Smear campaign set to oust third Council Leader in two years?

Since local elections for seats on Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council resumed, post-pandemic in 2021, there has only been one meaningful debating point: Will a notorious, unemployed, Tameside-based conspiracy theorist, operating a suite of discredited, frequently banned social media channels, styled as ‘Recusant Nine‘, persuade enough voters to back his ‘child sexual exploitation (CSE) cover-up in return for Asian block votes’ narrative and depose the incumbent Labour Party Council Leader?

In that first year it was Sean Fielding who held the top job in Oldham Council and to his, and almost everyone else’s surprise in the Borough, Raja Miah, aided by a group of supporters whom self-style as The Rabble (or Raja’s Rabble) and a hyper-local party described as ‘a haven for racists and the far-right’, that had gained a foothold in his home town of Failsworth, he failed to defend a large Labour Party majority and was defeated by just under two hundred votes (read more here).

His Failsworth West seat in the civic chamber was taken by Mark Wilkinson, a tame proxy of his wife, Kathleen Wilkinson, who is credited with founding the Failsworth Independent Party (FIP) in September, 2019 after becoming an avid viewer of Recusant Nine broadcasts on YouTube. Greedily sucking in the hateful, divisive, anti-Labour rants – and paying a monthly subscription to Miah for the privilege. She served as FIP Chairwoman (her description) until recently, when replaced in controversial circumstances by Failsworth East councillor, Brian Hobin, in January this year.

Ex-Cllr Fielding is currently campaigning for a return to politics with a seat on Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council whilst, back in the town he was forced to leave, FIP is torn apart by in-fighting that has seen both the Wilkinsons ousted from the Party, along with sitting councillor, Sandra Ball, who also represents Failsworth West (read more here).

In May 2022, it was the turn of Arooj Shah, the North’s first female Muslim council leader, to succumb to an even more grotesque, ‘dehumanising’ smear campaign, again orchestrated by Miah and The Rabble, and lose her Chadderton South seat by just 92 votes. The beneficiary was a perennial local election loser for the Conservative Party, Robert Barnes, who turned out to be, very arguably and in a field of plenty, the shortest-lived, most controversial and worst-performing councillor in Oldham in living memory (read more here). 

Despite the local setback, which is taking on, more and more, the shape of a unplanned sabbatical, Miss Shah’s star has continued to shine in the Labour Party, regionally and nationally, where she chairs the prestigious National Constitutional Committee. She is also campaigning hard for a return to Oldham Council in her home ward of St Mary’s, centred in the Glodwick area where she was born, grew up and still lives with her family. By contrast, Karma has visited Cllr Barnes, whom, many would argue, faces the political oblivion he richly deserves. 

After Arooj Shah’s shock reversal last year, the Council Leader’s mantle in Oldham fell on one of her two deputies, Cllr Amanda Chadderton. Coincidentally, both those two, and Sean Fielding, were all from the same election intake in 2012. What also landed on Cllr Chadderton, almost as soon as she took office, was a target painted on her back for yet another Recusant Nine smear campaign to aim at – and one that has never relented for the past ten months or so.

Cllr Chadderton is defending what is generally regarded as a safe Labour seat in Royton South. As did her two predecessors in Failsworth West and Chadderton South respectively. In this year’s once in a generation ‘all-out’ elections, which have come about because of Boundary Commission changes, two other well-established Labour councillors are also up for re-election in the same ward: Cllrs Steve Bashforth and Marie Bashforth. The latter only just scraped home last year against The Rabble’s de facto Leader, Gary Tarbuck. Another unemployed conspiracy theorist, and close friend of Cllr Robert Barnes, whom, remarkably stood under the same Conservative Party flag.

Tarbuck, for reasons that are not entirely clear other than his every dance is to a Rabble tune, is standing as an independent in the Saddleworth South ward in direct opposition to three sitting Conservative councillors (read more here). 

