear of his death.

The remainder of Cox’s show was dedicated to Wright and featured his favourite songs, including Wichita Lineman by Glen Cambell and Baker Street by Gerry Rafferty.

Bobbie Pryor, Radio 2’s traffic reporter, fought back tears as she tried to read out her bulletin. She apologised saying: “He would be furious if we were crying now and making a fuss.”

When Wright announced to his listeners in 2022 that he was stepping down, he said that the head of Radio 2 had informed him that she wanted to try something different in the afternoons.

He said: “I’ve been doing this programme for 24 years, so how can I possibly complain? I can’t hog the slot forever.”

Helen Thomas, the head of Radio 2, who informed Wright in 2022 that he would be leaving his afternoon show, said: “Steve understood the connection and companionship that radio engenders better than anyone, and we all loved him for it. He was a consummate professional whose attention to detail was always second to none, and he made his guests laugh, he was fair, and he wanted to showcase them and their work in the best possible light, bringing brilliant stories to our listeners.

“He believed in the BBC passionately during his career which spanned more than four decades, and he was always up for pursuing new ideas.

“He brought joy to millions of listeners with his Sunday Love Songs as well as the legendary Pick of the Pops, which he took on last year and was having fun experimenting with, alongside a host of specials and new BBC Sounds formats which he loved doing.

“For all of us at Radio 2, he was a wonderful colleague and a friend with his excellent sense of humour, generosity with his time, and endless wise words. We were lucky to have him with us for all these decades, and we will miss his talent and his friendship terribly.”

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Lorna Clarke, director of BBC Music, said: “Steve was an extraordinary broadcaster – someone audiences loved, and many of us looked up to. He loved radio, and he loved the BBC, but most of all… he loved his audience.

“From Radio 1 to Radio 2, he was with us for more than four decades, and brought so much joy to our airwaves, whatever he was up to. We were privileged to have him with us for all these years.”

Calling ‘here puss’ to a cat in the street may become a criminal offence

Coaxing a cat in the street could become a criminal offence under proposed legislation.

Anyone who attempts to “induce” a cat to accompany them risks falling foul of the Pet Abduction Bill, which is making its way through Parliament.

The proposed law, which is supported by the Government, would make abducting a cat or dog punishable by up to five years in prison, a fine or both.

It follows pressure from animal rights campaigners, 45,000 of whom signed a petition to Parliament last year criticising how the existing law, the Theft Act of 1968, regards pets as personal property with sentences for theft dependent on their monetary value.

The new law would class pets as sentient beings, capable of experiencing distress and emotional trauma.

The draft Pet Abduction Bill states a person may be found guilty of cat abduction if they are “causing or inducing the cat to accompany the person or anyone else” or “causing the cat to be taken”.

It has led to concerns from some on social media that coaxing or grooming a cat in the street could land friendly strangers in court.

Joking about the plans, barrister Joanna Hardy-Susskind told her 68,000 followers on X: “Me, hanging out my garden door shaking a packet of Dreamies, ‘DEFINE INDUCEMENT’.”

Fellow barrister David Green responded, mimicking a judge: “And I am right, am I not, that you were heard saying ‘pusspusspusspusspuss’ in the vicinity of the said cat? I remind you Mrs Hardy-Susskind, you’re under oath.”

The ‘Granny Meow’ difference

However, Anna Firth, the Conservative MP for Southend West, who sponsored the Bill, told Parliament last month that detaining a cat would not be an offence as they are “more free-roaming than dogs”.

“That definition also avoids criminalising well-meaning behaviour, where a person looks after a cat that they thought was stray, abandoned or lost. That is the ‘Granny Meow’ difference, which was much discussed on second reading.”

It is unclear if a stranger or neighbour would have a defence if they coaxed a cat out of goodwill and then kept it, as “taking” a cat would be a crime.

The charity Cats Protection has previously advised owners that they cannot prevent cats being “free spirits”, especially if they introduce another pet into the home, as the cat may “take it upon himself to go, seeking a ‘better place’ that suits his needs”.

The proposed law, which is in its penultimate stage in the Commons before entering the Lords, offers protection to those who take a cat from someone they previously lived with, prior to getting the pet.

