Number of candidates set to contest Oldham elections drops to 95

With the local elections in the East Lancashire mill town less than three weeks away, the full list of wards, candidates, and their proposers and seconders, has been published by Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council (see here).

There are twenty wards in the Borough, and the Council, as part of its Publication Scheme, provides impressive in-depth profiles and statistics for each on its website (read here).

Ten different parties are represented (if Labour and Co-op, and the Labour Party, are counted as one) and a total of ninety-five candidates will go to the polls.

The two Labour parties, between them, field candidates in all twenty wards, as do the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats. The Green Party has eleven candidates; Proud of Oldham and Saddleworth (the POOS) put up eight; there are five independents; Northern Heart UK has four; United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), Reform UK and Failsworth Independent Party (the FIPs) all have two; Worker’s Party of Britain has just the one. Making up the total of ninety-five. In 2019, there were one hundred and two.

Labour

Zahid Chauhan (Alexandra); Elaine Taylor (Chadderton Central); Mohammed Islam (Chadderton North); Chris Goodwin (Chadderton South); Abdul Jabbar (Coldhurst); Basit Shah (Crompton); Liz Jacques (Failsworth East); Sean Fielding (Failsworth West); Kyle Phythian (Hollinwood); Ur-Rehman Ateeque (Medlock Vale); Mick Harwood (Royton North); Amanda Chadderton (Royton North); Connor Green (Saddleworth North); Stephanie Shuttleworth (Saddleworth South); Ken Rustidge (Saddleworth West & Lees); Cath Ball (St.James); Imran Yousaf (St.Marys); Syed Ali (Shaw); Ros Birch (Waterhead); Fida Hussain.

Conservatives

Jonathan Ford (Alexandra); Sharif Miah (Chadderton Central); Mohammed Jahan (Chadderton North); Robert Barnes (Chadderton South); David Cahill (Coldhurst); Lewis Quigg (Crompton); Shefur Miah (Failsworth East); Jawaad Hussain (Failsworth West); Michele Stockton (Hollinwood); Sahr Abid (Medlock Vale); Dave Arnott (Royton North); Ian Bond (Royton North); Luke Lancaster (Saddleworth North); Max Woodvine (Saddleworth South); Anthony Cahill (Saddleworth West & Lees); Beth Sharp (St.James); Mujibur Rahman (St.Marys); Tom Lord (Shaw); Sajjad Hussain (Waterhead); Mohammed Rahman (Werneth).

Liberal Democrats

Martin Dinoff (Alexandra); Barbara Beeley (Chadderton Central); Katie Gloster (Chadderton North); Joe Beeston (Chadderton South); Mick Scholes (Coldhurst); Diane Williamson (Crompton); Lynne Thompson (Failsworth East); Richard Darlington (Failsworth West); Brian Lord (Hollinwood); Rachel Pendlebury (Medlock Vale); Russ Gosling (Royton North); Ken Berry (Royton North); Garth Harkness (Saddleworth North); Kevin Dawson (Saddleworth South); Mark Kenyon (Saddleworth West & Lees); Joe Gloster (St.James); Pat Lord (St. Marys); Howard Sykes (Shaw); Linda Dawson (Waterhead); Keith Pendlebury (Werneth).

Green Party

Andrea Valencia-Chiverra (Alexandra); Jess Mahoney (Chadderton Central); Daniel Clayton (Chadderton North); Jean Betteridge (Coldhurst); Lina Valencia-Shaw (Crompton); Jim Stidworthy (Royton North); Kathryn Banawich (Saddleworth North); Brian Banawich (Saddleworth South); Roger Pakeman (St. James); Miranda Meadowcroft (St.Marys); Freedom Solaiman (Waterhead).

Proud of Oldham and Saddleworth

Ronald Bailey (Hollinwood); Mark Birchall (Medlock Vale); Paul Goldring (Royton North); Gary Tarbuck (Saddleworth North); Simon Hodgson (Saddleworth South); Paul Shilton (Saddleworth West & Lees); Amoy Crooks (St. James); Mark Hince (Shaw).

