‘Personal attack’ angers Lib-Dem

Date published: 29 August 2008

A Liberal Democrat parliamentary hopeful is considering legal action after Labour accused him of planning to leave the country to spend months in the Middle East working for a wealthy sheikh.

Elwyn Watkins, who was selected to fight the Oldham East and Saddleworth seat almost a year ago, is a business consultant who works for Sheikh Abdullah Ali Alhamrani, of Saudi Arabia.

He is also a Rochdale councillor and lives in Daniel Fold, Rochdale.

Mr Watkins slammed the Labour document which accused him of being no longer committed to his electors.

He said he has only spent four weeks away this year, and has no intention of spending months away.

But a press release from the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency’s Labour Party accuses him of planning to spend a ‘number of months’ away from his constituents living in Middle East while his employer fights a long-running legal battle.

The press release also contains background information and a personal profile of Mr Watkins with annotations such as “single man reputed to live with his mother in Rochdale,” and “drives a bright red Morgan, cost of new Morgan £25k to £62K,” and “we do know he has spent most of his working life in the Middle East”.

Joe Fitzpatrick, agent for Oldham East and Saddleworth Labour MP Phil Woolas, said in the press release: “Despite promises of 12 months ago this serving councillor from Rochdale has abandoned his constituents and moved to the Middle East to work for a multi-billionaire sheikh.”

Mr Watkins said he lives alone in Daniel Fold in Rochdale, despite assurances when he was selected last year that he would move to Oldham.

He said he plans to take legal advice and added: “This is not just myself but for my boss.

“They are very private people and if he thought people were calling his family names, it is something the Arab world takes very seriously.

“Saudi Arabia is a very difficult country to live in, which is why I came back to live in the UK.

“I will have to go back there again, but not for very long, the occasional week.

“Most of the time I am in Oldham and Rochdale.

“I have not moved to Oldham yet but fully intend to do so before the (general) election.

“My job is business planning for factories which employ hundreds of people, investments and monitoring how companies perform.

“Most things these days can be done by phone, fax or email.

“Initially, I was shocked when I saw these allegations.

“This is a personal attack and mischief making and turns people off politics.”

Mr Watkins is the Liberal Democrats’ third choice for the Oldham East constituency in three years.

First Tony Dawson was defeated at the 2005 general election, then Aberdeen councillor Alison Smith stood down after five months, to be replaced by Mr Watkins last October.