Breaking: Stoke on Trent Lib Dems challenge Labour to condemn “offensive and illegal texts”

In response to media reports of text messages being sent warning Muslims to vote Labour in the Stoke-on Trent Central by-election, Stoke-on-Trent Central Lib Dems have issued the following statement:

Stoke-on-Trent Central Liberal Democrats call on the Labour Party nationally and locally
1. To condemn the campaign of misinformation and intimidation currently underway in their name in Stoke-on-Trent.
2. To apologise for their members and activists who have been involved in stirring up community tensions and to suspend all those involved in the text scandal and have them removed from the Labour Party campaign with immediate effect.
3. For Gareth Snell to make a personal apology to Dr Zulfiqar Ali for the conduct of his members and activists.
4. For Cllr Mohammed Pervez, Labour Group Leader on the City Council, as well as the Labour councillors (who are cited in the offensive and illegal texts) for Hanley Park & Shelton, Etruria & Hanley to make clear their condemnation of this scandal.

 

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29 Comments

  • This Labour move is just the sort of divisive, scaremongering tactic that Labour rightly condemned The Tories for in The London Mayoral contest.

  • Tony Greaves 16th Feb '17 - 11:04am

    I am a little confused about what it is that is alleged to be “offensive and illegal” texts? Can someone explain. As for the link to what appear to be quite inappropriate twitterings from “Lib Dem Press Office” – what is that all about? Is someone getting a grip on this please?

  • Opportunity to get publicity away from media obsession with labour v ukip

  • Roger Biillins 16th Feb '17 - 11:16am

    If it is true that people acting for the Labour candidate, with or without his authority, have issued this text, then it is a matter of considerable significance to which the Stoke party has no choice but to respond.

  • Eddie Sammon 16th Feb '17 - 11:17am

    Two things:

    1. The texts are serious. It’s not fair to put religious pressure on people to vote a certain way.

    2. The Lib Dem press office account should have been more polite. Some people feel genuinely attacked by certain papers or that sorry isn’t enough for previous wrongs, so whilst I’m not saying agree with a boycott I am saying we should respect people who do.

    Regards

  • Tony, I suspect that our people have been looking at the Representation of the People Act and recent case law before making their statement.

  • Politics used to be for adults.

  • We now find ourselves in the situation where both the Labour and the UKIP candidates may find themselves in some legal difficulties should they be elected. Another by-election anyone?

  • Lester Holloway 16th Feb '17 - 1:29pm

    Aside from the fact that no-one has said anyone is going to burn in hell… a minor technicality (the message said Muslims would be answerable to Allah for how they voted, which is slightly different), I feel uncomfortable about how our party is promoting this story from The Sun newspaper.

    First, I think we’ve slightly misunderstood the story… what the text message actually says is that UKIP is anti-Islam, which is hardly the most controversial view in the world given the rampant anti-Islam sentiment coming out of its’ leadership and rank and file, from its inception to the present day. I’d word it somewhat differently and say UKIP are Islamophobic, but that’s just me. But broadly I agree with the point. The text goes on to say that a vote for the Lib Dems may let in UKIP, and that Labour are the only alternative to UKIP. From a partisan viewpoint you, and I, may disagree with this. But a cold, hard, look at the dynamics of the byelection and previous votes in the constituency mean that it nevertheless could be a legitimate view. To use a phrase from the world of journalism, to me it counts as ‘fair comment’ which is allowed in law and in a democracy.

    Second, by promoting this story in the way we are, are we not guilty of promoting a stereotype of all South Asian communities voting how they are told en bloc? If this view of Muslim communities is not at play why does the story matter at all? Because surely each individual will make their own mind up on who to vote for? I believe there is a greater propensity to vote for parties that are seen to stand up for a community’s interest (hey, what’s new?) but the risk here is that we perpetrate an image of elections and Muslim communities which is increasingly becoming less relevant and more stereotypical in the minds of those who have little contact with Muslims communities. A sort of reverse dog-whistle that stirs up white voters to feel a grievance against percieved manipulation of the democractic process, even if the grievance is massively overblown. Surely such prejudices feed into the wider climate of anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia we say we seek to combat?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Feb '17 - 1:56pm

    Lester

    I often agree with you , but here you are in my view very wrong. To equate defence by our candidate and of him, as a Muslim himself, against this terrible pro Labour nonsense , is not to pander to the nasty so called Sun element of the story, it is to defend the very thing you say is not happening, seeing people as individuals not groups!

    We are in the midst of a campaign where the right wing as seen in UKIP , is a disgrace of lies and bad judgement.

