Article published: Friday, November 5th 2010
Oldham East MP and shadow immigration minister Phil Woolas was ejected from parliament today after a court ruled that he had broken election laws by falsely claiming Muslim extremists were supporting the campaign of his Liberal Democrat rival.
The decision by the high court judges is the first time in 99 years a parliamentary poll has been overturned in an electoral court.
Woolas won the election by only 103 votes after distributing campaign literature that Lib Dem opponent Elywn Watkins described as containing “numerous misleading and erroneous claims regarding my personal character and reputation, and that of my campaign”.
One leaflet claimed that “Extremists are trying to hijack this election” alleging that “they want you to vote Lib Dem to punish Phil for being strong on immigration. The Lib Dems plan to give hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants the right to stay.”
Another leaflet, named Labour Rose, claimed that “Extremists rant as Phil Woolas defies death threats”, whilst an eight page newsletter accused watkins of “wooing” the extremist vote and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) of spreading “hate leaflets” for encouraging Muslim constituents to vote tactically for Watkins in order to unseat Woolas. Depicted on the page were images of Al-Muhajirun, an entirely separate organisation from the MPAC.
An internal email amongst the Labour campaign revealed to the court said: “If we don’t get the white folk angry he’s [Woolas] gone.” The team referred to this high-stakes strategy as “shit or bust”.
These tactics are similar to ones identified as contributing to violence in the Ritchie Report into the May 2001 Oldham race riots: “The BNP has exacerbated problems and undoubtedly by distribution of crude leaflets and other activity done much to stir up tensions. The mainstream political parties have a big role to play in countering this threat, as do churches and other organisations.”
It was also revealed today that Woolas authorised the use of force for private security companies Serco and G4S, even in the cases of children and people with mental health problems. G4S was the company that were restraining Jimmy Mubenga before he died.
There will now be a by-election in his Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency, in which Woolas will not be eligible to stand. He may be able to re-enter parliament in three years, however, and is understood to be launching an appeal against the decision.
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