Woolas was wrong, but let they who are without sin cast the first stone


StoneBy Mark Ferguson / @markfergusonuk

Many of us will have been there before. You’re into the final few weeks or even days of an election campaign. It feels like you’re winning, but you know its close. If only the electorate knew how awful your opponent was, then you’d win for sure. The things you could say. The nasty, spiteful attacks that you could launch.

But you don’t. Because, by and large, that’s not the game is played – either legally or morally. So you head back out onto the streets again. You knock on more doors, speak to more voters and try your best to win the election legitimately, fairly and legally.

The leaflets at the centre of the Oldham East court case were a hideous example of that kind of wild, eve of poll panic. It brought out the very worst of the Labour Party, and shows Phil Woolas in an incredibly bad light. Candidates don’t sign off their own leaflets in elections – that’s the job of the agent – but no self-respecting MP (especially not the immigration minister) should have allowed leaflets that conflated Islamist extremism and immigration to go out in their name. The leaflets were vile. Of that there is no dispute. Back in 2008 Woolas told the Guardian that immigration is “a good thing” – but his election campaign suggests he feels otherwise.

And let’s get something else clear too – Ed Miliband and Ed Balls made the wrong decision by appointing Woolas in their shadow team. While of course the argument goes that Woolas was innocent until proven guilty, there was nothing compelling Miliband and Balls to award Woolas such a role. Surely they realised that a guilty verdict was a potential result of this case? A junior shadow ministerial post is not something that Woolas had a right to, nor would it have suggested his guilt to pass over him this time around. A junior shadow post is either a means of saying thank you or a sign you’re on the way up. This whole debacle suggests that Woolas is deserving of neither.

However, the most galling aspect of today’s events has been to see both the Tories and the Lib Dems crowing at Woolas’s demise in the media. Sayeeda Warsi was first out of the traps, with the Tory Baroness attacking Woolas for his “despicable and inflammatory campaign”. Were the Conservatives entirely unable to find an elected politician to stick the knife into Labour? Are they so concerned about their own candidates (and any leaflet nasties that they may have distributed) that they can only offer an unelected cabinet member by way of attack dog?

Worse still was to come. Simon Hughes may have ingratiated himself with some in the Labour Party with his non-too-subtle attacks on the government’s housing benefit policy, and his constant skulking on the government benches that seems aimed at bringing down this government. Yet when it comes to questionable election leaflets, it is remarkable that Hughes should be willing to cast the first stone. After all, Hughes initially won his parliamentary seat by presenting the election between himself and gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell as “A STRAIGHT CHOICE“. Unsubtle, unpleasant and unforgiveable – just the same as Woolas.

Hughes now says the by-election will not be about who is running the country, but will be decided on local issues. What a cruel twist of fate that the Lib Dems should be back to their old tricks so soon. Surely it’s only a matter of time before we are told that it’s a two-horse race? The bookies agree, but it’s the Lib Dems who are squeezed out in third.

The most important thing for the party is to unite for the by-election (should one come to pass) behind a new candidate. As Emma Burnell so eloquently said earlier on LabourList “In Oldham in May we were not the best party we could be”. We need to make sure that when the time comes, we can show the people of Oldham exactly who we are, and exactly who are opponents are. But this time, lets’ make a better job of it.

More from LabourList


We provide our content free, but providing daily Labour news, comment and analysis costs money. Small monthly donations from readers like you keep us going. To those already donating: thank you.

If you can afford it, can you join our supporters giving £10 a month?

And if you’re not already reading the best daily round-up of Labour news, analysis and comment…