Independents

Tracy Woodward (Chadderton North); Montaz Ali Azad (Coldhurst); Warren Bates (Failsworth West); Helen Bishop (Saddleworth South); Hussain Aftab (St. Marys).

Northern Heart UK

Jack Dickenson (Chadderton Central); Cath Jackson (Chadderton South); Rob Vance (Crompton); Anne Fiander-Taylor (Royton North); Paul Taylor (Waterhead).

UKIP

Bernard Akin (Chadderton South); Anthony Prince (Royton North).

Reform UK

Colin Jones (Royton North); Chris Green (Saddleworth North).

Failsworth Independent Party

Neil Hindle (Failsworth East); Mark Wilkinson (Failsworth West).

Worker’s Party of Britain

Lisa Roddy (Chadderton South).

Three wards have six candidates contesting each seat; Royton South, Saddleworth North and Saddleworth South. At the other end of the scale, Werneth has just three.

Four councillors are not standing for re-election: Fazlul Haque (Labour, Chadderton North), Steve Hewitt (Labour, Saddleworth West and Lees), John Hudson (Conservative leader, Saddleworth South) and Vita Price (Labour, Waterhead). Forty councillors are not on the ballot papers, as their terms of office do not end until either 2022 or 2023.

Cllr Hudson retires after 50 years of service to the community. Since 2000, as a Borough councillor and as Mayor of Oldham in 2013/14. He was awarded an OBE in 2017 by the Queen for charitable and political service.

This is the present composition of the Council:

Turnout, in the aftermath of a virus epidemic, is even more of an unknown in this election year than ever. In 2019, 32.95% went out to vote.

The election count in Oldham will take place in various rooms around the Civic Centre and Sports Centre overnight on 6th/7th May, 2021, in order to maintain COVID-safe conditions.

The Mayoral count will take place on Saturday 8th May, 2021.

Returning Officer is Dr Carolyn Wilkins, the Council’s chief executive.

Page last updated: Saturday 17th April, 2021 at 1445 hours

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

Picture credits:

© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. 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.

Absent of evidence

Tameside’s best known political agitator, Raja Miah, suffered a further blow this week with yet more social media bans, writes Neil Wilby.

Two of his weekly broadcasts on the ‘Recusant Nine’ YouTube channel, purporting to cover political issues in the neighbouring Borough of Oldham, were removed after both were found to contain defamatory material.

An interest is declared, as a significant part of the content was directed at the journalistic output on this website, accompanied by the now-standard personalised abuse.

However, by the time my own complaint was made, the harassing and highly offensive podcasts had already been taken down. At least one of which is now the subject of safeguarding concerns over the safety of one of its targets and consequent police enquiries.

It is not known, at this time, to whose complaints YouTube have responded but, in no particular order, Detective Inspector Kenneth Blain of Greater Manchester Police; Jim McMahon, MP for Oldham West and Royton; and Cllr Sean Fielding, Leader of Oldham Council, and nationally known justice campaigner, Gail Hadfield-Grainger, were also under attack on the podcasts.

Miah claims, publicly, that the MP and the Council Leader are involved in a conspiracy, with me, to incite his murder. DI Blain, and the rest of Greater Manchester Police, is said to be turning a blind eye to the plot. The Facebook post, from 4th April, 2021 articulating that baseless proposition is also subject to complaint and application.

This is the picture that Raja claims puts his life in danger. He further asserts, with no evidence whatsoever, that ‘”Rusty Wheels” is an associate of Sean Fielding and Neil Wilby’. A rather ludicrous picture and a non-existent ‘association’ is the sum total of the conspiracy to murder. Little wonder GMP gave his ‘complaint’ short thrift:

‘The Man from Mossley’ has, it is said, previously been suspended from Facebook on at least two occasions. The social media giant has also sanctioned Miah over monetising his output via ‘supporter’ subscriptions.

