Phil Woolas ejected from Parliament
The High Court has ruled that Labour’s shadow immigration minister, Phil Woolas, is guilty of knowingly making false statements about his opponent in the 2010 election campaign.
He has been ejected from Parliament, fined £5000, barred from office for three years, and has been suspended from the Labour Party.
He becomes the first politician in 99 years to be found guilty, under Section 106 of the Representation of the People Act, of giving “false statement of fact in relation to the candidate’s personal character or conduct” to prevent them being elected.
The Woolas election campaign was shameful. He and his campaign team deliberately set out to stir up and exploit racial hatred. They aimed to highlight (non-existent) links between his opponent and fundamentalist Islamists and Lib Dem immigration policy. An email from his election agent Joseph Fitzpatrick stated the aim “… to explain to the white community how the Asians will take him [Woolas] out … If we don’t get the white vote angry he’s gone.
Woolas has spoken extensively in the past about separating out the arguments of racism and immigration, but in his election campaign he blatantly played for the racist vote using scaremongering anti-immigrant statements and imagery. His election leaflet juxtaposed images of extremist (British) Islamist protestors (against the Dutch anti-Muslim cartoons) with a potential Lib Dem “illegal” immigrant amnesty. As blogger Sunny Hundal put it, his campaign went out to mix race, religion and immigration to win an election. Hardly the kind of tactics that would forward Woolas’ stated aim in 2008 to “heal this country by allowing us to have a mature debate on immigration”
This could all have been seen as the last ditch desperate tactics of an election campaign team, but Woolas’ record as Immigration Minister reveals a consistent, by-any-means-necessary anti-immigrant stance. Many in the Labour Party questioned his appointment by Ed Milliband as Shadow Minister for immigration, but colleagues in the hardline populist anti-immigration wing of the Labour Party, such as Glasgow MP Tom Harris (“Absolutely gutted by Phil Woolas’s ruling“) are backing him even today.
As access to legal representation was cut back further and further, Woolas drew strong criticism for his attacks on the legal system and charities. The Law Society accused the minister of “running against the rule of law” and making “unacceptable comments”, after accusing lawyers and charities representing asylum seekers of “playing the system” and stating that most of those seeking refuge were just economic migrants.
Ahead of today’s High Court verdict, the Liberal Conspiracy blog published papers obtained under the Freedom of Information Act which reveal Woolas authorised the use of force and restraint private security firms to forcibly deport mothers with mental health problems, kids with severe disabilities and children who are self harming. Families were broken up and campaigns by local MPs were overruled.
After the High Court verdict today Woolas gave an interview to strike-breaking BBC workers, and announced he would be mounting a legal challenge, going for Judicial Review, which could allow him to retain his job as MP until otherwise decided in the courts. Ironic, perhaps, given his previous comments about lawyers playing the system and wasting taxpayers money. However, the Labour leadership has moved to disown Woolas and will not back his legal challenge.
Deputy Labour Leader Harriet Harman said: “The court has found that Phil Woolas said things that he knew were untrue during his election campaign. It is no part of Labour’s politics to try to win elections by telling lies. We believe in good community relations – in fact that is central to our politics – and Phil Woolas has been suspended from the Labour party.”