Following the publication of two Neil Wilby Media exclusives within 24 hours on Friday and Saturday (31st March and 1st April, 2023), a dramatic U-turn has seen a sitting Oldham councillor unilaterally rescind a freely given acceptance to an invitation to attend the Borough’s popular PRIDE celebrations in July this year.
Two of Cllr Aftab Hussain‘s Oldham Council colleagues are openly gay, its Leader, Cllr Amanda Chadderton (Labour Party) and Cllr Louie Hamblett (Liberal Democrats and pictured below the headline). A paragraph in the independent councillor’s election leaflet for the forthcoming local elections raised concerns. It challenged the teaching of LGBT in schools in his St Mary’s ward and the lack of curriculum choice given to parents and young pupils.
Following a report about the leaflet to Greater Manchester Police, by Cllr Chadderton, alleging a ‘hate crime’ (read more here), Cllr Hussain spoke with Cllr Hamblett, via telephone, to apologise for any offence the leaflet may had caused either to him or the wider LGBT community. He also attempted to call Cllr Chadderton but it is unclear whether they connected.
Following one of those conversations, a Liberal Democrat spokesperson said:
“Cllr Louie Hamblett was surprised, pleased and relieved to receive a call from Cllr Hussain, who apologised for any offence that may have been caused by the leaflet. In a spirit of conciliation, Cllr Hamblett invited Cllr Hussain to be his guest at Oldham Pride this year, which he accepted”.
Yesterday evening (1st April, 2023), after it could fairly be assumed that the potentially controversial matter had been closed off amicably and satisfactorily, Cllr Hussain (pictured below), a popular and well known taxi driver in the area, belatedly responded to the second article which was, unsurprisingly, headlined, ‘Muslim councillor will attend Oldham Pride following ‘hate crime’ leaflet apologies’ (read in full here).
It had been sent to him at 8.15am, seconds after it had published, without demur.
He now says, after Glodwick, at the heart of the St Mary’s ward, apparently lit up with the news of his climbdown and agreed appearance at Oldham Pride the previous day:
“My religion comes first over anything and I stand by our leaflet and what it says and so do the majority of my constituents. I will not be retracting the statements. As for the apparent invitation as chief guest for oldham pride, I will not be attending the parade as again it goes against my religious beliefs. Everybody talks about respecting one another but clearly the respect is not there when It comes to a Muslim’s faith. As a parent myself I will continue to fight for parents rights and their concerns”.
The office of the ward Member of Parliament, Debbie Abrahams, has been asked to confirm whether this LGBT schools and parenting issue is something Cllr Hussain has raised with her during the past municipal year.
What is certain is that the issue has not been raised through the appropriate channels, either in the council chamber or by written question to the Labour administration. Equally certain is that none of the other sixteen Muslim councillors in Oldham, of which four sit as Cabinet Members, have raised this issue publicly and it has, so far, not appeared on the campaigning leaflets of any of the other many Muslim candidates in either Oldham or Glodwick, where the Conservative Party are said to be fielding three Muslim candidates. All three Labour Party candidates are also Muslims.
Objectively viewed and taken in the round, Cllr Hussain’s election leaflet gives the appearance of a blatant, and specific, piece of St Mary’s electioneering that is likely to bring division and an unwelcome spotlight both on the ward and the wider Borough, which has had a turbulent political passage over recent years.
Moreover, as debated on the Neil Wilby Media Facebook page, is education a national issue? Regardless of religion, faith and local government, is there anything an Oldham councillor – particularly a single entity – can do to change the curriculum?
At the invitation of Cllr Hussain, a series of questions was put to his independent ‘running mate, Aisha Kouser, a law graduate regarding the controversial leaflet:
1. When was the attached leaflet designed and printed and by whom? 2. Approximately, when was last date they were distributed in your ward (There is evidence that it was in past weeks)? 3. When will the replacement leaflets be printed? 4. Will the paragraph about LGBT in schools remain? 5. Has GMP been in touch with you regarding the alleged ‘hate crime’ complaint made by Oldham Labour?
A polite request was made for a prompt and candid reply, given that Aisha was made aware that this third article in the saga was imminent. That, or indeed any response at all, has not been forthcoming.
By contrast, Cllr Hamblett’s very prompt response to Aftab Hussain’s about turn was in a familiar, measured, placatory tone:
“I’m surprised at Cllr Hussain’s abrupt change of heart, especially as he was so conciliatory yesterday [31st March]. He was never the ‘chief guest’, merely my personal guest to Oldham’s fantastic celebration of all things LGBT+. My invite to him remains open”.
Cllr Chadderton has been asked for a further response, but is likely to continue to rely on her original statement. Which, for the moment, is reprised here:
“I’m genuinely shocked at the [alleged] homophobic nature of this leaflet in 2023, and we’ll be reporting it to the police as ‘a hate crime’.”
“LGBT+ people exist and telling kids they exist is not some immoral bogeyman the independents are trying to make it out to be.
“I know Oldham is a tolerant and open town and I really hope residents in St Mary’s reject these backwards views.”
“What this shows, though, is just how right-wing the independent movement in Oldham is – and how they’re determined to toxify local politics and turn residents against each other.”
“Oldham Labour is building a better Oldham for all residents, no matter your race, gender, sexual orientation or faith. We will not accept hatred.”
The press office at Greater Manchester Police have been approached to confirm that a ‘hate crime (or incident)’ has been recorded and invited to say whether an investigation will follow.
Page last updated Sunday 2nd April, 2023 at 1355hrs
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Picture credits: Oldham Pride
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