Patrick O’Flynn Patrick O’Flynn

What the Rochdale disaster says about Keir Starmer

(Photo: Getty)

Sometimes a single act changes the entire course of events for years to come.

For instance, many Manchester United football fans fondly recall the moment in 1990 that a young striker called Mark Robins scored a crucial goal in an FA Cup tie that saved the job of Alex Ferguson, who had at that stage not won a trophy three seasons into his tenure.

So might Tory supporters point in future years to Keir Starmer’s disastrous mishandling of the anti-Semitic comments of his Rochdale candidate Azhar Ali as the moment that changed the game for them? In short, no.

Starmer’s flip-flopping and lack of principle is already, as financial market analysts say, ‘priced in’. Voters have noticed his U-turns on everything from trans rights to green investment and do not expect him to do the right thing at first contact with any problem. In normal times that might indeed be a disabling fault in someone aspiring to be prime minister, as indeed it proved for the former unilateral disarmer Neil Kinnock back in the day. But these are not normal times because the Conservative party brand is holed below the waterline.

What Starmer’s appalling handling of an obviously open-and-shut case of indefensible bigotry does offer though is a troubling glimpse into the likely course of his looming premiership.

He stood by Ali for the best part of three days despite the candidate’s peddling of the disgusting and false conspiracy theory that Israel deliberately facilitated the October 7 pogrom against its own citizens. He even sent a series of senior frontbenchers out to bat for Ali, including Pat McFadden, Lisa Nandy and Nick Thomas-Symonds.

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