A lesson in irresponsible behaviour

There is a very good piece in today's Guardian by Inayat Bunglawala, "Phil Woolas: a lesson in irresponsible behaviour" in which he asks

"What was the local Labour party thinking of when it allowed this incendiary madness to take place?"

It's a good question and gives rise to a further one.

I had to run every word of every leaflet my campaign team put out during the 2010 election, and the run up to the election, past Conservative HQ because the party was determined to avoid precisely the kind of debacle which Labour has now fallen into over Phil Woolas's campaign. I'm fairly certain that the Labour party had similar arrangements.

So one can also ask, what was the NATIONAL Labour party thinking when it allowed this incendiary madness to take place?

You can read Inayat's piece here.

Yesterday I posted a link to a summary of the judgement on the BBC website. Hat tip to Mike Smithson at Political Betting for pointing out a link to the full judgement here. In spite of the fact that there are 57 pages, this is something that all parliamentary candidates and their agents and literature directors would be wise to read.

I would also defy any open-minded person to read the full judgement without coming to the conclusion that

1) The judges had good reasons to find Phil Woolas guilty as charged

2) The Crown Prosecution service has good reason to consider whether criminal charges should be brought against both Phil Woolas and his agent.

And anyone who is tempted to defend Phil Woolas - or indeed, any voter in Oldham and Saddleworth who is considering casting a ballot for the Labour candidate in the by-election - might usefully ask themselves this question.

What would you say about a Tory or Lib/Dem candidate who fought this sort of campaign? And what would you think of Conservative or Liberal HQ for allowing it?


Jane said…
Phil Woolas represents politicians at their worst. Apart from publishing blatant lies about his opponent, his pandering to the anti-Islamic bigots amongst his own potential supporters, made his leaflets difficult to distinguish from those of the BNP.

Joseph Fitzpatrick's (Agent) email tells it all. "Tory voters are talking of voting Lib Dem ... If we can convince them that they are being used by the Moslems [sic] it may save [Woolas] and the more we can damage Elwyn the easier it will be to stop the Tories from voting for him". Fitzpatrick also wrote: "We need to go strong on the militant Moslem angle" and "We need … to explain to the white community how the Asians will take him out … If we don't get the white vote angry he's gone.

Woolas is guilty of repeatedly lying about his Lib Dem opponent and inventing inflammatory smears with the intention of sending two communities into the cock fighting pit. His only defence "But, your lordship, I am a politician" is no defence.

The judgment in this case is sound. The onus is on the complainant to produce a very high standard of proof. Not only must the complainant show that the respondent has published falsehoods, the respondent must be found to have no reasonable grounds for believing them to be true.

The case against Woolas is damning. What is worse is that he is utterly unrepentant. Worse still is the fact that the Labour Party HQ allowed these leaflet to be published and Woolas was given a prominent Shadow post. