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.