The Conservative Party in Oldham, run by another close friend of Robert Barnes, the disaster prone Cllr Lewis Quigg (read more here) has decided, in collaboration with another close friend, Raja Miah, not to field candidates in Royton South. Thus, they say, increasing the chances of one, or more, of the four independent candidates for election in that ward. The Liberal Democrats, more in hope than anticipation, field three candidates and For Future’s Sake – Freedom Alliance just the one candidate. 

Over the past three weeks or so Miah has run, on the various Recusant Nine platforms, a crowd-funder to finance the printing of leaflets of this genre. He has raised around £2,400 although there are doubts about the provenance of donations that make up around half of that total. Only 49 donors (out of 76) have actually put their name against their contribution to the ‘fighting fund’. 


It takes no great perception or political nous to work out that the outcome of the 2023 election in Royton South really amounts to this: Without the campaign to smear Amanda Chadderton in particular, and the Bashforths more generally, all three sitting Labour councillors would win easily against what could, generously, be regarded as very weak opposition. 

Few would argue, also, that the handling of the aftermath of the report from independent investigators into historic CSE allegations, published in June, 2023 as an Assurance Review, reflected poorly on both Cllr Chadderton, as the face of the Labour Party and a far from accomplished orator, and, more particularly, Oldham Council’s senior paid officers, led by its hapless, hopeless Chief Executive, Harry Catherall, whose strategic and tactical advice was nothing short of tragic. As is ‘Dirty Harry’s’ signal failure to seek legal redress over the routine, and frequently grotesque, smearing of many of his own Civic Centre subordinates by Miah and The Rabble.

Trying to appease The Rabble – and the rest of those residents in Borough with either a stake or an interest in the issue – with the lines, ‘it was all a long time ago, we are much better now, let’s move on’, should have been a resignation issue for all those who either devised the ill-starred plan or bought into it. The fact that there were scenes of serious public disorder at two successive Council meetings and mayhem, not just in the usual darker corners of Greater Manchester’s internet, but just about everywhere one looked on social media or in the mainstream media, surprised no-one outside of the Council’s top tiers. 

The calls for a public inquiry went on into September, 2022 until the Conservative Government’s Home Office, twice within the space of three weeks, refused to sanction further scrutiny of the Independent Assurance Review. First during an adjournment debate brought by Jim McMahon, MP for Oldham West and Royton (read more here) and, secondly, in a written response to a letter sent by the Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Oldham, Cllr Howard Sykes (read more here).

By then, the damage was already done to Oldham Council, the Labour Party and its Leader. The independent investigation was readily found to be not of the required standard, not least by the author of this article, Neil Wilby, and most definitely did not go where the evidence took them, as the lead investigator, Malcolm Newsam, falsely claimed. Most crucially, post-report questions about the flaws in the investigation, and its findings, were repeatedly blocked.

All told, it was a shambles of epic proportions. The core finding, entirely unsurprising to those adjacent to such matters (read more here), that there was no evidence of a ‘cover-up’ of historic CSE by Labour Party politicians in Oldham, as still alleged by Raja Miah and his Rabble, was lost in the maelstrom – and with the huge strategic and public relations deficit, routinely blighting both the Council and Labour in almost all its decision making, that message is yet to be put across effectively to the Borough’s residents.

Now, Cllr Chadderton has just over two weeks to get that crucial, if old news across to Royton South voters, in a clear and convincing fashion, before they go to the polling booths on 4th May. Otherwise, the Oldham Labour Party might well find itself in the ignominious, and ludicrous, position of having its third Leader in two years deposed by a group of around 150 cranks, misfits, axe-grinders and anti-Labour malcontents that are led by a persistent, mendacious liar whom neither lives or works in the Borough. 

Finally, a note to Raja Miah: Those 25 hour days you claim you are working are addling your brain, lad. The Phythian family have two representatives on Oldham Council, Clint and Kyle. Please afford them the courtesy of spelling their name correctly in your routinely defamatory smear leaflets.

Clock 26 hours a day

This exclusive is plainly a story with more to come: Follow Neil Wilby on Twitter (here) and Neil Wilby Media on Facebook (here) for updates. 

Page last updated: Sunday 16th April, 2023 at 1745 hours

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Picture credit: Oldham Council

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© Neil Wilby 2015-2023. 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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