Phil Woolas's day in court

Labour MP faces expulsion from Parliament over election campaign smears.

It's going to be an uncomfortable day for former Labour minister Phil Woolas, who's in court fighting an attempt to have his election victory overturned on the grounds of "corrupt practices".

Woolas's Lib Dem opponent, Elwyn Watkins, who lost by just 103 votes at the election, took legal action after a demagogic leaflet by the MP (see below) suggested that the Lib Dems were courting support from Islamic extremists. On another occasion, Woolas and his campaign team doctored a police photo (see below) to make it appear as if Watkins had been arrested.


A campaign leaflet claimed that Islamic extremists "want you to vote Lib Dem to punish Phil".


A doctored photo made it appear as if Lib Dem candidate Elwyn Watkins had been arrested.

The Lib Dems' central contention is that such "misleading" material swung a tightly-fought election in Labour's favour. Legal documents submitted to the High Court appear to confirm that there was a calculated attempt by the Woolas campaign to whip up racial tensions in the area in a bid to get the "white vote" behind him.

An email by Woolas's election agent, Joseph Fitzpatrick, to the candidate declared: "we need ... to explain to the white community how the Asians will take him out ... If we don't get the white vote angry he's gone." Another from Fitzpatrick to Steve Green, the MP's campaign adviser, said: "we need to go strong on the militant Moslem angle" and proposed the headline "Militant Moslems target Woolas."

A defeat for Woolas (who remains a frontbench spokesman) would see him expelled from Parliament and a by-election held in the extremely marginal seat of Oldham East and Saddleworth. He has pledged to "robustly defend" himself. But whether he loses or not, let's hope that Woolas finally apologises for one of the most disgraceful election campaigns in recent history.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Why relations between Theresa May and Philip Hammond became tense so quickly

The political imperative of controlling immigration is clashing with the economic imperative of maintaining growth. 

There is no relationship in government more important than that between the prime minister and the chancellor. When Theresa May entered No.10, she chose Philip Hammond, a dependable technocrat and long-standing ally who she had known since Oxford University. 

But relations between the pair have proved far tenser than anticipated. On Wednesday, Hammond suggested that students could be excluded from the net migration target. "We are having conversations within government about the most appropriate way to record and address net migration," he told the Treasury select committee. The Chancellor, in common with many others, has long regarded the inclusion of students as an obstacle to growth. 

The following day Hammond was publicly rebuked by No.10. "Our position on who is included in the figures has not changed, and we are categorically not reviewing whether or not students are included," a spokesman said (as I reported in advance, May believes that the public would see this move as "a fix"). 

This is not the only clash in May's first 100 days. Hammond was aggrieved by the Prime Minister's criticisms of loose monetary policy (which forced No.10 to state that it "respects the independence of the Bank of England") and is resisting tougher controls on foreign takeovers. The Chancellor has also struck a more sceptical tone on the UK's economic prospects. "It is clear to me that the British people did not vote on June 23 to become poorer," he declared in his conference speech, a signal that national prosperity must come before control of immigration. 

May and Hammond's relationship was never going to match the remarkable bond between David Cameron and George Osborne. But should relations worsen it risks becoming closer to that beween Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling. Like Hammond, Darling entered the Treasury as a calm technocrat and an ally of the PM. But the extraordinary circumstances of the financial crisis transformed him into a far more assertive figure.

In times of turmoil, there is an inevitable clash between political and economic priorities. As prime minister, Brown resisted talk of cuts for fear of the electoral consequences. But as chancellor, Darling was more concerned with the bottom line (backing a rise in VAT). By analogy, May is focused on the political imperative of controlling immigration, while Hammond is focused on the economic imperative of maintaining growth. If their relationship is to endure far tougher times they will soon need to find a middle way. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.