This has been one of the hardest articles to frame that I’ve written, because the events seem so extreme, even for the current political climate – but the people who brought me the information was referred to me by impeccable sources.
The SKWAWKBOX has highlighted the serious concerns of observers about ‘unusual’ process at the Copeland by-election and the potential invalidity of the result there. Fears of ‘ghost votes’ and ballot-rigging are worrying enough, but it appears that Tories not all that far from Cumbria are not averse to doing that and much worse – more direct, brutal and frightening measures where they feel these might be successful.
In the Commons earlier this week Andrew Stephenson, the Tory MP for the Lancashire borough of Pendle, sneeringly accused local Labour and LibDem councillors of a ‘shabby’ deal with the area’s one BNP councillor to get a budget deal passed:
Yesterday, the Lancashire Telegraph reported on the shabby deal done between the local Lib Dems and the Labour party, and the BNP for securing support for their budget. May we have a debate on racism, and how the Pendle Labour party and Liberal Democrats are happy to turn a blind eye to it in order to cling on to their position and expenses?
Stephenson’s words could not have been more ironic.
Pendle is in Lancashire and has a substantial Asian population – and it appears to be in the midst of a horrific campaign by local Tories to gerrymander or simply bypass electoral results by means of death threats, coercion and impersonation in an attempt to wrest control of the council from Labour – pressuring elected councillors to switch parties and resulting in local Labour activists reportedly being ‘absolutely terrified’.
The political situation in Pendle is complex and finely-balanced, with some groups in the area tending to support one party or another en bloc, and those loyalties even spilled over into violence more than a decade ago, until community leaders found a modus vivendi.
But locals are now reporting largely race-based attempts by some of Pendle’s Conservatives to take control of local government that would be considered extreme in the pages of an airport novel. I’ll let the local people tell the story in their own words (emphases mine):
The ward that we live in has a large Asian population. We have one Lib Dem and one Labour councillor.
Last year a Labour councillor from another ward went over to the Tories and proceeded to issue literal threats of kneecapping and other violence to other Labour councillors unless they joined the Tories too. Thankfully they all managed to resist. He has since moved on to try and pressurise Borough Councillors into defecting.
About a month ago our ward’s Lib Dem defected to The Tories and took three other Lib Dem Councillors with him. Shortly after this the Tories began knocking on Asian resident’s doors telling them that all Asians vote Conservative now and if you are a proper Pakistani, you vote Conservative.
People have been told that unless they and their families vote for and visibly support the Tories then they will be banned from Mosque and will not be safe in their own homes. Several Asian families have come to us and told us about this, but they refuse to go to the police for fear of reprisals. It doesn’t help that the Tory candidate for the upcoming County Council election in May – works at the mosque so the threats carry some weight. Even my Afghan friends are too scared to put his head above the parapet.
They are organising through the mosque and also keep having big dinners, supposedly “residents meetings” with the MP – though all the ‘residents’ are Asian males.
The local Lib Dem leader has reported these “meetings” to the returning officer and the police as he believes they would class as ‘treating’ which is illegal, but they don’t seem inclined to do anything about it – we passed on two strong pieces of evidence of Tory postal vote fraud and a case of personation to them last year and they have done nothing about it.
Last weekend a Labour Borough Councillor defected to the Tories, claiming that he was being ‘bullied’ by our local councillors because they hadn’t put him forward to stand as a County Councillor – they don’t have the power to do that if they wanted to. County Councillor is a self nomination thing and he had never put his name down.
There are rumours that another Lib Dem and another Labour Councillor are going to defect, but we don’t know whether there is any substance to the rumours or who they would be. I wasn’t at all surprised by the recent one as he always was untrustworthy.
Our Labour councillor has been receiving death threats (anonymous of course).
We have been approached by the Tories to defect – they were told where to go in very blunt terms.
A sitting County Councillor told us that they had asked her to jump as well and she just laughed.
Recently we had an instance of residents complaining to the local party that a Labour canvasser had been rude, aggressive and even snatched papers out of their hands. When we went to see the resident we knew we had nobody in the party who fit their description of the individual – but when we showed them a picture of a local Tory councillor, they immediately identified him. It seems the Tories are going around abusing people while pretending to be Labour.
I’m also having a running battle with a neighbouring Labour MP and his council pals who have put a bill to parliament to extend the motorway right through the centre of our town and across an area of outstanding natural beauty. They have been having discussions about this with the local Tories but have never once spoken to Pendle Labour about it. It’s simply unprincipled and the MP has also been a significant player in the anti-Corbyn coup.
As for Andrew Stephenson’s smear that we have done a deal with the BNP councillor, that councillor has made no deal with Labour or the Lib Dems but at the Council Budget meeting last week he voted for their joint budget rather than the Tory one. That is all there is to it, it’s just sour grapes and abuse of parliamentary privilege by Stephenson.
It’s getting worse – in the middle of all this Tory behaviour the leader of Pendle Conservatives has written to Jeremy Corbyn saying that our CLP (constituency Labour party) should immediately be suspended!
On the other hand, one of our members has now written to Theresa May demanding an apology from a local Tory councillor and it has also been sent as a press release to the local papers.
“Dear Mrs May,
I am contacting you to voice my concern over the unfounded and disgraceful attack made toward me, on social media by Pendle Conservative Councillor Paul White.
In recent facebook posts, Mr White has claimed that I am “siding” with The British National Party. As a lifelong campaigner against prejudice of all kinds, I find this particularly upsetting and offensive.
As a Community Arts Worker who has built my reputation working in multicultural areas, specialising in community cohesion and working hard on events to bring people from different backgrounds together, I feel that this is an attack on my personal and professional reputation.
In 2014, I even stood as a Labour Party candidate against the BNP in Pendle and had to endure many slurs against me from both the BNP and Councillor White, who wrote most of the local Conservative literature that year.
Although I am more than strong enough to withstand the usual rough and tumble of politics, I really do have to draw the line at a Conservative Councillor attempting to associate me with the British National Party and I demand an immediate, public apology from Paul White.
I do hope you will take this seriously and deal with his false allegations and attempts to stir up hatred accordingly.”
It appears that at least some Tories in Pendle are resorting to extreme and deeply worrying measures in order to snatch control of the local council – overturning the democratic choice of Pendle’s residents by vote-rigging, intimidation and even by impersonating Labour campaigners.
But because of the nature of the tactics used and people’s resulting fears for their safety, it’s proving difficult to gather sufficient evidence to press apparently reluctant local officials to pursue an investigation and act against those responsible.
So, if you have evidence that will help build the case, please contact this blog to provide details. Your anonymity will be respected but your information could prove vital.