Every ‘Recusant Nine’ post, or podcast, is accompanied by Raja begging for money. His latest scheme, and one, it seems, designed to circumvent the Facebook ban, is, also, the subject of at least two complaints to Paypal, who facilitate the ‘Buy Me A Coffee’ scheme.

An oddity, given that he lives in some splendour in an upmarket commuter village on the edge of the Pennine Hills, with a top end car parked in the precincts (he has previously driven Lamborghini and Porsche models) and regular shots of his expensive camera and video equipment being shown off to his audience (his latest podcast has just 222 views, over a week after uploading).

Those who thought that the preposterous ‘murder conspiracy’ was the limit of his stupidity, and propensity to outrage, were, however, wrong:

Just two days later Miah posted this on Facebook:

These are a selection from the comments posted below the Raja Miah offering. Most of them are Recusant Nine regulars. Where necessary, syntax errors have been corrected. Not one contributor asked about the facts and evidence backing up the claims made by their hero, such as who was afraid of whom; questioned the source of ‘the rumours’; referred to the questionable bona fides of a notorious independent councillor; or were curious about why there was no quoted comment from those featured in Miah’s outrageous post.

Graham Whitehead

“Oldham council are the lowest of the low. They will resort to any shitty stuff they can.”

[This ex-UKIP election candidate, and Britain First follower, was reported over racist comments made on his Facebook page, during the 2015 local council polls. He lost badly to Jim McMahon and Whitehead is said to bear a grudge against him as a result.]

Ian Dunn

“OMBC have always had a dirty tricks department. They have now sunk to the bottom of their own cesspit.”

Marlene Williamson

“The council’s actions are disgusting and degrading beyond words.”

Tim Howell

“OMBC threaten good Oldhammers who stand up for town and independents…They protect paedos, crooks, court votes by giving away land for peanuts..Libdems all the wanton (?) May 6th get that shithead out of office.”

Mohib Uddin (ex Lib Dem councillor in Oldham).

“Absolutely shocking behaviour by the ruling Labour Cartel. I urge the town’s 3 Labour MP’s and Labour Council Leader to urgently issue a statement condemning this atrocious behaviour and distance themselves from such hurtful comments. Gary, next time you are in Coldhurst let me know. We are from different political parties but I will proudly walk along with you. This vile behaviour by the Labour Cartel in Oldham has to stop. Full stop.”

Rocky Skelshaw (a pseudonym for Kerry Skelhorn, about whom much more can be read here).

“Raja – it’s not just towards Gary – it’s a British MP INCITING HATE towards the armed forces. It’s TREASON! That’s why I was so utterly gobsmacked by it – have things gone so far downhill in Oldham that we no longer recognise crime – that people shrug this off as ‘unsurprising’. I’m sorry but I do find it SURPRISING that an MP should behave like this! He should be arrested & investigated. Never mind GMP – MI5 should be looking at him.”

Disgraced ex-UKIP member, Warren Bates, said in reply to Miss Skelhorn: “MI5 look at everyone and everything. If any action is taken, your guess is as good as mine. Don’t forget the opposition party is the Lib Dem and they’re all in it.”

Janet Ellis

‘They were rotten to the core 20 years ago when we lived in Oldham. Seems nothing has changed. Labour will always be the same. Wouldn’t trust any of them.’

Bev Heney

‘It’s a fucking disgrace Debbie Barratt-Cole. Its a criminal offence to incite violence. But how many will face a court for this. Not a fucking one of them SHAMEFUL.”

Feelings, very clearly, run high amongst a small number of those who oppose the Party controlling the local Council in Oldham. Whether that is reflected at the ballot box on 6th May remains to be seen.

But, for Raja, outrage equals more money; especially from this core support of a rabidly anti-Labour caucus and known far-right supporters. They drink in his divisive and hate-filled outpourings. He is their totem in the war against the despised ruling Party in the Borough. A group from which former member Miah was expelled last August.