Last month in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative former minister, said he feared that “very kindly old ladies” would be prosecuted for taking in stray cats, but Ms Firth said there was “a defence of reasonable excuse”.

Steve Barclay, the Environment Secretary, has backed the Bill, saying it “will recognise the severity of this shocking crime and should act as a deterrent to anyone considering stealing a dog or cat”.

Figures revealed by the Pet Theft Taskforce, which was established by the Government in 2021, suggest that around 2,000 dog thefts and more than 400 cat thefts were reported to police in 2020 alone. Around a quarter of adults in the UK own a dog or cat.

A spokesman for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs said: “The Pet Abduction Bill is clearly not intended to criminalise innocent, well-meaning behaviour involving wandering cats. That includes when a cat freely visits a number of households in a neighbourhood.

“We have demonstrated our support for the Bill in recognising the severity of pet theft and it should act as a deterrent to anyone considering unlawfully taking a dog or cat.”

King Charles returns to London to continue cancer treatment

The King has returned to London to continue his treatment for cancer. 

The King and Queen, who have been spending time in Sandringham, were seen leaving Buckingham Palace on Tuesday morning. 

He is expected to hold some internal meetings as well as receiving his second treatment for cancer. His diagnosis was confirmed by Buckingham Palace eight days ago.

Wearing a grey suit and tie, the King was driven home to nearby Clarence House, after flying in by helicopter. 

The Queen, dressed warmly in a waterproof coat, has several engagements in London this week, with events on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. 

It is hoped that the King will feel well enough to undertake his weekly audience with the Prime Minister in person this week, but aides are mindful not to plan ahead as he waits to find out how he responds to cancer treatment. 

They waved and smiled at a gathering of well-wishers and members of the press as they arrived at St Mary Magdalene Church in Sandringham, Norfolk.

Buckingham Palace announced on Monday that the King, who acceded to the throne 17 months ago, was diagnosed after a “separate issue of concern was noted” and was investigated while he was being treated for a benign and unrelated prostate condition.

The 75-year-old King has been seen several times since his diagnosis, including being photographed in the State Bentley after his short meeting with the Duke of Sussex.

He has postponed all public-facing duties, but is continuing with behind-the-scenes work on his red boxes of state papers.

On Saturday, the King thanked people for their “many messages of support and good wishes” and said it was “equally heartening” to hear how sharing his diagnosis has helped to promote public understanding of cancer.

In a message to the public, His Majesty said: “I would like to express my most heartfelt thanks for the many messages of support and good wishes I have received in recent days.

“As all those who have been affected by cancer will know, such kind thoughts are the greatest comfort and encouragement.

“It is equally heartening to hear how sharing my own diagnosis has helped promote public understanding and shine a light on the work of all those organisations which support cancer patients and their families across the UK and wider world.

“My lifelong admiration for their tireless care and dedication is all the greater as a result of my own personal experience.”

The message was signed “Charles R”.

The Palace has called for the King’s privacy to be respected, especially during his treatment, but said he wanted to make his diagnosis public because of his long-running support for cancer charities.

Seaside second homes hotspot voted ‘UK’s most depressing place to live’

A seaside town in Cornwall where a row about second home owners broke out has been voted the UK’s most depressing place to live.

Falmouth, a coastal town near the Fal estuary, has been awarded the unwanted title of “most depressing” in the UK by iLive Here, which described it as a place which “saps the residents’ will to live”.

In a survey, the first of its kind, people voted for the most “bland, boring, soulless, uncultured middle-England municipalities of mediocrity, that imbue the inhabitants with an almost terminal case of ennui”.

Falmouth trumped Peterborough, Cambridgeshire, by 27 votes, while Aberdeen and Alloa in Scotland came third and fourth on the list.

The news comes after claims that residents of Falmouth were being “forced out” because of its popularity amongst holidaymakers, who were buying second homes and preventing locals from getting on the property ladder.

Oliver Berry wrote in the i newspaper in March 2023: “It’s been four months, and I am still looking for somewhere to live in Cornwall.

