IMMIGRATION Minister Phil Woolas has launched a desperate attempt to save his seat by distributing 45,000 leaflets saying he has had death threats and that he is being targeted by an Islamic group.
He has placed concerns over forms of Islam at the centre of the campaign in Oldham East and Saddleworth, which is becoming the dirtiest of the general election.
The leaflets are in the form of a hard-hitting eight-page newspaper whose front page has a picture of Mr Woolas caught in a rifle’s crosshairs.
They say the Islamic group, which cannot be named for legal reasons, is swamping the constituency with its own leaflets that brand Mr Woolas and his supporters as “bum kissers”.
One leaflet by a smaller group offered a hamper for anyone devising the “most creative” death threat against him, Mr Woolas said.
He is reporting those threats to the police.
He told the Sunday Express last night: “Mainstream Muslims will be sickened by these people who are giving Islam a bad name. We’ve got to stand up to them.”
The minister, whose majority is about 3,600, believes his Lib Dem challenger Elwyn Watkins, 46, will be the beneficiary of the group’s smear campaign.
Mr Watkins spent the bulk of his business career as a “personal adviser” to a wealthy Saudi sheikh.
The national Islamic group’s website states: “Our objective is to oust Phil Woolas, an anti-Muslim MP, from his position of power, in order to replace him with a candidate that will represent the views of the Muslims in the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency.
“The only viable choice for the Muslims is to vote for Elwyn Watkins.”
The website depicts Mr Woolas as the devil with horns and a tail and says Oldham voters face “three deadly sins”: of “blind loyalty” to Mr Woolas despite his support for the Iraq war; of following family ties and “tribal voting” for the Tory, Kashif Ali; and of voter apathy, which could help Mr Woolas and be an “injustice to your community and the Muslim Ummah [brotherhood] as a whole”.
Mr Woolas is renowned in Westminster for his plain speaking and insists he has a strong ministerial record on tackling mass immigration by introducing measures such as improved border controls and points-based visas.
He also said he is opposed to Muslim women teachers wearing the full veil in classrooms.
“We are faced with the following dilemma: out of the three major party candidates we have one that is anti-Muslim (Phil Woolas for Labour) and two that are pro-Muslim, Kashif Ali and Elwyn Watkins, standing for Conservatives and Lib Dems respectively.