Have Phil Woolas and his backers no shame?

By Simon Barrow
November 10, 2010

When he was Minister of State for Borders and Immigration in the Home Office, Phil Woolas MP objected to asylum seekers pursuing justice through appeals to the courts. Unlike him, of course, they had not been found guilty of breaking the law. Unlike him also, they did not have influential friends to fund their legal appeals.

In his own case, Mr Woolas appears to be showing no remorse at all about having been found guilty of lying to smear his 2010 general election opponent - an offence under section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, which has led to his automatic dismissal as an MP.

Mr Woolas is not appealing against the finding of fact, it seems. He is seeking to challenge the judgement through Judicial Review - which, so the fundraising letter (http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/11/09/exclusive-the-fund-raising-lette...) from his pals claims, "would also clear Phil’s name of the allegations of deception."

Note that weasly word "allegations". They're not just allegations, they are the findings of a court "beyond all reasonable doubt".

But then if the law doesn't fit your wishes, have a go at the legal process. That seems at least to be a consistent theme with regard to Mr Woolas.

For example, two years ago, as a minister of the Crown supposedly charged with maintaining justice, he bitterly criticised exponents of the legal system for daring to uphold an asylum case that had to go to six appeals before right was finally done – with the claimant being allowed to remain in Britain for their own safety.

A more logical deduction from that case would have been that the system had been stacked against the little person, and had failed him on five previous occasions - not that he was wrong to go on seeking redress!

But Mr Woolas' political interest was in getting someone kicked out of the country, and if the law and justice got in the way, that was apparently an affront. This kind of thing was all the fault of those pesky human rights lawyers and NGOs, refusing to accept that they are beaten, he suggested (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/8327).

The legal finding against Mr Woolas on 5 November 2010 was that in campaigning for the parliamentary seat of Oldham East and Saddleworth, his election leaflets (approved by him) demonstrably lied in claiming that his Liberal Democrat opponent Elwyn Watkins had failed to condemn an alleged extremist plot to oust him.

Mr Watkins was also falsely portrayed as taking "illegal" foreign donations. The court was presented with emails demonstrating that Mr Woolas' campaign set out to make "white folks angry" in an attempt to keep the seat, which he won by only 103 votes.

Phil Woolas apparently thinks behaving in this way is fine - it is being found guilty by a court of breaching election law that apparently raises "fundamental issues about the freedom to question and criticise politicians" and "will inevitably chill political speech".

Thankfully, most other people do not share this distorted outlook. According to a YouGov poll, 74 per cent back the law, and 71 per cent of the public agree that the courts were right to remove Mr Woolas from his seat and to order a fresh election, with only seven per cent thinking they had made the wrong decision.

There are also principled parliamentarians who support the decision of the Labour's deputy leader to suspend Mr Woolas. "Harriet Harman is not isolated. At the PLP last night she was surrounded by MPs offering support. The alleged offence is not a minor one," tweeted MP Paul Flynn yesterday (http://twitter.com/Paulflynnmp/status/2063009207820288).

Democracy requires fair elections, and the law should be about truth not convenience. Those are the lessons that this case reminds us of, and that Phil Woolas and his apologists also need to register.


Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.

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