The Labour party has complained to the police over an election leaflet purporting to come from George Galloway’s Respect party, which refers to Labour as a “party of closet racists” who are prone to “anti-Islamic bigotry”.
The leaflet, entitled “Respect Yourself”, was allegedly sent to a number of Asian households in Rotherham, where a byelection will be held at the end of the month following the resignation of Denis MacShane over his expenses.
“Dear residents,” the single sheet of A4 began, “On Thursday the 29th November every voter and most importantly every Muslim and Asian family in Rotherham will have the opportunity to send a message to the sickening racism, Islamophobia and corruption of the Labour party here in this town.”
It went on to claim Respect is the only UK political party to openly embrace Islam. It says the party has “twice elected MPs to stand against the corrupt practices of the Conservatives and Labour’s Savile Row socialism.” And it suggests Labour is guilty of “‘If they are brown or black send them back’ racism not seen since National Front campaigns of the 1970s.”
A Labour spokesman said the party had written to Rotherham’s returning officer and the police. They believe the leaflet, which did not bear Respect’s official logo, violates election law.
Galloway, the party’s figurehead, won a byelection in Bradford West earlier this year, and between 2005 and 2010 served the east London constituency of Bethnal Green & Bow. He was criticised in Bradford after sending out a campaign leaflet addressed to “the voters of the Muslim faith and Pakistani heritage in Bradford West”, which disparaged the Labour candidate, local councillor Imran Hussain.
In it, he wrote: “God KNOWS who is a Muslim. And he KNOWS who is not,” and went on to say: “I, George Galloway, do not drink alcohol and never have. Ask yourself if you believe the other candidate in this election can say that truthfully.”
The day after Galloway overturned Labour’s 6,000 majority, his press officer, Ron McKay, confirmed to the Guardian that the leaflet had been sanctioned by Galloway.
But on Thursday McKay said the Rotherham leaflet was “most certainly not from Respect” or the party’s candidate, journalist Yvonne Ridley, who converted to Islam after being captured by the Taliban.
He said in an email: “I have no idea who created it but it is one of the many dirty tricks we are experiencing in this byelection. It has been reported to the police and to the electoral authorities.”
Ridley refused to talk to the Guardian in Respect’s Rotherham HQ on Tuesday, but in a video on YouTube, Galloway can be seen making a direct appeal to the south Yorkshire town’s Muslims, who numbered around 4,000 in the last census.
He said: “We hope that the majority, if not the vast majority of the ummah [Islamic community] will be with us and that’s as it should be because she [Ridley] is more faithful and better representative of that ummah than any other candidates that are standing in this election, by definition.”
Visiting Rotherham yesterday in support of Labour candidate Sarah Champion, the former home secretary David Blunkett said the leaflet was a disgrace. He added: “It’s time Respect are exposed for these kinds of claims – they used them in previous elections and now they are trying to fool the people of Rotherham with them.
“I am setting out a clear challenge to George Galloway and Yvonne Ridley – they must withdraw these claims or face action by the Labour party, including taking this up with the Electoral Commission.
“If Respect claim this is not something they have produced they must immediately distance themselves from it and make this clear in their leaflets.”
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