Woolas should go quietly

Rather than fighting on in the courts, the former Labour MP should simply apologise.

There's more bad news for Phil Woolas today. The high court has rejected his request for a judicial review of the election court ruling, saying he should instead appeal against the ruling. Despite this, Woolas's legal team is reportedly planning to make a fresh application for judicial review.

But any victory (and the odds are against it) would be decidedly pyrrhic. Woolas's political reputation is already shot and Harriet Harman has confirmed that he is not welcome in the Labour Party, even if he overturns the court ruling. In order to salvage some dignity, Woolas should surely drop all legal proceedings and apologise to the Liberal Democrats, Labour and his constituents.

Meanwhile, as I feared, Woolas has attracted a growing number of Labour apologists. "Hung out to dry" was the cliché of choice for the Labour MP Graham Stringer and Peter Watt, the party's former general secretary. With remarkable understatement, Watt describes Woolas's leaflets as "controversial, to say the least". He cannot bring himself to condemn an election campaign that deliberately sought to whip up racial and religious tensions for political gain.

As for Stringer, echoing those who have warned (employing another cliché) that the Woolas judgment "opens a can of worms", he describes Woolas's removal as a "dangerous precedent". Those who adopt this line are either ignorant of the court's ruling, or are misrepresenting it.

Here is the full wording of the law (Section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983) that Woolas breached:

(1) A person who, or any director of any body or association corporate which –

(a) before or during an election,

(b) for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate at the election, makes or publishes any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate's personal character or conduct shall be guilty of an illegal practice, unless he can show that he had reasonable grounds for believing, and did believe, that statement to be true.

As Mike Smithson points out, the court judgment was based entirely on the false claims Woolas made about his Lib Dem opponent, not his policy statements. Thus, those such as Robert Halfon MP and Tory Radio, who suggest that parties could now be hauled up over misleading manifestos, or that Labour MPs could be punished for the party's cancer leaflets, could not be more wrong.

But what does it say about our political culture that a court judgment that should deter candidates from lying about their opponents is condemned as a "dangerous precedent"?

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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No, Jeremy Corbyn did not refuse to condemn the IRA. Please stop saying he did

Guys, seriously.

Okay, I’ll bite. Someone’s gotta say it, so really might as well be me:

No, Jeremy Corbyn did not, this weekend, refuse to condemn the IRA. And no, his choice of words was not just “and all other forms of racism” all over again.

Can’t wait to read my mentions after this one.

Let’s take the two contentions there in order. The claim that Corbyn refused to condem the IRA relates to his appearance on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday programme yesterday. (For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it’s a weekly political programme, hosted by Sophy Ridge and broadcast on a Sunday. Don’t say I never teach you anything.)

Here’s how Sky’s website reported that interview:

 

The first paragraph of that story reads:

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised after he refused five times to directly condemn the IRA in an interview with Sky News.

The funny thing is, though, that the third paragraph of that story is this:

He said: “I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

Apparently Jeremy Corbyn has been so widely criticised for refusing to condemn the IRA that people didn’t notice the bit where he specifically said that he condemned the IRA.

Hasn’t he done this before, though? Corbyn’s inability to say he that opposed anti-semitism without appending “and all other forms of racism” was widely – and, to my mind, rightly – criticised. These were weasel words, people argued: an attempt to deflect from a narrow subject where the hard left has often been in the wrong, to a broader one where it wasn’t.

Well, that pissed me off too: an inability to say simply “I oppose anti-semitism” made it look like he did not really think anti-semitism was that big a problem, an impression not relieved by, well, take your pick.

But no, to my mind, this....

“I condemn all the bombing by both the loyalists and the IRA.”

...is, despite its obvious structural similarities, not the same thing.

That’s because the “all other forms of racism thing” is an attempt to distract by bringing in something un-related. It implies that you can’t possibly be soft on anti-semitism if you were tough on Islamophobia or apartheid, and experience shows that simply isn’t true.

But loyalist bombing were not unrelated to IRA ones: they’re very related indeed. There really were atrocities committed on both sides of the Troubles, and while the fatalities were not numerically balanced, neither were they orders of magnitude apart.

As a result, specifically condemning both sides as Corbyn did seems like an entirely reasonable position to take. Far creepier, indeed, is to minimise one set of atrocities to score political points about something else entirely.

The point I’m making here isn’t really about Corbyn at all. Historically, his position on Northern Ireland has been pro-Republican, rather than pro-peace, and I’d be lying if I said I was entirely comfortable with that.

No, the point I’m making is about the media, and its bias against Labour. Whatever he may have said in the past, whatever may be written on his heart, yesterday morning Jeremy Corbyn condemned IRA bombings. This was the correct thing to do. His words were nonetheless reported as “Jeremy Corbyn refuses to condemn IRA”.

I mean, I don’t generally hold with blaming the mainstream media for politicians’ failures, but it’s a bit rum isn’t it?

Jonn Elledge edits the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric, and writes for the NS about subjects including politics, history and Daniel Hannan. You can find him on Twitter or Facebook.

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