The fact that he is a persistent, mendacious liar is now well rehearsed elsewhere on this website (read more here) and threads through this deconstruction of his deeply troubling race-baiting post.

The starting point is the Miah connections with Proud of Oldham and Saddleworth (the POOS). He is believed to be one of the founders, said to select its election candidates (read more here) and it is a matter of record that he is one of the moderators on the POOS Facebook page.

Paul Taylor, who runs another fledgling political party in the town, Northern Heart UK (formerly Oldham Heart), asserts: ‘Raja Miah is the directing mind behind POOS. They meet monthly at Springhead Liberal Club. He has major say on policy, tactics and candidate selection’. Taylor comments on most of the Recusant Nine posts, expressing very strong anti-Labour Party views. A previous falling-out with Raja appears to have now been repaired.

Two of Miah’s closest friends, Paul Errock and Debbie Barratt-Cole, stood unsuccessfully as candidates in the 2019 General Election. Both of whom also contribute financially to either the POOS, Raja Miah, or the Recusant Nine platform.

At least three Facebook ‘supporters’ who previously sent Miah money every month were picked as candidates in the forthcoming local elections in Oldham. They include Gary Tarbuck, who is at the centre of the latest controversy. The other two are Marc Hince and Mark Birchall. It is unclear how many other POOS candidates will be on the ballot papers. Or, whether they also contribute to the Miah coffers. Six POOS candidates, from an original pool believed to be twelve, are alleged to have dropped out because of what supporters say was ‘hate and harassment’. Completely absent of evidence, in the usual way.

Tarbuck is prominently referenced in the opening paragraph of the Recusant Nine post and is, of course, central to the rest of the Miah ramblings. The assumption, in those circumstances, is that he is a party and, very probably a contributor, to what is written.

Several questions arise, not least: With the local elections just over four weeks away, and having switched wards only last week, from Saddleworth South to Saddleworth North, how does Gary find the time to be supporting another candidate miles away from his countryside base?

On the doorstep, how did Tarbuck explain the migration away from his family’s deep roots in the Labour Party, with his grandfather, former Mayor Frank Heap, being such a hugely respected figure both in the town of Oldham and across the political divide.

How was the alleged corruption and child sex abuse cover-up articulated or evidenced to ward constituents. Who is corrupt? Who is involved in the cover-up? Where is the evidence? Does he name names, or is it just a POOS party line being spun on the back of largely baseless, defamatory posts by Raja Miah?

But the most crucial question, regarding corruption, concerns one of the men Gary Tarbuck is avidly supporting and campaigning alongside in Coldhurst, Montaz Ali Azad. Found guilty, in 2016, of a string of offences relating to tax irregularities and unregistered workers, the Labour Party withdrew the whip whilst he was a sitting councillor in Oldham and he then left the fold. Later to be defeated as an independent candidate in the 2019 local elections by Labour’s Ruji Sapna Surjan.

That election campaign was not without controversy: Azad was caught out claiming he was the ‘Labour independent candidate’ on the first version of his election leaflet (later corrected after complaints to the Returning Officer). He also claimed to live locally, but his home address, listed publicly by the Disqualification Authority, is in Burnley Lane, Chadderton.

His troubles began when Home Office immigration officers discovered the unlawful employment during an inspection visit in August, 2013. There were three illegal workers on his premises at the time.

Eurolinen UK Ltd, now dissolved, operated an industrial laundry on Dickenson Road in Ashton-under-Lyne. The firm went into liquidation in September 2014, owing £105,367 to creditors. It had ceased trading one month earlier.

Following an investigation, launched by the Insolvency Service, Azad was disqualified for six years from being a director of any company or having any management role within one.

He was ordered to pay a £15,000 civil penalty, which remained unpaid at the date of the company’s liquidation.

Ex-Cllr Azad has been approached to establish the position regarding any voluntary arrangement in respect of unpaid creditors and the present status of the fine.

