Poisoning the debate

John Lawrence and Lance man at Manchester BF rally

This article is heavily underpinned by extracts taken from HOPEnothate’s 2022 State of Hate report headlined ‘On The March Again‘. Full credit is given to them. The 140 page document can be accessed in full here.

In the chapter headed ‘Hyperlocal Politics: New channels’ (page 84) the Failsworth Independent Party (FIP) and susceptibility to far right infiltration features strongly:

“Since the collapse of the British National Party (BNP) post-2010 and the splintering of UKIP after the 2016 Brexit referendum, the UK’s electoral populist right and far right has become scattered and organisationally weaker, resulting in a messy and complex landscape. Many populist right and far-right elements have withdrawn from politics, or pursued non-electoral forms of activism online or on the streets. Others have joined mainstream parties, in particular Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, or launched their own minor parties with national ambitions.

“However, some have continued to participate in electoral politics by standing as independents or by joining, or founding, “hyperlocal” parties focused on a specific region or town. The organised far right in the UK remains in the electoral wilderness, but while the climate has shifted, the anger and dissatisfaction that was once exploited by the BNP and UKIP has not simply disappeared. Small, locally-focused electoral efforts play an important role in our political system, but in some cases they have provided new channels for divisive politics, and the means by which a handful of far-right elements have won council seats in recent elections.

“Hyperlocal candidates often have limited success, especially at parliamentary level, but they can play a much-needed role in our democracy, enabling engagement for those who feel unrepresented by the major parties. Hyperlocal groups, which are often politically mixed and without whips, tend to play on a sense of local authenticity and present themselves as “non-political” alternatives to the established parties.

“Many local politicians may appeal to a positive sense of local pride – but they can also tap into a rich vein of resentment towards the political establishment, as well as reactionary impulses and, sometimes, a hostility towards minoritised ethnic communities. Interest in hyperlocal politics has swelled in recent years. According to Democracy Club, there were at least 167 registered parties “whose focus is on a county-sized area or smaller” as of February 2021. The group also calculated that 1,015 minor party candidates contested the 2019 local elections, growing to 1,787 in 2021. Of course, the success of such groups has fluctuated with the changing political climate.

“The 2019 local elections, which took place in a climate of intense Brexit anxiety and disillusionment with the major parties, saw a remarkable surge towards independents and small parties, with 15% of the seats in England won by groups other than the Conservatives, Labour, Liberal Democrats or Greens. Brian Hobin, a local taxi-driver and convicted fraudster succeeded in Failsworth as an independent. He is now, incredibly, Group Leader of the FIP on Oldham Council.

“The 2021 local elections broadly saw a return to the two party dominance, with wins in England for independents and small parties dropping to 6%. Among them, however, were a handful of victories for far-right and divisive elements, who were able squeeze in during a broadly disastrous round of elections for traditional far-right parties.

“The fascist National Front (NF) and its successor, the BNP, are now political non-entities and are widely recognised as toxic brands, but hyperlocal politics has offered a way by which some can attempt to sidestep their former parties’ notoriety. This is not new; for example, a pair of ex-NF councillors, including the party’s former deputy chairman Graham Williamson, have sat on Havering council as independents since 2014. Nor are such attempts always successful. Former BNP candidate Richard Bates, who founded the Active for Westhoughton group in 2020, received just 1.2% of the vote in Bolton this May.

“However, last year independent politics did allow a far-right candidate to slip through the net when Pete Molloy, once a leading figure in the BNP, was elected as an independent councillor in County Durham (Spennymoor Division) last May. The views of Molloy, who headed up the BNP Veterans Group for ex-servicemen, have not diluted since he left the party in 2014; in November last year he was found to have breached council standards after targeting Muslims and posting white supremacist conspiracy theories on social media, as well as having “bullied and disrespected” two council officers (FIP fields a number of ex-servicemen amongst its noisiest and unpleasant supporters).

“At worst, hyperlocal politicians can tap into historic tensions and contribute to the poisoning of the political discourse. While often poorly resourced, such groups can have dedicated activists and can dominate local community Facebook groups, stoking strong anti-council sentiment that can spill into aggression towards councillors and local politicians.

