Deposed Council Leader shows her class in face of ‘dehumanising’ campaign

Arooj Shah

The first ever female Muslim Council Leader in the North of England told reporters in the early hours of this morning that she was ‘dehumanised’ by a deliberate smear campaign after becoming the second Labour Leader of Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council to lose her seat inside the past twelve months.

Cllr Arooj Shah, first elected to the Council in 2012, lost her St Mary’s seat in 2016 after another controversial hate campaign, was then re-elected in 2018 in Chadderton South. Under the four year rotation system she faced re-election this year.

She became Leader of the Council in May 2021, following a unanimous vote by her peers, after predecessor Sean Fielding lost his Failsworth West seat in similarly concerning circumstances.

In August, 2021 Arooj Shah’s car was set alight outside of her mother’s home in Glodwick damaging the car and a neighbouring property. The firebombing was treated by the police as a politically motivated attack.

She lost her seat by just 96 votes to Robert Barnes, the Conservative Party candidate whom she comfortably defeated in 2018.

Speaking to the press after the Chadderton South result was announced by Returning Officer, Harry Catherall, Arooj drew attention to what was a highly personalised crusade against her.

“Part of an election is there’s always a possibility that you are going to lose. That is part of the territory and if you never prepare yourself for the loss then you’re a bit naïve.

“I don’t think there’s anything more I could have done; I spoke to more than 2,000 people. I did my absolute best.

“I fought a really positive campaign, I believe in positivity, and that’s what I wanted to bring to politics in Oldham. The campaign against me was a really personal campaign and not about policy at all. There was definitely racism and misogyny. It was a smear campaign against me. My mum was horrified and scared for my wellbeing.

“I saw a new low in the Conservative Party in Oldham, they really jumped into the gutter. At every opportunity, I told myself ‘they go low, you go higher’. I think the one thing I can do is point to the fact that I wanted to do my best for the people of Oldham. Even the opposition, I never retaliated against them”.

“This is not just about me standing here saying this, it was there for everyone to see. This is the first election I’ve ever been to where I have not been able to bring my family. That’s because I just did not want them to be here and experience anything negative. I can’t wait to go home this evening”, she said in a statement delivered throughout in a calm, measured dignified manner.

She said that she was really disappointed by ‘defamatory and malicious’ leaflets, created by an unemployed Tameside political activist, Raja Miah, and delivered in the Chadderton South ward by at least two Conservative Party candidates from other wards,  about which, she said, ‘anyone would have been horrified’.

Arooj Shah concluded by saying: “I’ve been raised really well, and my parents have taught me to respect people and every single member of my team has behaved with integrity, and worked really hard, but the people of Chadderton South have spoken and I respect that.”

She added that it was not a poisoned chalice to be the leader of the Oldham Labour Party: “Our principles and values are something of which we should be so incredibly proud”.

It is understood that at least four Labour councillors may be throwing their hats into the Leadership ring following Cllr Shah’s displacement: Cllr Riaz Ahmad, Cllr Amanda Chadderton, Cllr Abdul Jabbar and Cllr Shaid Mushtaq. Nominations close early next week.

Arooj Shah, even after just one year in office, will be a hard act to follow.

Other Labour councillors to lose their seats were Hannah Roberts (Royton North), Abdul Malik (Coldhurst) and Pete Davis (Failsworth West). Cllr Norman Briggs retired before the election and his Failsworth East seat was won by the Failsworth Independent Party.

The first post-election Full Council meeting is scheduled for 25th May, 2022.

Page last updated: Friday 6th May, 2022 at 0855 hours

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Picture credit: Oldham Council

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Published by Neil Wilby

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

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