Oldham heads for lockdown – are councils hiding the truth about Covid spikes?

This week Oldham is facing full lockdown “within days” due to a surge in Covid-19 cases. Two weeks ago residents were told that they must not meet with others in their homes. The latest statistics show that Oldham’s infection rate has almost doubled in the past week, from 57.8 per 100,000 inhabitants to 107.5.

What we don’t yet know is a precise breakdown of which Oldham areas have seen especially serious outbreaks of the pandemic.

During July it was evident that the virus was rampaging in Pakistani and Bangladeshi areas of the town, as H&D reported at the time, and as Oldham Council’s deputy leader Arooj Shah then admitted.

However Cllr Shah argued today that during the past few weeks the virus has spread “in all areas, in all age groups, and in all communities”.

We shall know on Friday this week to what extent her statement is true. Detailed statistics last week showed that while there was some incidence of the virus in White areas of the town, it remained far more prevalent in Pakistani and Bangladeshi areas.

Official statistics published on Friday each week show a breakdown of that week’s new Covid cases in each ‘Middle Super Output Area’, a census area roughly similar to local council wards.

Last week the worst area of Oldham was Alexandra Park with 55 new cases: this is the longstanding Asian ghetto area known as Glodwick. The second-worst area was Werneth with 42 new cases: decades ago this was mainly White but in recent years it has become another Asian ghetto.

Another area with significant infection registering 12 new cases was Busk, part of the original Bangladeshi area of Oldham near Oldham Athletic’s football ground at Boundary Park.

Salem – a partly White area bordering Glodwick – also had 12 cases.

Judging from last week’s figures, it was true that there had been a scattering of cases in some Whiter areas of Oldham: eight on the working class Alt estate; three in the more middle-class Springhead & Grasscroft. However other very White areas of Oldham – ranging from the working-class Moorside & Sholver and Derker areas, to the three affluent census areas that make up Saddleworth, registered no cases at all. (Technically this could mean that they had zero, one or two new cases that week, as only census areas with three or more new cases are listed.)

Is Cllr Arooj Shah being disingenuous in pretending that the virus is spreading equally in White and Asian areas of Oldham? We await this week’s detailed statistics with interest and shall inform H&D readers accordingly.

Arooj Shah (above left) with Oldham East & Saddleworth MP Debbie Abrahams after her defeat by a Pakistani taxi driver at the 2016 election. Oldham Labour Party found Ms Shah a new ward in a more racially mixed part of Oldham.

Cllr Shah is in other respects an interesting example of how the Labour Party interacts with Muslim communities. Contrary to the fantasies of some in our movement, the Labour Party is not in the grip of Muslim community leaders, still less is it influenced by ‘radical’ Islam.

What is much more common in 2020 is to see Labour councillors (including senior ones such as Arooj Shah) who are of Muslim origin but who are so ‘modern’ and ‘liberal’ that community leaders and imams would scarcely recognise them as Muslim at all. The Labour Party is just as much at war with traditional Islam as it is with traditional Christianity.

Arooj Shah was first elected as a very young woman in St Mary’s ward, Oldham, in 2012. This ward is in the Glodwick area and at the 2011 census was 49.1% Pakistani and 8.6% Bangladeshi.

Cllr Shah soon came into conflict with more socially conservative Pakistanis, and in 2016 she was defeated by local taxi driver Aftab Hussain standing as an independent. The Labour Party rallied behind the ousted councillor and in a deliberate gesture of contempt for conservative Muslims and ‘community leaders’ they found her a new ward in the more racially diverse Chadderton South ward, which she has represented since 2018.

A similar racial and cultural conflict affected Labour in another Lancashire town earlier this year. The first two Asian women to be elected as Blackburn councillors were both deselected in February. In this case Labour bosses intervened and ordered the selections to be rerun. One of the women won the re-run and remains a councillor, but the other chose to give up the fight.

Whatever the truth of Covid’s viral/racial profile, it seems clear that the Labour Party will continue to confront traditional Muslims, and that such conflicts will be a feature of local politics for at least another decade.

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