The disgraced politician, in whom the POOS now place so much faith, promoting so heavily, and who was Eurolinen UK’s sole director, also failed to ensure the company lawfully operated a ‘Pay As You Earn’ scheme by not declaring the illegal employees – and accounting to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) for deductions that should have been made from their earnings for income tax and National Insurance. Over £17,000 was owed to HMRC when the company went bust.

Azad was involved, at the time, in a number of local restaurant businesses, but resigned as a director of three other limited companies just before his disqualification became effective. He had also opened another industrial laundry business, Marked Industries Ltd, which set up in Oldham just before Eurolinen UK Ltd was raided. Companies House records show Shofina Bibi, who lived with Azad at the time, owned 75 per cent of its shares. That company was dissolved in August last year. Shomuz Miah was also a director. Khalique Miah is a director of one of Azad’s former companies, Niadorn Ltd, which is still trading.

One of the most vociferous commentators on the Recusant Nine post, Mohib Uddin, is a long-serving, senior tax inspector. He is also a close friend and political ally of Raja Miah, who describes Uddin as a ‘leading political analyst’. Mohib, in spite of his vocation and past history in a short-lived and notably unremarkable spell as an Oldham councillor, plainly does not see a great deal wrong with the corrupt personal, political and corporate history of Montaz Ali Azad. He, more than anyone, would know the background to this independent candidate. As can be seen from his public comment, despite the obvious conflict with his day job, he is prepared to ‘walk with’ Azad (and Tarbuck) in Coldhust to ‘show solidarity’. A matter now raised, quite properly, with HMRC’s press office as a public interest concern.

By way of contrast, Robert Clarke, a group leader with the Insolvency Service said: “The Insolvency Service rigorously pursues directors who break employment and immigration laws. Taking on staff illegally means those staff do not enjoy basic employment rights and is a clear breach of a director’s duties.

He added, “The public has a right to expect that those who break the law will face the consequences. Running a limited company means you have statutory obligations as well as protections, and this should serve as a warning to other directors tempted to take on illegal staff.”

In the second paragraph of the Recusant Nine post, Miah refers to an ‘extremely disturbing rumour’ that, according to him, is ‘an incitement of violence against Gary Tarbuck’ (fourth paragraph). He does not state either the source of the rumour, how knowledge of it came to him or how he can know that it is ‘spreading like wildfire’ in the local community when he lives miles away and spends his days bashing a keyboard angrily or presenting himself in front of one of his cameras.

As with so much, if not all, of Raja’s outpourings on social media, it is innuendo, the flying of a kite, the stirring of hate and division, and the intention to smear that invariably trump facts and evidence. Which explains the inclusion of the line, ‘reports of this (HE KILLS MUSLIMS) are being shared by senior Oldham Council leaders and politicians’. It is well rehearsed that none of those leaders and politicians will have anything to do with Miah, or his acolytes; which begs the next question: How is he privy to the sharing of information so sensitive that, if it ever existed and was exposed, would instantly end the career of those same politicians and, very likely, bring down the Labour Party in Oldham?

In the third paragraph it all becomes a muddle: Miah claims it is ‘the Bangladeshi community who are scared’. Of what, he doesn’t say. But not the upstanding, well-connected Gary Tarbuck, surely?

But this contradiction is accompanied by the standard, self-aggrandising claim that so very many people in Oldham take all their problems to him; a noted trouble causer who has done so much damage to the town, and seriously enriched himself along the way, rather than to their elected representatives, local religious leaders, community champions or, if so afraid for their peace and safety, the local police whom, very visibly, work hard on cohesion and inclusivity.

The remainder of the post is largely an attack on the latter, claiming yet again that Greater Manchester Police are corruptly acting against him – and have an entrenched political allegiance to the Labour leaders in Oldham and the wider region. Coupled with a plea by Raja Miah for Oldham citizens, and public figures, ‘to condemn’ his political enemies on the basis of nothing higher than a scurrilous, unevidenced rumour that ‘shames the town’.

