A local councillor who previously worked as George Galloway’s campaign chief is behind a letter emailed to every elected colleague in England and Wales which threatened to name them if they refused to call for a Gaza ceasefire.
Independent Kingston councillor James Giles co-authored the inflammatory demand with the Conservative councillor Jamal Chohan, along with the template of a letter sent to both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer which claimed antisemitism has been “weaponised” to protect Israel since the Oct 7th Hamas atrocity.
The email, sent to over 19,000 district, county and unitary councillors, and which has been seen by Jewish News, included the threat, “We will also be publishing the names of those who have been invited to sign but choose not to, in the interest of accountability”.
After the email sparked a backlash from many councillors the organisers of the letter backtracked and said they would not publish a list of those who had not signed their letter.
Bizarrely, the original email also acknowledged that “some councillors support a ceasefire but fear retribution from their parties if they speak out” and offered the chance to add support anonymously.
Objecting to the email Labour councillor John Haywood posted on Twitter/X, writing: “Surely you understand your ultimatum is unacceptable, because it gives me no agency to comply with your ultimatum, to accept your words on a very complex and nuanced issue?
“And in light of the currently highly charged environment on this issue, with menacing protests outside MP’s offices this weekend, it could risk our safety as elected representatives.”
Cllr Haywood added that whilst he wanted lasting peace in the Middle East, the influence of his UK local government elected office was “infinitesimally small” but that he would be prepared to call for “practical and achievable steps to ensure that peace”.
Lib Dem councillor Jonathan Williams wrote:”I felt personally threatened by the email from Cllr James Giles. In no way would I conduct myself through threatening those that do not agree with a pre-written word for word statement. This Councillor should resign and publicly apologise for the worry and harm he has caused.”
Conservative Cllr Andrew Morrision added:”I also received such a mailing. For the avoidance of doubt, I am accountable to my constituents, not to Cllr James Giles.”
It emerged that Giles had worked on former Respect Party leader George Galloway’s campaign in Batley and Spen during the 2021 parliamentary election, won by Labour.Giles had also appeared on Galloway’s Sputnik programme on Russia Today, the channel whose license was revoked last year after it broke impartiality rules on reports on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The Kingston councillor later said that he took the Galloway campaign role in his professional capacity as a public relations consultant and also stressed that he did not agree with Galloway’s recent statements on Ukraine and NATO.
Galloway has subsequently formed the ultra-left Workers Party, which grew out of a hardline Maoist group (the CPGB-ML) without finding electoral success.
When Jewish News contacted Tory councillor Chohan about his role in the Gaza campaign he initially said:”To be clear, the email was drafted by Cllr Giles, not me. He has clarified his position. Bizarre that you are trying to criticise me for someone else’s email.”
But when it was pointed out that the email sent to all councillors had confirmed Chohan was involved in the “drafting” he said:”My initial response makes my position clear. Outcome is the same either way. Only supporters names will be published. It is an interesting question though – do voters not have the right to know our stance?”
In an interview with The National Chohan has said he feels “isolated” with his stance on Gaza and that his views are “met with disregard” by party colleagues.
He is listed as deputy Leader of the Opposition, on Kingston Council’s website.
Giles, who represents the Kingston Independent Residents Group in the Green Lane and St James Ward, added:”“Some people have genuinely misunderstood, we’ve issued a clarification to all councillors. If people want to sign the open letter, I would welcome that and encourage them to do that. If they don’t want to, that’s equally fine.”
More than 300 councillors, across all parties, had signed the letter.
Chohan has now been expelled from the Conservative Group on Kingston Council.
Giles meanwhile has stepped down from his roles with the Local Government Association. He claims the decision is “temporary”.
A Conservative party spokesperson: “Mr Chohan has not been a Party member since 2020. He was told he was no longer a member of the Group at 5pm yesterday and that he would need to apologise for his perceived threatening language if he wanted to be readmitted.”
Chohan disputes the claim he has not been a member since 2020, and points to meetings he has had with senior MPs in the party since.
An updated statement on the LGA website noted that “our statement identified Councillors James Giles and Jamal Chohan as co-authors of the letter and the covering email. Councillor Chohan has since clarified that whilst he co-authored the letter, he was not involved in drafting, nor did he endorse the wording, of Councillor James’ email.
“We have now amended the statement on our website and would ask you to note that Councillor Jamal did not endorse or sign the original covering email.”
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