AN ELECTION row has broken out in Pendle over claims of racism and religious intimidation in messages sent to residents.

Conservative Council leader Joe Cooney has written to Ed Milliband asking the Labour party to investigate Cllr Mohammed Hanif after he sent text messages to voters in Brierfield and Reedley urging them to vote for Asian candidates.


It comes as Labour’s Parliamentary candidate for the borough, Azhar Ali, has said he had no involvement with a WhatsApp message sent urging people to vote for him because he was ‘blessed by the Prophet Mohammed’s living descendent’.

The Tories have accused Labour of driving a ‘coach and horses’ through the diversity work done in the borough, but Mr Ali hit back and said it was the Conservatives who were ‘playing the race card’.

As well as calling on Ed Milliband to launch an internal investigation into Cllr Hanif’s conduct, Cllr Cooney is also speaking to Chief Superintendent Chris Bithell of Lancashire Police about the texts, which relate to the Brierfield Town Council and Reedley Parish Council elections.

One of three messages sent urged people to ‘select ALL ASIAN candidates’.

Cllr Cooney said: “People shouldn’t be told to vote for someone based on their heritage and skin colour. If the BNP or UKIP had told people to vote for the white candidates they’d be uproar.

“In Pendle we have been doing a lot of work of bringing the communities together and this kind of thing just sets us back, we’ve done all that work on diversity and Labour have driven a coach and horses through it.”

Cllr Hanif was unavailable for comment yesterday but Labour group leader Cllr Mohammed Iqbal defended his colleague.

“Mohammed Hanif sent three text messages in Brierfield relating to the town and parish council elections, where the candidates are independent and not running on party political platforms,” he said.

“In one of those messages he was backing five Asian candidates and to put all of their names on would have added another 60 or 70 characters, so he simply said vote for the five Asian candidates.

“I would refute suggestions that Mohammed Hanif is a racist, he is absolutely not, as everybody that knows him will say.”

Phillip Mousdale, returning officer for Pendle Council, said he was yet to receive any complaints relating to the issue.

Andrew Stephenson, the Conservative candidate for Pendle, was critical of the conduct of both Cllr Hanif and Mr Ali, and said he was stunned Labour had allowed them to get away with it.

He said: “It’s dreadfully disappointing that Labour are conducting their campaign in this fashion. Voters should be able to chose the candidate they want regardless of race, religion or ethnicity.

“It is unfortunate that the Labour party fail to see anything wrong with the texts Cllr Hanif has sent and have defended him.

“If one of my councillors was caught telling people to vote for the white candidates they would be suspended. That no senior figures in the Labour party have criticised this just beggars belief.”

Mr Ali said he was unaware of the message sent, but didn’t think it had broken any rules.

It has been suggested that an investigation could be launched if the content was found to constitute unlawful ‘spiritual influence’ under the Representation of the People Act 1983.

But Mr Ali said: “It actually asked for all Muslims and non-Muslims to support Azhar Ali because he has worked in the community for the last 20 years.

“It’s no different to someone texting their friends and asking them to vote for a particular candidate.

“This is nothing more than a dirty tricks campaign from the Conservatives who are out of touch and are using racial issues to try and hang on to the seat.

“I will continue to knock on doors, from which I am getting a fantastic response. The Tories are using anything they can, if anyone is playing the race card in this campaign it is them.”