Drinking in last chance saloon?

Following the publication on Friday 13th August, 2021 of a widely read, and shared, exclusive, elsewhere on this website (read here), a ‘peace meeting’ was arranged between Cllr Arooj Shah, Leader of Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council and Cllr Brian Hobin, Group Leader of the three-member Failsworth Independent Party.

It followed the posting on-line of a poorly drafted, misconceived open letter to the chief executive of the Council demanding an emergency meeting.

The reply from the Council Leader was not only well constructed but also, on any independent view, a devastating blow to the FIPs as, each of the four grounds they had raised as ’emergencies’ were exposed as baseless. It was a shameless publicity stunt designed to smear his political enemies. But, nevertheless, she still, very generously, offered an olive branch to Cllr Hobin in her communication to him.

The meeting took place on Monday, 16th August, a fact learned from another post on his Facebook page the following day:

“Last week I wrote an open letter to Council in good faith. It is clear that it may have appeared misleading. That was not my intention.

“It was not a personal attack on the Council Leader or her leadership, rather a call for more openness and transparency at Council and better communication cascading out to Councillors and residents.

“Yesterday I met with Council Leader Arooj Shah, we addressed many issues which will resolve in their appropriate time.

“We have committed to working together to the benefit of our community and not any campaign which creates hate and tries to cause division in our town [Emphasis added]”.

It was a mealy-mouthed explanation that contained no apology, no contrition – and the ludicrous, offending letter, dated 11th August, remains in-situ on the same Facebook page.

Beneath the ‘BRIAN HOBIN Failsworth East’ post, purporting to oppose hate and division, is now a cess-pit of just that. It was no coincidence that one of the very first of those comment posts on the thread came from ‘Mr Hate and Division’ himself, Raja Miah. A very close ally of Cllr Hobin and, presumably, tipped off by him.

Screenshot 2021-08-19 at 13.17.57

Indeed, as recently as 20th April this year, Brian Hobin was the star guest on one of Miah’s infamous Recusant Nine podcasts. Promoting the ludicrous, evidence-free conspiracy theory that ‘the independent inquiry (sic) into child sex abuse in Oldham is not for purpose’. He did not burden the viewer with an explanation as to why, or refer to any of the authoritative, well-researched factual publications on the issue (read more here and here). This, Cllr Hobin claims, was one of many of his exposés over the past 12 months. Which would be news to most of the rest of Oldham.

There has been no intervention since, by Cllr Hobin, or from either of his co-councillors, Neil Hindle and Mark Wilkinson, and, more crucially, no attempt to moderate his Facebook page. It stands as a disgraceful testimony to the real intentions of his Party: To give a platform to those who abuse the FIPs critics. A practice that has been in existence since their formation and one that has attracted local, regional and national newspaper attention.

Cllr Shah said in a statement released earlier today (19th August): “When I became the leader of the council, it was made clear that I wanted to repair the toxic and damaging political culture in Oldham, and that I would work, cross-party, to achieve this. Though this has been tested, I have stood by my word. Cllr Hobin and I had a productive conversation about the impact that online misinformation, and the hatred and abuse driven online, has on individuals and on the borough as a whole.

“I will continue to operate an open door policy for councillors from all parties to discuss concerns, but remain focused on making sure the Council is doing everything possible to improve the lives of Oldham residents.”

The Council Leader has generously overlooked both the events on Cllr Hobin’s Facebook page and the depressingly familiar trolling activities of the FIPs Party Chair, Kathleen Wilkinson, and one of her daughters, Sarah Radcliffe, on Twitter yesterday. Further indicators that the Failsworth Independent Party has no interest in anyone but themselves, cohesion for the political good of Oldham’s residents is an alien concept – and accountability to the fourth estate applies to every other person in public life, apart from them (read more here). Sententious piety being an adequate substitute in their book.

It is also worth recording that both Kath and Mark Wilkinson have also been guest stars on Recusant Nine podcasts during the past nine months. Welded by their deep disaffection of all things Labour, and, in particular, an often unpleasantly expressed personal antipathy towards the now-deposed council leader, Sean Fielding. Matters now frequently raised in the media – and elsewhere on this website (read here).

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As a footnote, it is worth remarking that Arooj Shah has not risen from the poverty stricken streets of Glodwick, to high office in her home town, by being anybody’s fool. The age-old concept of ‘give a man enough rope and he may hang himself (metaphorically speaking)’ could be in play here. With the greatest of respect, Brian Hobin has repeatedly failed to disprove that he is not the brightest button on a bus driver’s tunic.

She may well, also, have chosen one of Oldham’s growing number of smart coffee venues as an opportunity for Cllr Hobin to drink in ‘last chance saloon’. Which is, probably, one metaphor too many, but a workable hypothesis, nevertheless.

What is beyond both theory, and doubt, is Cllr Shah’s near 24/7 commitment to make Oldham a better place to live and work; whether the FIPs are rowing in the same direction as the rest of the Council, or not. The recent appointment of a new interim chief executive, renowned troubleshooter Harry Catherall, is a very strong sign of that (read more here).

Page last updated at 1150hrs on Friday 20th August, 2021.

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. Unauthorised use, or reproduction, of the material contained in this article, without permission from the author, is strictly prohibited. Extracts from, and links to, the article (or blog) may be used, provided that credit is given to Neil Wilby, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Published by Neil Wilby

Former Johnston Press area managing director. Justice campaigner. Freelance investigative journalist.

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