The Lib Dems have alerted the police after messages sent to some Muslim voters in Stoke-on-Trent suggested they could go to hell if they failed to vote Labour to keep out Ukip’s Paul Nuttall.
The anonymous message, distributed locally to some in the Muslim community by text and Whatsapp, called for people to vote Labour so as not to help “enemies of Islam”.
It said voting for the Lib Dem candidate, Dr Zulfiqar Ali, a Muslim, could help “far-right, anti-Muslim, anti-Islamic Ukip party” take the seat, which is being contested in a byelection triggered by the resignation of Labour MP Tristram Hunt.
It is not known how many people received the message, but the Lib Dems claimed it had been “distributed in large numbers” in support of the Labour candidate, Gareth Snell.
The Lib Dems demanded an apology from Labour on Thursday in a letter to the party’s election agent, copying in the police and Stoke returning officer.
Ian Horner, the Lib Dem election agent, wrote: “I am sure that you realise that the religious nature of one of these messages could also be deemed to be covered by the ruling on ‘undue spiritual influence’ in the matter of a mayoral election for the London borough of Tower Hamlets held on 22 May 2014 when the Labour party were the victims of such tactics.”
The party also called on Labour to condemn the “campaign of misinformation and intimidation currently underway in their name in Stoke-on-Trent”.
Labour has said it has no idea who sent the messages. A campaign spokesperson said: “We were not aware of these text messages and we don’t condone the content. The campaign did not sanction the sending of these messages.”
The contest is a bitter battle between Labour and Ukip. Nuttall was an early favourite to win but his chances have been dented by questions over his residency in the seat, his failure to name all six pottery towns and after he was forced to admit that claims on his website about losing close friends in the Hillsborough disaster were false.
Snell’s candidacy has also proved controversial after he was forced to apologise for making offensive remarks about women on Channel 5’s Loose Women. He also backed remain in the referendum and suggested Brexit was a “massive pile of shit”, despite Stoke having strongly voted to leave the EU on 23 June.
Ukip and Labour sources told the Guardian they now believe Labour will retain the seat, which is likely to see a depressed turnout and low voter engagement.
The Lib Dems have been hoping to take some of the seat’s remain supporters but on Thursday Snell received the backing of More United, the cross-party group on the progressive left which is backing pro-EU candidates.
It was co-founded after the referendum by Paddy Ashdown, the former Lib Dem leader, and is led by historian Dan Snow, with the aim of supporting politicians who adhere to five principles, including seeking the closest relationship with the EU or rejoining “if that becomes necessary and possible”.
The group, which has around 70,000 members, takes inspiration from the maiden speech by the murdered Labour MP Jo Cox, who said people are far more united and have more in common than that which divides them. A poll of its members found 86% were in favour of backing Snell in Stoke.
The text of the message sent to Muslim voters in Stoke
Aslamalaykam my Brothers and Sisters.
In this country, we Must vote due to Necessity / Majboori.
This does not mean that we can vote for any Tom, Dick or Harry.
This means that in order to stop the Far Right, Anti Muslim, Anti Islamic UKIP Party, we must vote for
the Strongest candidate.
If Dr Ali takes 500 Votes and Yaqub Mirza takes a 100 votes and UKIP defeat the Labour Party
Candidate Gareth Snell by 550 votes, then You will have succeeded in helping to Elect an Anti
Ok, you will have made Dr Ali and Mohammed Yaqub Akram (Mirza) happy Losers.
You will have given a slap to our local councillors.
Will you be able to answer for this in the Grave and on the Final Day???
“I helped the Enemies of Islam because…..”
May ALLAH TALLAH Grant Us All Hidayat, Ameen.