Friday, 5 November 2010

Damned Lies and Election Leaflets

Practically everyone reading this will now know Phil Woolas, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth was found guilty of making false statements against his LibDem opponent during the general election. The result that saw him returned with a 103 majority is now rendered null and void by the court judgement. Woolas is now an ex-MP pending appeal. If this fails he will be turfed out of parliament, fined five grand and barred from re-standing for three years. For good measure he's been suspended from Labour. It couldn't have happened to a nicer man.

Most Labour people I've spoken to are happy to see Woolas out on his ear. There's a few shedding tears and lamentations for their ideological bedfollow on the
hard right of the party, but they're very much out of step with mainstream Labour opinion.

Dan Hodges (also from the right of the party) makes one of the most
interesting comments on the Woolas affair so far. He rightly argues Woolas is a product of the Labour machine, a machine that has pandered to racism and anti-immigration bigotry (aided and abetted, as always, by the tabloid press). As Dan puts it, the case highlights "the Labour Party’s shameful failure to adopt a coherent, let alone moral, stance on any of these issues". Quite right. Though I dispute his claim everyone in the party is responsible for this, New Labour created the conditions that allowed the likes of Phil Woolas to happen.

How did we get here? As well as being thoroughly authoritarian and contemptuous of civil liberties at home and abroad, Blair and Brown were pragmatic leaders. Not in the sense of ideology - they were/are neoliberal down to their bones - but in terms of responding to public opinion as filtered by medialand. The idea that political leadership is sometimes about swimming against the stream, about asserting your politics in the face of opposition from elites was alien to them both. New Labour's response to press hysteria around immigration and terrorism (a link it did nothing to challenge) was accepted as a reality to be
adapted to, not fought. Instead of taking on the BNP's lies when it looked like they were getting some traction, New Labour tacked further and further to the right. Labour and the Tories were locked in a race to the gutter to see who could be most beastly to immigrants. Woolas was an obnoxious but not untypical example of this ugly Powellite trend that has colonised the "common sense" of the party's upper echelons.

It shows Ed Miliband in a very bad light. Not only has he remained silent on the issue - leaving Harriet Harman to
hang him out to dry - but he appointed Woolas as a junior shadow minister with the race and immigration brief. Not only did this bode ill for his stated position that immigration is a lightning rod for concerns around housing and jobs, and that Labour should challenge it, but what does it say about his political nous when his chosen man for an important and sensitive job stood a good chance of losing his seat amid a storm of lies and racism? Not a lot.

It seems to me there are two reasons why Ed Miliband took the risk. First, internal politics. As this blog has
noted before Ed peppered his team with Blairites to head off the possibility of future treachery. As a Brownite he is keenly aware of the cack-handed plots to depose Brown - so you can't blame him for trying to cover his bases. Second, and related to this is Ed's aversion to challenging consensus politics. By sticking Woolas in race and immigration he could deflect press and Tory criticism by simply pointing to the continuity in personnel. Both make some sort of sense in a craven and insipid sort of way, but they hardly speak of a "new generation" committed to new ways of doing things.

One last point, the manner of Woolas's suspension from the party has been fair. He was presumed innocent and action was only taken after the special election court found him guilty. The question has to be asked if this procedure was good enough for Phil Woolas, then why wasn't it for
Lutfur Rahman?


TGR Worzel said...

This is certainly an interesting development and your analysis is very informative Phil. Thanks.

But what the Woolas situation has actually done, overall, is strengthen my conviction that the last Labour Government would say anything and do anything in order to stay in power. Woolas is just the tip of the iceberg. The one who was caught...

And that, I think, is the problem that Labour now have. Ordinary voters perception of the party and its candidates will be damaged by this incident

Call it superficial if you like, I might even agree with you, but perception matters...

modernity said...

The election will be interesting, Lib Dems will hate it, Tories....well...and Labour...what can they do?

Get a solid Left candidate and not another New Labour Zombie...put distance between them and the Tories (a difficult task for NL)and hope..

