You are currently viewing Guy Otten and the Green Party in Rochdale

Guy Otten and the Green Party in Rochdale

Guy Otten and the Green Party in Rochdale

by Guy Otten

[ED: This is a personal story by a member off the Atheism UK Council. It should therefore be stressed that Atheism UK is apolitical and does not endorse any political party.]

My Cancellation and Discrimination by the Green Party

I stood for the Green party in the Rochdale by-election on 29th February 2024 – and was cancelled by the Party.

I am a proud humanist and atheist, and believe strongly that atheism and humanism need to be normalized in our society, so that rejection of religion is seen as fully mainstream, and not as something slightly odd which has to be tolerated. Arguably we have made progress towards this standard over the last 60 years, particularly as, now, a majority of our population are frankly not bothered with religion. But there are strong forces opposing us, as my experience during the recent by-election in Rochdale demonstrates. And further the attitude of ‘not being bothered’ about religion extends in my experience to suspicion against those of us who are bothered to call it out and criticize it.

For many years I have been debating on social media with believers, mainly Christian and Islamic. I have also publicly debated a Muslim Sheikh and a Muslim ‘scholar’/extremist. I have delivered talks on the Origins of Islam, demonstrating how objective research now shows that those origins are in fact quite different from the origins story set out in the Standard Islamic Narrative (often referred to as ‘SIN’). I am critical of the moral defects evident in all the Abrahamic religions. Recently I was talking with a Christian who didn’t know that Exodus 21 regulated and implicitly approved slavery and is paralleled by sections of the Hadith in Islam.

At the same time I have also pursued good personal relations with Muslims, Christians and other believers. I run a Humanist-Christian dialogue group which has been meeting quarterly online for about 4 years. I serve as a Humanist chaplain working alongside Christian and Muslim clerics and a Rabbi. I attend a group called ‘Challenging Hate Forum’ run by the Dean of Manchester Cathedral and went on a ‘pilgrimage’ to Auschwitz with them about 6 years ago. I am a supportive member of the Muslim-Jewish Forum in Greater Manchester and most years attend an Iftar meal. This does not mean I hide my criticism of those religions; these groups know where I am coming from. Of course, I reject bigotry and abuse of any individuals including Muslims and can keep a clear distinction in my mind between bigotry and being critical of religion generally as sets of ideas and belief systems. I acknowledge that this is sometimes a difficult line to keep clear when criticizing Islamic claims, ideas and theology.


It was not therefore surprising when some old tweets were discovered, selectively taken out of context and used by opponents in the by-election to make me look Islamophobic. One amusing example which circulated on the media shows me telling a joke about how many Muslims does it take to change a light bulb. The excerpt circulating on social media omits the context that this joke was one of a string of ‘How many Christians, Buddhists, Jews etc does it take to change a light bulb’. This neatly illustrates three problems: (1) Islam is treated differently from other religions, (2) some people think that Muslims cannot take a joke and (3) any mention of Islam in other than a flattering context is risky.

[ED: How many atheists does it to change a light bulb? Answer: None. They live by the light of reason.]

The term Islamophobia is problematic and even dangerous exactly because it conflates bigotry and hatred of Muslims on the one hand with the free criticism and analysis of Islam on the other. Its danger lies in it the damage it causes to free debate in a democratic society.

What is Islamophobia? The definition which seems influential is the legal definition proposed in November 2018 by the All Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims, namely

Islamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness.[1]

The vagueness of this definition is striking: –

  • expressions of Muslimness. These words can encompass anything, whether bigotry, humour or honest and serious analysis.
  • perceived Muslimness. In addition to being as vague as the expressions of Muslimness, it raises the added issue of who is doing the perceiving and effectively empowers Muslims to claim persecution when none is intended or no offence should be taken, and the woke[2] are similarly encouraged to close down free debate.
  • the phrase rooted in racism and is a type of racism. It claims that Islamophobia is a form of racism, and is thus a simple category error, because Islam is (obviously) not a race, but a religion, shared by many races. But perhaps it is also trying to suggest that Islamophobia somehow shares a wellspring of prejudice, bigotry and hatred with the fear, suspicion and rejection of ‘Other’ that also generates racism. In this I think the claim may be correct as far as the bigotry, hatred and prejudice covered by Islamophobia is concerned. But as far as genuine informed criticism of Islam as a set of ideas is concerned, the phrase is damaging to a healthy debate in a democratic society.

The result of this vague, loose and erroneous definition is that Islamophobia has become a weapon used both by Muslims to try to shut down any criticism of Islam, and also by the woke to demonstrate how virtuous or right-on they are and to disable opposition they deem objectionable. Nobody can say anything about Islam which they or an apologist disagree with without incurring the accusation of Islamophobia.