“My partner and I spent six years in our Falmouth flat, but we’re moving on, reluctantly. An eye-watering rent increase (18 per cent) is driving us out.

“What’s holding back our move is simple: we can’t find anywhere to go.

“The competition’s fierce. Every property has dozens of applicants. There are too few places, and too many people looking”.

Property prices in Cornwall have soared more than 25 per cent in two years, according to Rightmove.

The average house in Cornwall costs almost 10 times the average wage, according to Cornwall Live, with the average home at £316,045 in 2023 and the average salary at £32,715.

Old Hill and Acacia were named by iLive Here as the “worst places” in Falmouth, with Old Hill being described as a “dumping ground, where most councils from outside Cornwall decide to release their unruly tenants”.

“If you decide to relocate to Falmouth, just avoid this area and you’ll be fine,” the website advises.

Other towns on iLive’s list included Yeovil in Somerset, which ranked sixth on the list and Ellesmere Port in Cheshire, which came in at number seven.

Tiverton in Devon ranked at number five and was described as “the last of our Devon pastoral picturesque places that no doubt papers over an underbelly of oppressive black-dog-humping-your-leg ennui”.

iLive usually releases “the 50 best places to live” and “50 worst places to live in England”, as voted for by its readers.

Last year, Darlington, Aylesbury and Norwich were voted the top three best places to live whilst Luton, Peterborough and Portsmouth were voted the three worst.

Fake 50mph sign lands hundreds of drivers with speeding fines

Up to 500 motorists are seeking to overturn speeding fines after a fake 50mph sign was placed on a dual carriageway in south London.

Hundreds of drivers were ticketed on the A20 near Sidcup on a stretch of the road where the speed limit had been temporarily dropped to 40mph by Transport for London.

Officials say the 50mph sign was installed by an “unauthorised third party” after speed cameras were set to match the lowered limit.

The cameras are believed to have generated hundreds of automatic fines and penalty points to drivers who were guided by the incorrect sign.

Dominic Smith, a solicitor and director of specialist motoring firm Patterson Law, said he and his colleagues had been contacted by hundreds of affected drivers.

“I haven’t ever seen anything quite like this, on this magnitude,” he said.

“We’ve been contacted in the last week by about 400 or 500 individuals, of which about 100 to 150 are at risk of losing their licences because of this,” he told LBC.

“Usually when a new speed camera goes up, we can tell here because we get maybe about two or three enquiries a day for a couple of days – 40 to 50 a day we’re getting at the moment. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

TfL claimed the offending 50mph sign was installed by “an unauthorised third party” in January.

“TfL reviewed the signage at this location and found that an incorrect 50mph sign had been recently placed at this location by an unauthorised third party.

“This has been replaced with the correct 40mph signage and TfL is investigating how the incorrect sign was installed.”

The Metropolitan Police said it was investigating an attempt to “pervert the course of justice” over the 50mph sign’s installation, while claiming its presence made no difference to the speeding fines already issued.

“If a motorist were to have travelled through the section that is signed as 40mph at the maximum permitted speed of 40mph, then sped up to 50mph after seeing the now removed 50mph sign, their average speed of the section covered by cameras would not have resulted in them being issued with a speeding ticket,” a spokesman said.

Twelve local MPs have written to Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, urging him to cancel the fines.

“Your communication of this ‘temporary’ change has been poor, with a combination of email enquiries and freedom of information requests being the main way in which the public have been informed of this change,” said the letter, spearheaded by Louie French, the MP for Bexley.

“TfL have been quick to fine hundreds of drivers but slow to actually improve road safety on the A20,” said French. “The Mayor and TfL must urgently review this situation.”

A TfL spokesman said in a statement: “Safety is our number one priority and we have temporarily introduced a 40mph speed limit on the A20 Sidcup Road due to ongoing surface water flooding which has caused a number of safety concerns and serious risk to road users.

“The reduced speed limit has been introduced in response to that risk. Major work is required to put in place permanent measures to tackle flooding here and we are working to do this as soon as possible. We plan to begin construction work on these measures in May.”

The minimum penalty for speeding is a £100 fine and three penalty points. Drivers with 12 penalty points are banned from the road under a procedure known as “totting up”.