Ex-councillor likens Wigan Council to the Syrian dictatorship

Former councillor Gareth Fairhurst
Former councillor Gareth Fairhurst
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A controversial former councillor’s comments likening Wigan Council to the Syrian dictatorship have been slammed by a refugee charity boss.

Gareth Fairhurst, who lost his council seat in last year’s elections but is still active in local politics, made the comparison on Twitter, accusing the town hall of “stifling opposition”.

He stood by the post when challenged by residents and has since attempted to justify his standpoint to the Wigan Post.

But Mick Taylor, project coordinator at Wigan’s refugee and asylum seeker charity SWAP, condemned the comparison as “trivialising the war in Syria”.

He said: “We work with a number of Syrian people who have fled the civil war, many of them leaving family and friends behind.

“They come to this country partly because of our reputation for humanitarian protection and our strong tradition of upholding democratic values.

“Indeed, many local people have died in two world wars fighting for these values.

“For anyone to make a comparison between the regime in Syria and Wigan councillors not only trivialises the war in Syria but also undermines our democratic processes and disrespects the sacrifices made during the two world wars.”

Mr Fairhurst, who has recently been criticised for not removing his councillor title from social media accounts, posted on April 7: “Interesting the dictatorship that’s Syria is in news and here we have Wigan Council following in their steps to stop councillors going on committees.”

It appeared a few days after news broke of an horrific gas attack in the war-torn country causing dozens of deaths, including children.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said yesterday these reports of the suspected chemical weapons attack on a rebel-held town were a “fabrication”

One resident responded to Mr Fairhurst: “You compare Syria to Wigan? And you think that is a sensible and fair comment?”

He said: “When you are discussing dictatorship then it is fitting.”

Speaking to the Wigan Post, Mr Fairhurst, who is a member of the Standish Independents (SI) Party, said his post related to what he claims are council attempts to prevent opposition councillors gaining committee places.

He explained SI leader Coun Debbie Fairhurst had been working to secure a spot for Coun Bob Brierley for the coming year but their bid appears to have been thwarted.

The former councillor said: “Anyone with an ounce of brain cell will see I’m not making the comparison with the recent gas attacks.

“Obviously it’s a vicious regime (in Syria) doing horrible things to its people.

“The comment is more about stifling of opposition and the way Coun Brierley is being treated.”

He claims changes to the town hall’s constitution, set to be debated at this week’s full chamber meeting, will make it harder for opposition councillors to have committee places.

But council documents say handing responsibility for agreeing committee nominations to the monitoring officer will “enable the business of the Annual General Meeting to be transacted more efficiently.”

He said: “It looks like the monitoring officer will have a veto, they don’t call it that, but it is, on who goes where.”

A spokesperson for Wigan Council said they were aware of the social media posts but are choosing not to respond.