I don’t want to mince words. I found Phil Woolas’s leaflets inexcusable and indefensible. When I saw the Labour Party logo on them my stomach turned. I am ashamed that they were ever delivered in the name of this great party.
I am often accused of being a partisan, and I am, I’m a proud Labour partisan. But I do not believe in winning at any cost, and the price of Woolas’s victory was too high. Winning alone is not enough, we must have a mandate to be the party that champions community cohesion, not the party that plays communities off against each other for electoral victory alone.
Before the court’s decision today, I believed that Woolas should have been suspended from the party on the strength of the disgraceful leaflets alone. I see it as a clear case of bringing the party into disrepute, and we shouldn’t have such rules unless the NEC is willing to exercise them when called on to do so by ordinary party members.
Woolas wasn’t suspended. In fact he was even promoted – which was a rare but big strategic mistake by Ed Miliband. This court case wasn’t about the content of the leaflets. But, with this verdict, we have a chance to put right the wrong that was ignoring Woolas’s behaviour, and start drawing our red lines on how we talk about immigration and what is and isn’t acceptable.
I have some sympathy with Dan Hodges view that we are scape-goating Woolas to avoid a deeper conversation. The deeper conversation must be had, not just talked about. But our stalling on this shouldn’t let Woolas off the hook. He should go, and if he has the decency to understand that the party is bigger than his career, he will go – whether forced to by the judge or not.
I remain a Labour partisan. I know my party is capable of so much better than this, so even as I call for Woolas to step away from the mess he has created, my mind turns to how we fix it. The people of Oldham East and Saddleworth deserve good representation, and with all the damage the ConDems are doing to this country – particularly in the North, I believe that should be Labour representation. So we need – as a party – to come together to refight this election with a new candidate.
There is every reason to be optimistic about our chances of winning with an untainted candidate. Last night in a local council by-election about 10 miles from Oldham there was a swing from the Lib Dems to Labour of 14.5%. While in Oldham in May we were not the best party we could be, we are not the party who have lied to the electorate, broken pledges and formed an alliance with the Tories.
So let’s find the strength as a party to move onwards but also to examine how this happened, and how we can ensure it does not happen again,