It looks like Phil Woolas will be losing his seat, barring some last minute attempts at a Judicial Review. I didn’t know anything about the tactics being used in his Oldham East election campaign, but looking at the material it is pretty low stuff. Telling porkies to suggest that your main opponent is backed by Muslim extremists, especially in an area which has seen racial tension in the past, is downright shoddy and irresponsible.
That he was a Labour MP is a source of shame to me, and should be to any member. As a minister he seemed to revel in applying some of the draconian parts of our immigration laws (and let’s put a line under the line that there were no controls ore restrictions to immigration under Labour – they became progressively stronger over time). I’ve never had much sympathy for those people in Labour who try to play up on the fears of the white working class for political ends.
But my dislike for Woolas goes much, much further back than that. Back in the early 1990s I was a student in Manchester. At around the time of the Blair takeover, and the return to prominence of Peter Mandelson, he made me so angry I nearly left the Labour Party.
The Tory MP for Littleborough and Saddleworth, Geoffrey Dickens, was suffering from a long illness, and it was likely that he was going to die. However, he was still alive and in post when messages started to come through that we (the Manchester University Labour Students) should go out to the moors towns on the other side of Oldham to campaign. Personally, I felt it was tasteless in the extreme to put an election machine out on the ground for a by-election when the sitting MP was still alive.
Woolas was the Labour candidate for that seat. When Dickens did pass away in 1995, the campaign (which I had no involvement in) was bitter and personalised. The Lib Dem candidate was the subject of various attacks. They failed, and Woolas came second to Chris Davies. Deservedly so, to be honest.
In 1997, the seat was changed in the boundary review, and the new constituency of Oldham East and Saddleworth was created. Woolas beat Davies in the rerun. I’ve no reason to believe that the campaign was any more cordial. In 2001 the BNP stood, following riots in Oldham in the spring. So since then there will have been the added racial/religious tension. Woolas and the local party (with the complicity of the region?) clearly tried to tap into that in order to hold the seat – which was never very seure.
I’m glad that he’s been suspended by the Party, but it was disappointing to say the least that he’d been retained in the Shadow Cabinet after the allegations and legal challenge to the election were known. Labour needs to make it clear that they will not pander to racism or seek to use it for tactical gain. Woolas should not be the last casualty of this – he will have had an agent and advisors.