Afzal Amin, the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Dudley North, has resigned as parliamentary candidate after apparently being caught colluding with the far-right in a bizarre plot to hold a fake protest about a mosque.
The shadow cast by the Dudley “super mosque” (as its opponents routinely describe it) has loomed large over the Black Country town since 2001, despite the fact that the mosque doesn’t actually exist. In fact the mosque – dubbed the Pride of Dudley by the Dudley Muslim Association – is no nearer being built than it was at the turn of the century. Anyone passing the site then and today will note very little difference.
Yet as my research has repeatedly shown, confrontations over the mosque have had a destructive impact on Dudley. In particular it has divided the local political landscape, prompting battles between the far-right and local councillors. Now it seems this non-existent building has touched the very heart of the national political mainstream.
Amin stands accused of trying to choreograph a fake demonstration against the mosque. To do it, he sought the help of the far-right group the English Defence League, including its former leader Tommy Robinson.
According to secretly taped conversations published by The Mail on Sunday, Amin wanted the EDL to announce plans for a march in Dudley on May 2 2015 – the last Saturday before the election.
Previous EDL marches had stoked tensions in the town and Amin appeared to want to capitalise on that. The march would be cancelled and he would call a press conference to claim he had single-handedly negotiated with the EDL to stop it.
The hope was that he would be hailed as a saviour figure and that he would win over enough support to overcome the 649-vote majority currently held by Labour’s Ian Austin.
Amin denies any wrongdoing but even if he had been hailed a hero, his victory would have been short lived. A real march has been scheduled by the far-right new kids on the block Britain First. This is to take place on May 9 – just a fortnight after the fake EDL march was apparently to take place.
In some ways, the allegations made against Amin are irrelevant. They only add fuel to the fire that has engulfed the town for so long.
The first row occurred soon after the initial plans for the mosque were released in 2001. Some on the council opposed the mosque because the proposed minaret was taller than the spire of the local medieval church.
Soon after, Simon Darby, who was deputy leader of the British National Party at the time, became a local councillor after winning 43% of the vote in the ward where the mosque was to be built. He lost his seat a year later but the BNP remained active in the town. The party won around 4,000 votes in the 2005 general election on the back of a vitriolic anti-mosque campaign.
By that time, Davis had also lost his seat on the council. He defected to UKIP in 2005 and again took up the campaign against the mosque. Canvassing across Dudley and its surrounds, he secured signatures from more than 22,000 local people for a petition against the mosque and was re-elected to a council seat for his new party.
With opposition to the mosque growing, the local Development Control Committee unanimously rejected planning permission for the mosque in 2007. This decision was made on the basis that the land had originally been earmarked for job creation.
The Dudley Muslim Association appealed the decision and the government planning inspector overturned it the following year. Planning permission was eventually granted.
Then the council took its complaint to the High Court but lost in what was seen as a highly damaging ruling for the anti-mosque campaign.
Enter the EDL
The fallout from these court battles undoubtedly gave impetus to the far-right to take up the mantle of opposition. Claiming to be the only group responding to the frustration felt by “ordinary people”, the EDL took to the streets of Dudley.
A local march in April 2010 attracted about 3,000 supporters – the EDL’s biggest march to date at the time. A few weeks later, the EDL returned to stage a protest on the roof of the disused building that sat on the site of the proposed mosque. The group took a week’s supply of food and water and the plan was to broadcast the Islamic call to prayer five times a day so local people would experience how it would be once the mosque was built. The protesters were quickly removed but community relations in the town deteriorated after the stunt.
A sorry saga
Another round of planning disputes ensued, and permission for the mosque appeared to have been finally secured in November 2014.
But as with everything surrounding this project, nothing ever goes to plan. The permission is again being contested, prompting at least two court hearings estimated to last at least another two years.
The Dudley mosque saga is likely to rumble on long after the Afzal Amin scandal has been forgotten. The parliamentary hopeful may have planned to thwart one fake protest but far-right groups had already begun to thrive off the toxic atmosphere created by the mosque argument.
As the local council and Dudley Muslim Association focused on each other, groups like the EDL filled the void for local people who felt left out of the conversation. Many have found themselves inadvertently drifting towards the far-right – especially online – because they felt this was the only way their voices would be heard. This worrying situation has only widened the gulf that exists between Dudley’s already beleagured communities.
The fact that a mainstream political candidate was willing to risk stoking tensions between different communities is shocking. That he was willing to use those from within the far-right to do so is just plain distasteful. The shadow already cast over Dudley will be, for the time being at least, just that little bit darker in the run up to the general election.