Lib Dem candidate suspended in Rochdale - right or wrong decision?

Rabina Asghar stands beside George Galloway in a video that appeared on Twitter yesterday.

A Lib Dem council candidate has been suspended after being endorsed by George Galloway MP.

Rabina Asghar, who was to contest the Spotland and Fallinge ward for the Lib Dems as she has three times previously, has been suspended by the party after the Workers' Party MP used a video to urge voters to support her in order to "Get Labour out" of Rochdale Town Hall. 

In the video recorded a couple of weeks ago, he said: "In Spotland and Falinge I am backing Rabina Asghar who has grown her vote share from 7 per cent to 38 per cent over the last three elections. She is now on the verge of toppling Labour. An erudite campaigner who has the full support of my Grand Alliance."

He also encouraged voters to support another Lib Dem candidate, Zulfiqar Ali - a former councillor -  and four candidates for the Middleton Independents group. 

Mr Galloway was recently elected as Rochdale's MP in a by-election and his antipathy towards his former party is well-known. It should come as little surprise that he would want to encourage the local electorate to vote for candidates best placed to unseat Labour councillors, irrespective of what Mr Galloway thinks of those candidates personally. 

Mr Galloway has talked of a "grand alliance", but there is little doubt his real intentions are more likely to be damaging Labour rather than building up a local progressive coalition. Already both the Lib Dems and the Middleton Independents have sought to distance themselves from Mr Galloway and his party.

Ms Asghar, who works as a translator in the NHS, has insisted that she has done nothing to encourage such an "endorsement" and has not supported any party other than the Lib Dems. She is quoted in the Manchester Evening News as saying: "[Galloway] came across our team who were out campaigning". She added that, while she has been administratively suspended, she is "very confident" of being cleared of any wrongdoing, "At no point, have I endorsed another party or candidate", she said.

Lib Dem group leader Andy Kelly said: "We have not entered into any sort of alliance with the Workers' Party. Of course they (the two Lib Dem council candidates endorsed by the Workers' Party) have not entered into an alliance. I have never even talked to anyone from Galloway’s camp.”

When I first heard the news that Ms Asghar had been suspended, I had some questions. Firstly, I wasn't sure whether Mr Galloway's apparent endorsement could really be seen as anything other than a call for  anti-Labour tactical voting. Yes, he went further than that in actively encouraging voters to support specific candidates in specific wards, but is this very different to the numerous tactical voting campaigns out there? Secondly, why suspend Ms Asghar and not Mr Ali? Thirdly, when it is clear that no-one, including the Middleton Independents, have been in conversation with Mr Galloway why is a statement from the local group leader insufficient?

That statement from Mr Kelly seemed, to me at least, unequivocal. Why take things further? 

However, yesterday another video appeared on Twitter in which Mr Galloway was seen standing with a group of Lib Dems - including Ms Asghar - in which he gave the following statement: "You might be surprised to see me supporting a Liberal Democrat candidate but we are determined together to get Labour out of Spotland... to get Labour out of the Town Hall...where they have misused their power for so very long. So I've got no hesitation at all in asking anyone who supports me... who lives in Spotland... to vote for Rabina. Rabina is the councillor we need here in this ward. Please support her."

During the video, Ms Asghar looks rather awkward but is seen nodding in apparent agreement with Mr Galloway at key points.

In light of this, I don't see that the party had much option. While I suspect that Ms Asghar is correct and that the video was most likely the result of Galloway "conveniently" meeting up with her group while out campaigning, it's not remotely helpful. It looks as if Mr Galloway is out helping the Spotland Lib Dem Focus Team.  If Mr Galloway wishes to encourage voters generally to reject Labour and consider other excellent local champions, I don't think any of us would have a problem with that - but appearing to personally endorse people and standing alongside such candidates in videos, suggesting a level of agreement that isn't really there, isn't the way to do things.

Just as our MPs won't be endorsing opposition candidates, neither should George Galloway be urging voters to support specific candidates from other parties. It's on a different level from tacitly encouraging tactical voting and he knows it. He's not new to this game, which makes me question his motivations. Our own candidates should be aware that it is unwise to appear in videos created by opposition parties, especially if that also involves standing next to George Galloway. Admittedly, we can't help it when Galloway makes statements in which he advises voters to support us in wards his party isn't standing in, but we do have control over whether we appear with him in videos. It's poor judgement to put it mildly. It also undermines the group leader who has made a public statement dismissing suggestions of collaboration. Not to mention it's counter-productive and will only serve to strengthen Labour.

Ms Asghar is probably guilty of nothing but political naivety, but the matter has to be investigated. Sadly, the inevitable consequence of this is to undermine what could have been a successful campaign for Ms Asghar in Spotland and Falinge. Yes, we want to see a change of leadership in Rochdale Town Hall but this is not how to achieve it. 

Regrettably, suspension is probably the correct decision. I don't think there is any other realistic alternative: the party has to act quickly to extinguish rumours of "grand alliances" and deals with a divisive demagogue. Hopefully Ms Asghar will return to the party in the near future having learned a few important lessons.


Robert SAYER said…
Naive yes. Suspend no but surely an appeal will succeed, Galloway is devious and his whole policy is to undermine everybody.
nigel hunter said…
I can certainly agree with Robert and will welcome her back after her appeal .Galloway IS for himself and nobody else.
Andrew said…
Thanks for the comments.

I tend to think that Galloway is most likely being devious. He's not new to politics.

I am of course not speculating about appeals - merely whether the party was right to suspend the candidate in question. Of course there almost certainly WILL be an appeal and also an investigation (I note Galloway is now claiming to have "voluminous text messages" to support his claims that discussions were entered into). Naturally, as I state in my concluding sentence, I hope we will be able to welcome Ms Asghar back into the party once that has concluded - but, for now, I think suspension pending investigation is the right thing to do. It would only damage the party further if it did nothing.