He signs off by saying that Gary Tarbuck ‘will continue to serve Oldham’. A further decoration of the truth, as the Saddleworth man has never held elected office and only moved back to the Borough in 2014, having spent most of his adult life as a serving soldier, either elsewhere in the UK, or posted abroad.

In a moment of quiet reflection, the same Gary Tarbuck might well regret having his, and the POOS name, and his photograph, attached to yet another Recusant Nine post that now appears to have backfired spectacularly. There is no mention at all, on his Facebook election candidate’s page, of the visit to Coldhurst, the fear he is allegedly living under or the Recusant Nine post making that claim. Tarbuck is, however, continuing to promote the corrupt Montaz Ali Azad, in spite of the latest revelations.

The late Frank Heap, for his part, may well be looking down aghast at what is being done in his good name.

Contact was made yesterday with two prominent members of the Muslim community in Oldham, both with strong links to Coldhurst and its local constituents. One said of the Miah allegations, emphatically, ‘I’ve never heard such nonsense‘. The other noted: ‘The latest in a long line of Raja’s conspiracy theories, without any truth in it at all‘.

Councillors Fielding and Abdul Jabbar, who represents Coldhurst, have been approached for a statement regarding the truth, or otherwise, of the assertions made in the Recusant Nine post. No acknowledgement, or reply, was provided to these questions:

1. The key question, of course, is how these ‘He Killed Muslims’ rumours came into being and the extent of their circulation: Can you assist with this?

2. Also, is the Bangladeshi community in Coldhurst living in fear? 

3. Without wishing to intrude too deeply into your [Cll Jabbar’s] ward business, how many of your constituents have contacted you with concerns over Mr Tarbuck’s brief incursion into the ward before or since the Miah ‘rumours’ were posted yesterday on Facebook?

Jim McMahon was asked to comment in the light of the claim by Kerry Skelhorn that his ‘election team’ are at the heart of the rumours. This is his response:

These allegations are highly offensive and completely untrue. I will be seeking legal advice regarding such defamatory statements, around both those who make them and those who share them.”

Raja Miah has declined all previous invitations to exercise his right to reply. He did, however, post a response, of sorts, on his Recusant Nine page shortly after publication of this article. It is another largely fact-free, defamatory, ad hominem attack that fails to address any of the serious, core issues rehearsed here. Its focus appears to be on the prospect of having his Paypal money supply interrupted, or cut off altogether, and the exposure of his luxury lifestyle.

The contribution of HMRC’s Mohib Uddin was rather more succinct, but on broadly the same theme: “The man [Neil Wilby] is a bell end”.

The conspiracy to murder; the Coldhurst ‘rumour’, now proven to be false; the corrupt councillor, the tax fraud, exploitation of illegal immigrants or election fraud; and the relentless milking of money, by his wealthy close friend, from those less well off, went unremarked by the tax inspector.

Proud of Oldham and Saddleworth’s Party Chairwoman (as she describes herself), Sarah Shilton, added: “Seriously guys, I hope he [Neil Wilby] sees this or someone sends it to him. Mental health is a serious subject and if someone is showing signs of mental health issues we should be offering help”.

For emphasis, she added this NHS Helpline weblink.

The same POOS, and the same Chair(woman), who kick up a stink about alleged ‘hate and harassment’ towards candidates standing for their Party. But, more on that soon, as a statement unearthed on their own website seriously undermines that claim. Hoisted by their own petard, yet again.

The moment of truth will arrive for them on 6th May, 2021 at the polling booths. Those adjacent to the political scene in Oldham say, emphatically that the POOS will not win a single seat on Oldham Council. Their appalling conduct, propensity for deceit amongst their supporters, and the close association with disgraced Raja Miah and corrupt Montaz Ali Azad, suggests that would be the right result for the town.

A full list of wards and nominations published by the Council’s Returning Officer can be found (here). There is also a helpful party by party breakdown of candidates and other interesting statistical information relating to both the forthcoming and 2019 local elections in Oldham.