    Labour have a candidate who has himself been found to be a man of poor judgement and childish behaviour.

    The candidate we have is head and shoulders above them. Every article by Ed and others reveals what is obvious, that we are not getting the look in in the mainstream media that we are on the doorstep and on the streets.

    The Sun is a third rate rag at worst, a yardstick of what the zeitgeist is at best.

    Because something is in the Mail or Sun does not mean it is a lie, or to be ignored. Lord Wallace in an article otherwise sensible , misses that point.

    We are in the era of false news and post truths.

    We can see where the lies are .

    It is no lie that we have the best candidate and the frontrunner parties do not !

  • Lester Holloway 16th Feb '17 - 2:11pm

    Lorenzo, if you look at the text messages, there is no story other than the headline about the threat to Muslims that they will burn in hell if they don’t vote Labour. That is the Sun’s interpretation, which is stretched. I call that spin. And so now the Lib Dems are saying we are going to go to court over the matter… what, to defend the tabloid’s spin or to defend UKIP against the allegation Paul Nuttall’s party is anti-Muslim? If we want to create the impression in Stoke that the Lib Dems and UKIP are two peas in a pod we’re going about it in the right way. Our reaction is on par with the actual messages we’re getting worked up about.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Feb '17 - 2:49pm

    Lester

    I am not defending the legal action or advice, that might be overdone, I a saying the type of tweeting and influence that some Labour members are indulging in is very insideous and using religion and the values associated with hardline religious tendency , in many situations.

    Are we not against the sort of texting we see. Appalling patronising control of influence based on one extreme minority within a religion, those who believe that their view is the right one and push it with vigour. Labour already accept gender segregated meeting room layouts in certain situations or constituencies.

    It does not put us with UKIP to condemn such nonsense.

    But I do agree with the sentiments of David . I think the level of response should be sensible.

    I am a stronger critic than most of overeaction, including often by our party and against the governments of any party.

    I yearn for a return to measured radical and moderate policy and practice.

    Sometimes all who criticise this type of response , are themselves overblown , refugees and the government , digital economy bill, there are many areas where we should criticise in a more constructive way.

  • Lester Holloway 16th Feb '17 - 3:21pm

    Lorenzo, I am with you in not wanting religion to play an insideous role in elections (or indeed in our ‘constitution’ with peers and monarch). The text messages in Stoke betray, as you say, a patronising assumption of control. And I agree with you that we need to move forward in a constructive way. But as I suggested earlier, to what extent is this control over Muslim communities really the case, and do we ourselves (collectively, not you!) make assumptions about the degree of herding at elections based on stereotypes? And if such first generation behaviours are breaking down with time, which I believe they are, does such stories – including in media organs that habitually denegrate Islam – help matters with second and third generations, and so on?

    Just breaking down the story for a minute… it hints at a Labour conspiracy but doesn’t offer any actual evidence aside from an over-excited helper. So we basically have one OTT texter and Whatsapper, who is essentially saying (I paraphrase) “Look, we’re so sick of UKIP being racist and Islamophobic to us, we really have to keep them out by all means necessary. We have to vote tactically to make sure they don’t win.” I get that. I also get that us Lib Dems have occasionally benefited from tactical voting. It’s an argument for PR, but we don’t have this at the moment sadly.

    I have to say I’m largely with the guy. The only emotional counter-weight for me is being a Lib Dem member and not wanting to see us fail. But being a Lib Dem member is not normal human behaviour. And if I wasn’t then frankly I’d find little to disagree with in the text. Just because we’re pounding the streets for our excellent candidate doesn’t mean we as a party can’t multitask and think around this too.

    So what about the burn in hell part? Well, as I mentioned earlier, the text writer does not presume to spell out what punishment Allah will met out to those who let in UKIP (although we can imagine – and the Sun certainly did – that he wishes it involved hellfire). As a Christian who believes in one God, the same God as Allah, I’d go further and say I rather wish the Lord brings some hot brimstone down upon the UKIPers for all the nasty, despicable racism they promote. We worked selflessly in Barking and Dagenham to defeat the BNP and on many issues and attitudes the BNP and UKIP are remarkably similar. Let’s not forget why we did that. To keep out an unacceptable party at all costs.

  • Alex Macfie 16th Feb '17 - 3:27pm

    We are against caste & clan politics, be it the white British variety promoted by UKIP or the Islamic variety that Labour appear not to be above promoting. Opposing appeals to hardline Islam to win votes does not make someone a kipper, any more than opposing Islamophobia puts us with Islamists and Jihadis. we are the opposite of both kinds of extremism. So yes, we should absolutely condemn the texts, and if necessary go to court over them. But we should also make clear that as far as we are concerned, UKIP has no moral authority to condemn them, as UKIP is guilty of the same sort of divide & rule politics, but directed at different groups. We are liberals, we stand for the individual.

