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30 November 2006

Labour peer urged support for Tories in 2005 election

Exclusive: Labour's Lord Nazir Ahmed urged support for the Tories at the last general election

By Omar Waraich

Labour’s most prominent Muslim peer, Lord Nazir Ahmed of Rotherham, urged support for the Conservative Party during the last general election. The claim comes from Labour MP for Dewsbury, Shahid Malik, who has provided evidence to the Labour Party that Ahmed campaigned for his opponent, Sayeeda Warsi in 2005. Warsi is now the vice-chairman of the Conservative Party and a rising star of Cameron’s new look A-list of black, Asian and women candidates .

Malik has passed his concerns to the Labour chief whip, Jacqui Smith, and they will also be brought to the attention of the party’s National Executive Committee. The revelations could lead to the Muslim peer’s expulsion from the Labour Party.

The New Statesman has discovered that among the evidence under consideration is a voice message recording, received on the phone of an aide to Sardar Attique, the prime minister of Azad Kashmir, the Pakistan-occupied part of the country, which has been the subject of a longstanding bloody dispute with India.

The message was left on the machine by Ahmed in March 2005, some time before an election rally was held in the west Yorkshire constituency under Attique’s auspices.

“This is Lord Nazir speaking,” the Labour peer says at the start of the recording, which the New Statesman has heard. The message is a Mirpuri dialect of Punjabi. “Phone me, I have heard that Sardar Attique is going to Dewsbury. You might know that from Labour there’s Malik, Shahid, and the Conservatives have a Pakistani girl – Sayeeda Hussain Warsi. Friend, don’t invite both to the rally. But if you do invite someone, then…”

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Ahmed’s voice trails off at this point. It picks up again a second later, and he tells the aide of a source of potential division between Attique and Malik: “Malik invited the Barrister [Sultan Mahmood, a political rival of Sardar Attique], and Malik is with him.”

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Before signing off, the Labour peer signals which side he believes the prime minister should lean towards. “If you invite Sayeeda’s party (the Conservatives),” he says, “it will be very good.”

Dewsbury boasts close to 13,000 constituents of Kashmiri extraction. Their votes were carefully courted during the campaign by both Warsi and Malik, the eventual victor. Each expressed a commitment to the promotion of Kashmiri rights throughout the campaign.

Ahmed confirmed that he made the call and left that message. But he said that his words must be appreciated within a wider context. “I told Riaz [Attique’s aide] to not intervene in the British political system because he is from an Azad Kashmir political party and he should stay out of it,” he says.

Ahmed added: “That tape is actually in relation to a meeting that was held in Huddersfield. And I never told any constituent of Dewsbury to vote for the Tories.”

Ahmed adds that he went to Dewsbury during the election period, but only to visit family there. He also said he knew Warsi well and is known to be a friend of her father’s.

Warsi welcomed Lord Ahmed’s support, but strenuously denied soliciting support for her campaign from the Labour peer .

“It is quite extraordinary,” said Shahid Malik MP in response, “that a Labour peer who proudly asserts that he is the country’s first Muslim peer should behave in such a divisive manner against a fellow Labour party member. Any disciplinary action to be taken against him is a matter for the Labour NEC. I will abide by their decision.”

Echoing his colleague’s remarks, Mohammad Sarwar, the MP for Glasgow Central condemned Ahmed’s actions as “disgraceful”.

In a further allegation, Malik said his fellow Labour and Muslim parliamentarian had helped bring a second Kashmiri politician to a Tory election event. “Lord Ahmed was involved in bringing the President [of Azad Kashmir] to a Conservative rally in Dewsbury during the general election campaign,” he said. “The President apologised to me in front of fellow parliamentarians stating that Lord Ahmed had not told him that he would be going to Ms Warsi’s rally. I accepted his apology.”

Lord Ahmed denies taking the president of Azad Kashmir to any campaign event.

On the occasion of Malik’s selection as the Labour prospective parliamentary candidate for Dewsbury, he and Ahmed shared a public platform in Sheffield. Ahmed congratulated Malik on his selection and wished him a successful campaign.

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