“For example, in Oldham, an area of high dissatisfaction with mainstream politics and a history of racial tensions, the Failsworth Independent Party benefited from a bitter online campaign against Labour figures. The latter were accused of corruption, fraud and of allowing “Asian cartels” and on-street grooming groups to operate in the town without challenge, often in conspiratorial language. The sustained campaign was spearheaded by Raja Miah, a well-known local figure also linked to the hyperlocal party Proud of Oldham and Saddleworth (POOS), and who hosted all the leading FIP figures, including the group’s co-founder Kathleen Wilkinson, on his show. In an area in which local news outlets have declined, Miah’s claims were spread in community Facebook groups, including in a local residents’ group co-run by Kath Wilkinson and her husband Mark, and in a separate group run by Stephen Walsh, a man who was convicted for affray during the Oldham race riots and runs a full suite of anon, fake, stalking, trolling, anti-Labour, pro-FIP, social media accounts.

“The FIP (and POOS) campaign took particular aim at Sean Fielding, the Labour Council Leader, who claimed the accusations led to abuse in the street and his family’s personal details circulated online, resulting in a group visiting his house when his partner was there alone. [In May he was unseated by Mark Wilkinson, losing by 191 votes; two other FIP councillors currently sit on Oldham council, the aforementioned Brian Hobin and his drinking buddy, Neil Hindle (between them, the sum of their achievements in the square root of nothing, as this article here forensically concludes)].

“One danger is that by stoking local tensions and resentments, hyperlocal politicians can foster the conditions for more ideological and better-funded far-right groups to exploit. In several areas, gains by right-wing independents acted as a precursor to the rise of the BNP in the early 2000s. In the case of Burnley, from the mid-1990s and against a backdrop of socio-economic decline and disillusionment with the political process, a group of independents savaged the local Labour party for allegedly favouring the “Asian” community. The independents gained 11 seats and became the main opposition in 2000. After galvanising ill-feeling in the area, the group’s leader resigned in 2001 and the group promptly collapsed. This opened the political space which the BNP then occupied, eventually standing as the main opposition to Labour within the council.

“It is worth impressing again that hyperlocal politicians span the political spectrum and for the most part, hyperlocal efforts both strengthen and enrich our democracy. However, as the UK’s traditional far-right remains in the electoral wilderness, we must be vigilant of divisive elements that, while presenting themselves as credible, “non-political” alternatives to the mainstream, are actually stoking enmities and can slip in under the radar of local media and campaigners.

In a later chapter of the Hopenothate report there is a paragraph on a new far right Party with strong Oldham connections, which have been added into this article. The connections to the Failsworth Independents are strong and unmistakeable.

The National Housing Party UK (NHPUK) is a group launched in 2021 by former BNP activist Pat McGinnis. Its Leader, he says, is Oldham’s John Lawrence, also a former prominent EDL, BNP and Britain First member. Credited, rightly or wrongly, by such as author, historian and TV pundit, Dr Louise Raw, as one of those responsible for starting the Oldham riots at Limeside in May, 2019 (read here). Lawrence via his very close association with disgraced, far-right and racist Twitter platform, Oldham Eye, is strongly linked to an unpleasant group of stalkers and trolls attached to the Failsworth Independent Party. Notably, via Garry Dunkerley, a family friend of their Party Chair, Kathleen Wilkinson. Dunkerley, apart from being well known as Oldham’s most prolific burglar, is a former EDL member and forms part of a coterie of criminals and thugs that comprise the FIP praetorian guard.

NHPUK’s primary focus is opposing immigration and it campaigns for the UK to exit the UN Refugee Convention of 1951. During the year it has undertaken multiple banner drops with this message in Dover, during the Conservative Party conference and outside of London. The group’s leadership has posted both Islamophobic and antisemitic content on its social media accounts. The National Housing Party, to give an indication of the intelligence level of members, has also stated that both climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic are hoaxes.

John Lawrence, has over recent months, forged a friendship with Raja Miah, providing another strong link to the FIP. The former is said to be standing for his new Party in the Hollinwood ward in Oldham. Within which is the Victoria Hotel, where a large number of immigrants have been temporarily housed since last year and to which much of Lawrence’s attention is directed, latterly. He has been active several times in Failsworth recently, notably interviewing the permanently disgraced ex-UKIP councillor, Warren Bates, whose main claim to fame is as a self-admitted public nuisance, banned from almost every social media channel he goes near. Bates has publicly pledged to support the two FIP candidates at the forthcoming local elections in May.

Page last updated at 1725hrs on Friday 11th March, 2022

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2022. 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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