  • In Tower Hamlets a mayor was removed for illegal practices (undue influence). From my reading of the judgement it is illegal to say that one’s religion is under attack and so we need to vote for a particular candidate (paras 551 and 564) and to present voting for a particular candidate as a duty for faithful Muslims.

    This text clearly states that Islam is under attack from UKIP.

    It ends with, “Will you be able to answer for this in the Grave and on the Final Day???
    I helped the Enemies of Islam because …” seems to me to be saying that not to vote for Gareth Snell is helping the enemies of Islam and the likely result will be an unfavourable judgment on your behaviour by God. It is a call for faithful Muslims to vote for a particular candidate and is therefore illegal.

  • Martin Land 16th Feb '17 - 6:33pm

    Labour are panicking. I suspect that something about the postal votes has set alarm bells ringing.

  • David Allen 16th Feb '17 - 6:46pm

    On the one hand – How would we feel about a message that “Christians should be answerable to God for how they voted”? I think we would be appalled by any party which used a divisive message of that nature, or which made the insufferably arrogant claim that God was on the side of their own political party.

    On the other hand – Would we actually feel justified in describing such a message as “offensive”, “illegal”, or “stirring up community tensions”?

    Labour’s message is a bad one. But going over the top in response to it is bad too.

  • Legal action??? Can someone point me in the direction where this is stated. I know of no such legal action. Curious

  • I’ve not read the original article, as I am loathe to give the Sun any business, but from what I can tell, the article is using this story to whip up hatred towards both Muslims and Labour, and I don’t think they are doing this to help our candidate. I hope that the Labour press office do condemn the message, but even that will give the story the legs that The Sun is relying on.

    I’m very disappointed to see the LibDem press office’s apparent glee at this opportunity to stir the pot, even though I’m sure they must know what the Sun is up to. Not that I’ll blame our candidate for it.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Feb '17 - 8:59pm

    Lester

    That’s very typically decent and intelligent of your responses . I have often thought you should have a higher profile, but then again, it takes one to know one !

    I do understand what you say. I am someone very much unencumbered on these issues, as often, a moderate. I , like you I believe too, was once upon a youthful time , in Labour, but no more ! I was brought up a Catholic and have never rejected Catholicism, but embraced holism, spiritually as well as politically. I see religion as often good when always mainstream, otherwise not . I share with Maajid Nawaz, a definite awareness of the dangers of group think in religion and regard what is happening here in the article , an example.

    The fact that Ed Fordham knows little of it , makes me think our noble Lord Greaves might , later in the day, have been correct to be perplexed !

    I do not think we should be so anti-the Sun, that we do not see what is behind it is as interesting on a very once in a while basis , as it is tedious or worse, more often. On this, we must just say, Labour are in a mess whatever the story .

    And , yes, Lester, UKIP , well now… !!

  • Laurence Cox 16th Feb '17 - 10:25pm
  • Alex Macfie 17th Feb '17 - 8:24am

    @Fiona: Attacking the texts is not inherently “anti-Muslim”, because the victims of this undue electoral influence are themselves Muslims. It’s the same as opposition to sharia law, forced marriage, FGM etc; we oppose them because of their harmful effect on individuals, and should not conflate the interests of the most powerful members of a cultural, ethnic or religious group with those of all members of the group. Undue influence in elections also has another victim, namely the democratic process. I don’t care for the Sun’s motives either, but by raising the issue as Lib Dems, we are demonstrating that you can legitimately oppose the “Enemies of Islam” texts as liberals.
    Labour in Tower Hamlets were afraid to challenge Lutfur Rahman’s election as Mayor partly out of fear of being seen to be racist (and perhaps also because they’d been playing caste & clan politics for years, and were now the victim of such practices) and the challenge was instead made by an independent group. We should not make the same mistake of accepting voter intimidation in communities out of a misguided cultural over-sensitivity. That is completely illiberal.

  • R Uduwerage-Perera 17th Feb '17 - 9:03am

    Dear Colleagues,

    It seriously worries me that people still believe that those of us who are not Christian and of European heritage cannot see propaganda for what it is.