Page last updated: Sunday 17th April, 2021 at 0855 hours

Photo Credits: Facebook.

Corrections: Please let me know if there is a mistake in this article. I will endeavour to correct it as soon as possible.

Right of reply: If you are mentioned in this article and disagree with it, please let me have your comments. Provided your response is not defamatory it will be added to the article.

© Neil Wilby 2015-2021. 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.

Chronic state of Oldham’s political malcontents.

Since I first became in involved in the inner workings of the East Lancashire mill town, over a year ago (read more here), the presence of an unusually large number of politically active groups quickly became apparent. All with a single, and strongly articulated, anti-Labour agenda. A significant portion of it expressed in abusive, harassing and defamatory form, writes Neil Wilby.

They include, in no particular order, The People of Oldham and Saddleworth (The POOS, fronted by Tommy Robinson supporter, Paul Errock); Failsworth Independent Party (the FIPS, a haven for far right activists, founded by ex-GMP sergeant, Mark Wilkinson, and his wife Kath) and their connected cousins Failsworth Street Patrol (a vigilante group); Oldham Heart (a thoroughly reprehensible Facebook group run by Paul Taylor, and another far-right sanctuary), the Neo-nazi run Oldham Eye (seemingly controlled by Britain First’s John Lawrence); the troubled, permanently abusive, money-leeching Recusant Nine platform run by far-right totem, Raja Miah (about whom much is written elsewhere on this website) and Chronic Oldham, believed to be operated by Chadderton resident, Damon Ashworth.

In contrast to most of his contemporaries, the bulk of the Chronic Oldham output appears to be, mostly, as a result of reading, research and statistical analysis. Indeed, a lot of it is interesting and helpful to the neutral reader – and is worthy of a wider audience. Spoiled only by the constant, dreary, adverse and frequently contrived references to local and regional Labour politicians with whom he, plainly, has an axe to grind. Possibly, with very good reason. To use his own words: “Oldham is one of the poorest boroughs in the UK with pockets of extreme deprivation, it has long-term entrenched foreign heritage communities that are as much part of the Oldham landscape as the Pennines are”.

If he simply let the facts tell the story (first rule of journalism) it would be a hundred times more effective – and the citizens of his home town would look out even more eagerly for what he has assiduously unearthed. But that’s not the way it seems to work in Oldham: The truth needs to be decorated if the facts run against you.

So it proved in the only encounter on social media that I have had with Chronic Oldham (I have clashed frequently with most of the other malcontents, mostly in reply to some of the most vile and persistent abuse ever encountered, in a publishing career that dates back to the early 1980’s).

It all started innocuously enough: Chronic Oldham replied to a generic post by Andy Burnham’s mayoral campaigning team that included a typically soporific promotional video clip:

The Chronic Oldham post caught my attention for two reasons: Firstly, I had been highly critical of the breach of lockdown regulations in May, by both Cllr Sean Fielding, Leader of Oldham Council, and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Angela Rayner. They had been caught in the act, and photographed, by one of Raja Miah’s supporters and he had, of course, gleefully, kicked them hard over it. Secondly, he referenced complaints (or, more accurately, enquiries) made by Cllr Fielding to the employers of four Oldham citizens over apparent connections to, or support of, abusive far-right groups.

My reply was, on any view, measured and sought to be helpful in bringing clarity to the situation. A great deal has been written about those enquiries, subsequent complaints and their outcomes, elsewhere on this website. A link to one of those pieces was included in the response (read here):

The reply from Chronic Oldham might be fairly characterised as terse and overly-defensive. It also contained a surprising, and concerning, assertion that appeared to have no factual basis. In over four months of investigating the complaints, in highly forensic detail, not one person, or organisation, had made the claim that it was forbidden under Labour Party policy for Cllr Fielding to act in the way he did.