Robert said...

Frankly some of those leaflets were the kind of thing you'd expect from the BNP. What a total disgrace.

OT: Apparently, this is a good site for the co-ordiantion of anti-cuts campaigns.

Lobby Ludd said...

Phil, I'm sure you are right about the suspension - presumption of innocence and all that. However, his behaviour and propaganda at the last (and other?) election does not need the judgement of a special court for the Labour Party to understand that he is not fit to be a member, let alone shadow minister of the party.

That he was appointed as a (junior) shadow minister in the face of his foul political behaviour (tested in law or not) puts the leadership of the party, rightly, in a very bad light.

I assume with the ousting of Woolas there will also be a purge of his co-workers in the local party. Ha! If not done locally will any other part of the party drum out these people?

Phil said...

I agree with that Lobby, Woolas should have been expelled long before this came to a special election court. But even he deserves the benefit of due process.

As for whether there's a means of getting rid of his supporters ... seeing as most of them occupy powerful positions in the party that doesn't look like a go-er for the moment. But the speed at which Harman moved to suspend him indicates a leadership desperate not to be tarred with the bigoted brush - even though they're the ones that facilitated it in the first place.

Phil said...

TGR, there are many sections of the party what will say and do anything to get elected. That alone makes them unfit for office IMO.

Phil said...

While I remember, Paul from Though Cowards Flinch has thrown his hat into the Oldham East wing. His pitch can be read here.

Anonymous said...

This was not the only time that Labour has criticised its opponents from the right over immigration in election flyers; I recall some nasty things in the Crewe by-election last year.

Surely Woolas didn't write and produce this awful flyer by himself; there must be people in the local party who helped him to produce and distribute it. I know Labour members who would refuse to distribute such material were it produced for their prospective MP; did any members in Oldham dissociate themselves from this?

Dr Paul

Phil said...

I do not know. I hope there are some decent Labourites in Oldham that refused, but I've about as much knowledge of the local CLP as you have.

Crewe was utterly shameful. A referendum on an unpopular government made worse by the wrong choice for candidate and a ridiculous campaign. I wasn't a member at the time, but if I was I'd have said we deserved to lose

Gary Elsby said...

I was up for selection in Crewe both times.
On the first attempt, I was told by Guido Fawkes (yep) that I was mad because the candidate was already chosen a Month before the selection day. I said "impossible, this is Labour not your lot".
Guido then sent me photos of the 'winner' and house and pet dog etc... She was selected.

On the second time I attempted, I turned up to both evenings only to be told that it was yest another put up job and: "That person over there has already won" (other potential candidates explained what was going on).
I pulled out and he won the candidacy.

Pure bent politics designed to corrupt OMOV and democracy itself.
This from Labour? I expect it from the Tories but not from Labour.

I now expect it from Labour, because I have witnessed it twice from a near distance and witnessed it once from near.

Gary Elsby said...

Incidentally, when Democracy 4 Stoke collected 10,000 signatures as a view of the Stoke electorate to force a referendum on the Elected Mayor, it was Phil Woolas that recieved the travelling party that handed the petition over.

There was nothing in the British elctoral constitution that allows a referendum on a current serving Mayor.

When the party arrived back in Stoke, the Meredith crew satrted their ussual tactic of dismissing everything. The word doing the rounds was that as the D4S party closed the door behind them, Woolas "Binned the 10,000 strong petition" as a 'F*** YOU!'

Stoke-on-Trent was allowed a referendum and the Elected Mayor was booted out.

Anonymous said...

And that has what to do with the post Gary?

Gary Elsby said...

I see the blog as highlighting Woolas as being more guilty than most because of his Blairite link.
I thought that weakened the blog as it seems to suggest that anything other than Blairite is more acceptable and has less guilt.
I point out that Woolas bucked the trend that removed a Mayor.
I tire of the hard left wishing sainthood bestowed upon it by its own.