    BaME communities are not simple, and can actually make decisions for themselves without people speaking on their behalf, or telling them what they should think. Assuming otherwise simply makes a statement to BaME communities that a Party does not really understood, and that they are merely pawns in a political game and of interest only at election time. The latter is sadly the situation in many cases, for Race Equality slipped off the table of interest for many a long time ago.

    We are the Party of ‘Fairness, Equality & Justice’, and we do not engage in fuelling misunderstandings, misconceptions and ignorance, we simply do what is right no matter the cost.

    We have a great local candidate who is widely respected for their professional and community roles, and who just happens to be Pakistani and Muslim. I would suggest that in what has been called ‘The Brexit Heartland’ by well respected papers, that we do not add to the local populous knowledge that our candidate is anything other than a cracking local candidate. The BaME communities are very aware of who our candidate is and his anticedence.

    Our Party still has a long way to go to fully understanding ‘Race Politics’, so please let us not make the same mistakes as Labour and others, let us really be the Party that represents in deed and word ‘Fairness, Equality & Justice’, and then we will win favour amongst all communities.

    Namaste

    Ruwan Uduwerage-Perera
    Chair – Ethnic Minority Liberal Democrats

  • Matt (Bristol) 17th Feb '17 - 12:55pm

    I don’t know what the case law is here, but I would suggest that – whilst it may be reasonable to ask the police to clarify whether there is an offence against ‘undue spiritual influence’ rules, without the specific knowledge of who was the person spreading the message, and what status or authority they may have within a religious body, one cannot automatically assume that to speak in this way breaks the law. To be able exert undue influence, means you should have some influence to start with. (ie if this originates from some opinionated no-mark, it’s noises off, not an orchestrated conspiracy).

    Speaking in this way _may_ break the law, surely that is different from automatically being guaranteed ‘illegal’.

    But I think Mark Wright is absolutely right that this needs to be reported and tested, not ignored. Whether it needs to be heralded with a Sun story and a press release, is something else.

    And I don’t think – to try to respond to Lester and Ruwan’s intelligent points – this is a problem specific to a specific community; I have definitely seen Christians begin to speak in this way (ie ‘answer to God for voting for X’ or ‘voting for X is incompatible with belief in Y’) during recent debates on Brexit and Trump — on several sides of the argument; in part this is because the US Christian language is so polarised already and riddled with this kind of thinking that it is easy to pick up on it and echo it, or decide to fight fire with fire, if your spirituality brings you into contact with random Americans (by accident or design).

    Loose talk around election time from the pulpit could also break the law, in that case, and I suspect many otherwise moderate Christian people in this country are unaware of this.

  • Simon Banks 17th Feb '17 - 1:26pm

    Since I’m only going on what people here have said about the content of the Labour texts, I’m at a disadvantage, but what they’ve said makes me think we’re horribly over-reacting.

    Muslim voters are answerable to Allah for how they vote? Well, actually I think I’m answerable to Allah for how I vote, only I call him/her God. There may be an implied threat, but it’s hard to be sure.

    Labour are the only alternative to UKIP which can win? May be untrue, but how often have we used “It’s a two-horse race” or at least once (controversially) “a straight choice”, and haven’t we sometimes then ended up third?

    Labour have a long record of trying to collect Muslim block votes through “community leaders” and these sorts of messages; and this is patronising and offensive, but certainly nothing new and not worth us demanding an apology.

  • Alex, I’m not saying that attacking the texts themselves is inherently anti-Muslim. I’m saying The Sun is relying on an anti-Muslim sentiment amongst their readers to be extra outraged. The fact the texts don’t mention burning in hell, whilst the headline does, underlines that. As R Uduwerage-Perera says, most Muslims would be capable of seeing propaganda for what it is, same as most from a Christian background comfortably laugh at the idea that Jesus would be a UKIPer.

    Perhaps it’s my naivety, but I always have a quick chat with my conscience before deciding how to vote in any election, and I’m sure I’m not alone, and if you are a person of faith, there will be a sense of being answerable. The texts were out of order, but people only got quite so excited because of the way The Sun framed them.

    The issue with the article in The Sun is that it was designed to rely on their readers prejudices against Muslims as much as it relied on their readers prejudices against the Labour party. They’ve been stoking both prejudices for years, and while there is plenty to criticise in the Labour party, their spin on this particular story made me very uneasy. And that’s why I felt it was unbecoming for the LibDem press office to rush into advertising The Sun version of events in the way they did. It didn’t just under-estimate Muslims, but under-estimated our ability to see such an obvious smear story in The Sun.

    In that respect, I think we’ve somehow lost the moral high ground. What could and should have been a legitimate debate about who said what to whom, has instead become one of everyone playing dirty.

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