Labour slams Oldham Tories over ‘peddling mistruths’ in dirty election campaign

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Following the defeat of Council Leader, Arooj Shah, in the local elections in Oldham Metropolitan Borough at the beginning of this month (read more here), she described the campaign as ‘dehumanising’ and spoke of the distress it had brought to her and her family:

“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 added that she was really disappointed by ‘defamatory and malicious’ leaflets, created by an unemployed, disgraced 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’.

Miss Shah’s successor as Council Leader, Cllr Amanda Chadderton, was equally scathing of the tactics deployed by the local Tories during the election campaign and, in particular, the Raja Miah leaflet:

“This isn’t even dog whistle politics. This is so beyond the pale racist and misogynistic, that I’m astonished an apparently mainstream party would put this out.

“A variation of this leaflet went out across most wards in Oldham. This smacks of absolute desperation from Oldham Conservative Group that instead of presenting a vision for areas such as St James, Royton and Chadderton, they focus on nasty personal politics in relation to the Leader of the Council. The candidates that have put their names to these leaflets should be ashamed of themselves.

“As a Labour Group, we have tried to rise above a lot [of criticism] over the past couple of years, but the conduct of Oldham Conservative Party lately, is reprehensible.

“We don’t view this election, or any other election, as a race to the bottom, but Oldham Conservatives, and the people they associate themselves with, are at the forefront of that race.

“We saw recently an appalling attack on Angela Rayner MP in the pages of the Mail on Sunday. Instead of focusing on policy, the modern-day Conservative Party resort to misogynistic baseless claims; Oldham Conservatives clearly welcome that approach

In a hard-hitting letter to Oliver Dowden MP, Conservative Party Chairman, dated 21st May, 2022 the town’s two MPs, Debbie Abrahams and Jim McMahon wrote the following:

“We write to you today concerned about the conduct of The Conservative Party in Oldham.

“For a number of years now the former CEO of the failed Collective Spirit Free School, Raja Miah has been on a vicious campaign as he attempts to unseat Labour councillors in Oldham after the DfE and EFSA found significant financial irregularities in his schools.

“Despite the fact that the campaigns that Miah involves himself in were named in the State of Hate 2021 report by Hope Not Hate, we have evidence that local Conservative activists conspired and campaigned with Raja Miah – operating as a political activist under the ‘Recusant Nine’ banner – with his racist and misogynist campaign fuelled by false and highly damaging accusations that child abuse was being covered up in our town in exchange for ‘block votes’ from the Asian community.

“The coalition that Raja Miah has brought together includes former BNP activists, supporters of Britain First and the EDL, those who took part in disturbances when far-right leader Tommy Robinson [Stephen Yaxley-Lennon] came to Oldham in 2017, some of those who were convicted as a result of the 2001 riots, and now it seems Conservative Party candidates and activists.

“We now have evidence that two Conservative candidates – Gary Tarbuck (Royton South) and Lynne Kovacs (Waterhead) hand delivered divisive leaflets that the Oldham Tories had previously denied being involved with.

“The leaflet in question contained seven references to the fact that the then Leader of the Council, Arooj Shah, was a Muslim from a Pakistani heritage and also claimed that Arooj had played a “disgraceful role in the councils cover up of child abuse and the grooming and gang rape of Working Class white girls from across the borough.”

Robert Barnes, the Conservative candidate and now Councillor in Chadderton South, who has previously published posts which include “Question: Why is Islam a vicious and wicked faith.” and other Islamophobic tweets, alongside support for voters backing the BNP, distributed a leaflet which attempted to stoke community tensions by focussing on the use of a local hotel by the Home Office for Asylum Seekers.

“Another Conservative activist, and newly elected Councillor in Royton North, Lewis Quigg became a close ally of Raja Miah, by holding meetings with him during the course of the campaign and attending a celebration meal with Miah and other Conservative candidates’ post-election (read more here).

“You should already be aware that there is significant concern from long-standing Conservative members that the local Party has been infiltrated by members who want to mainstream a toxic and divisive political culture. The town and your own members deserve a full investigation into the links between Conservative activists, candidates and Councillors who are peddling mistruths and divisive content, which is actively stoking up community tensions in a town that is still recovering from the 2001 riots”.

Another ex-Leader of Oldham Council, Sean Fielding, who also lost his seat as a result of a sustained and deeply unpleasant smear campaign spearheaded by the same Raja Miah pulls no punches:

“There were Tory candidates and Councillors not so long ago who found the campaigning tactics and issues exploited by parties like UKIP distasteful. But today the Tory party has people in its own ranks who are just as, if not more, objectionable.

“The tone of some of the campaigning seen in Oldham, and the party’s relationship with the discredited Raja Miah, is despicable. We have heard that Tory colleagues of those who were involved in the most unpleasant campaigning are appalled. I hope that the Party’s investigation in to recent Conservative Party campaigning activity in Oldham has an outcome which acts on the concerns of the decent Conservative Party members and does not attempt to brush the issue under the carpet.”

Although it is early days, it is understood that a Conservative Central HQ internal inquiry into the activities of Cllrs Robert Barnes and Lewis Quigg will take place. It is not clear whether Cllr Dave Arnott, who represents the same Royton North ward as Cllr Quigg, and acted as polling agent to Gary Tarbuck, forms part of that enquiry. He maintains that he has no links to Raja Miah, despite Tarbuck being the de facto leader of a group of Recusant Nine supporters whom self-style as The Rabble.

Surprisingly, CCHQ press office say that Lynne Kovacs is not a Tory Party member, so will not form part of their investigations, even though she stood as one of their candidates in the May elections. Even more surprising is that Ms Kovacs was actively supporting a candidate from another Party (the now defunct Proud of Oldham and Saddleworth) with posters displayed at her home in the Saddleworth West and Lees ward. .

The Tories have said that they will not be commenting further until that probe is concluded. However, two local Tory councillors, Pam Byrne (Saddleworth North) and Max Woodvine (Saddleworth South), have spoken out against Raja Miah and the tactics deployed in the election by some members of their Group.

Other Labour councillors to lose their seats were Hannah Roberts (Royton North), Abdul Malik (Coldhurst) and Pete Davis (Failsworth West). Cllrs Ginny Alexander, Valerie Leach and Norman Briggs retired before the election and his Failsworth East seat was won by the Failsworth Independent Party (FIP). The LibDems won Val Leach’s seat in Saddleworth West and Lees. Cllr Leanne Munroe retained Ginny’s seat in St James.

FIP, particularly their Group Leader Cllr Brian Hobin, also has very close ties with Raja Miah and was also identified in the State of Hate report as ‘a haven for the far-right’. Cllr Mark Wilkinson and his wife, Kathleen Wilkinson, the Party’s Chair, were specifically named by Hope Not Hate (read more here).

Raja Miah is currently facing a criminal trial over harassment allegations involving a 38 year old female from Salford, Greater Manchester. He has pleaded not guilty and the hearing is listed for 17th August, 2022 at Manchester Magistrates’ Court (read more here).

The first post-election Full Council meeting is scheduled for 25th May, 2022. It is the Annual General Meeting which incorporates the Mayor-making ceremony.

Page last updated: Tuesday 24th May, 2022 at 1705 hours

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Picture credit: Oldham Council

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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 Media, 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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