The follow-up made two perfectly reasonable points and politely requested a pointer in the direction of the policy upon which he relied. Character limits on Twitter posts prevented me pointing out, further, that it was well rehearsed in the public domain, by Cllr Fielding, that making a defamation claim was beyond his financial means. Ordinarily, you would need around £5,000 to fund initial legal costs that would cover the drafting of a statement of grounds by counsel and a further £10,000 to cover the cost of the court fee at the point of filing and service on the defendant(s). Taking a claim to trial could cost over £50,000.

To which there came no reply and, it is believed, that it was at this point Chronic Oldham decided to block Neil Wilby on the Twitter platform rather than answer the question. An action Mr Ashworth is perfectly entitled to take, of course. But one normally reserved as a remedy for unpleasant behaviour or repeated, unwelcome attention. Indeed, in his own Twitter bio he sets out clear parameters: “Abuse, mass posts, tinfoil hats and Covid deniers = blocked“.

In this particular instance, made all the more perverse by his very recent criticism of Cllr Fielding for blocking Chronic Oldham.

Mindful of his other biographical claim of “facts not rhetoric”, and unaware at this point that I had been blocked, some further assistance was offered in the quest to get at the truth of his Labour policy assertion. Which, by now, were taking on the clear appearance of rhetoric, not facts:

That was followed up by a promise that if he was able to point me to that policy then it would be followed up immediately. A big story of a major ‘cover-up’ by those against whom he was most frequently active and a real feather in the Chronic Oldham cap, one might assume?

But given the ever lengthening gap between his initial, confident statement of wrongdoing by Cllr Fielding, and the invitations to back it up, the clear inference was drawn that Chronic Oldham was ‘plaiting fog’ as we say in the West Riding. There was no such Labour Party policy and, to considerable relief, there was no egg on the face of this investigative journalist. On this occasion, at least.

The Twitter exchange was concluded by this post, once it became apparent that Chronic Oldham had pulled down the shutters and he had been exposed as yet another Council critic not above inventing allegations, it seems, in order to smear one of his principal targets. One might hope that after such a humiliation he might take a little more care in the future?

It would also, presumably, be beyond hope that he might actually do the decent thing and apologise to Sean Fielding?

Damon Ashworth could not be approached directly for comment. Although he runs a content-rich website (see here) there is no email contact provided. Described elsewhere as ‘a motion graphics designer and video editor’, the high spot of the Video section of the Chronic Oldham site is an unedited (and unpixelated) clip of a physical confrontation between a young male-female couple in Oldham town centre.

He was previously a clerk with a specialist insurance provider, with whom he fell into serious dispute. In 2013, he launched a petition to remove Jim McMahon as Leader of Oldham Council (read here). Given how poorly it was framed, the petition, unsurprisingly, attracted just 21 supporters.

The Chronic Oldham Facebook posts appear to attract the same class of social media ‘trolls’ that populate the Oldham Eye, Oldham Heart and Recusant Nine platforms.

UPDATE: Some hours after the publication of this article, and without any attempt to contact its author, Damon Ashworth belatedly posted on Twitter his justification of the allegation of misconduct levelled at the council leader. In the interim period, alleged breach of Labour Party policy had mutated into breach of guidance to Members regarding online and offline abuse. An odd choice, one might say, as the question of abusing another person appears not to have been in issue. Either in person, or on social media.

Subsequently, Cllr Fielding was contacted, via the Oldham Council portal, and has, helpfully, provided this statement:

I understand that the conduct to which Mr Ashworth objects, and which he believes is in breach of the section of the code of conduct to which he refers, was the subject of a number of complaints to the Labour Party some months ago. I know this as the complainants told me of their intention to complain or, in at least one case, copied me in to their correspondence with the Labour Party.

Given that I have had no contact from the Labour Party requesting that I respond to any such allegations of misconduct I can only assume that they were found to have no merit and dismissed at the first stage.”

This is a developing news story and will be updated. Follow Neil Wilby on Twitter here, on LinkedIn here and on Facebook here.

Page last updated: Tuesday 9th March, 2021 at 1445 hours

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