My rejection of Islamophobia as a concept is not something I have just thought up by the way. It has a distinguished and thoughtful history of support. See most recently Kenan Malik’s article in the Observer on 3rd March 2024.

The Green Party and Rochdale

I have been an active member of Rochdale Green Party for the four years I have lived in Rochdale. In 2023 the local party found there was a dearth of candidates offering to be selected to stand in the two parliamentary constituencies in the borough. I therefore put my name forward for the Rochdale constituency and was formally selected. I knew the then Rochdale MP (Tony Lloyd) had been fighting cancer for some years, and expected that he was unlikely to stand in the expected General Election, but I did not anticipate his so sudden death, resulting in the by-election on 29th February 2024.

The Green Party nationally is a party dominated by the woke. For instance, a significant number of party activists have been suspended in recent times over allegations that they have uttered, or even permitted the utterance of, gender critical ideas. Any debate on the issue is treated as transphobic. We are seeing articulated pushback against cancellation of gender criticism led by feminist thinkers.

I appreciate that any political party has to have (and enforce) party lines to achieve some form of coherence in its platforms. Sadly, I think that line in my case is in the wrong place.

In the weeks before the Rochdale MP unexpectedly died, the local party was approached by Muslims in Rochdale angry at the poor response to Gaza by the Labour Party (the traditional political home of many of them). Many were indicating that they would be voting Green. Some pundits began to suggest the Green Party would be the main challenger and beneficiary of the disaffected Muslim vote in the General Election.

So when the woke looked at my record they found an easy way to counter me and the Green party. George Galloway has skilfully harvested the disaffected Muslim vote in Rochdale. I am frustrated that the Green Party was unable to take advantage of this potential advance in our fortunes in Rochdale. The takeaway lesson for any free thinker, free speaker and debater standing in a prominent election, is to deactivate their social media accounts to head off this kind of problem.

Discrimination against Non-Belief

Sadly both Islamophobia and antisemitism are confused in that they cover both legitimate criticism of ideas or policies with illegitimate bigotry against individuals, so that almost any comment, or even independent mention, of either Islam or Judaism/Israel is liable to be interpreted as Islamophobic or antisemitic. This problem infects Government, mainstream parties, and public and private institutions, bodies and companies.

While the supporters for Islamophobia and antisemitism may believe they are being progressive and inclusive, in fact the effect of their actions is to exclude anyone they don’t agree with. The impact is damaging to our democratic system.

The protests against the war in Gaza, for instance, are not understood by Government as pleas for the end of the suffering caused by the war, but rather as antisemitic and support for the extermination of Jews. The phrase from the river to the sea, Palestinians will be free means something different depending on who says it. It should not therefore be used. Instead the end of Israeli occupation and oppression of Palestinians should be advocated, if that is what you mean. I am among very many who call for an immediate ceasefire and serious negotiations leading to a just settlement in Israel/Palestine where the rights and needs of all will be upheld and respected.

Similarly the effect on atheists and humanists wanting to speak freely on religious matters is that we are liable to be cancelled and closed down if the accusation of islamophobia or antisemitism can be levelled, however inappropriately.  In this way Islam is being given a religious privilege and a free pass. We are being wrongly denied our birthright freedom of speech, and we have become victims of discrimination, a discrimination that does not affect us when criticising Christian, Hinduism, Buddhism or Sikhism. Our right to hold and speak freely based on our philosophical beliefs is being denied.

Worse it undermines the desperate need to educate the public on the historical, ethical and other defects in Islamic scriptures. I believe Islamic adherence by Muslims creates a supportive ‘hinterland’ for Islamist terrorism which the UK and other countries (including Muslim ones) have suffered from for decades. While the concept of islamophobia effectively hides dangerous Islamist ideology in the UK, it also disables those in our society who seek to detect and counter such dangerous ideology.

This is a dangerous step backwards for society generally where it is high time that higher secular standards are required of religious groups. We cannot, for instance, have clerics operating indoctrinating madrassahs, supporting jihadi groups or advocating the murder of gays.

For us atheists and humanists, in our struggles to combat religious privilege and normalise atheism and humanism, we must call islamophobia out!

[1] I gleaned this wording from a briefing of the Free Speech Union

[2] By woke I mean those who, believing they are socially and politically aware, in fact deny freedom of speech and seek to cancel those who argue rational cases they regard as offensive – usually to trans people or Muslims

<iframe width=”1280″ height=”720″ src=”” title=”FreeThought Hour with Lawyer Guy Otten” frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture; web-share” referrerpolicy=”strict-origin-when-cross-origin” allowfullscreen></iframe>


Leave a Reply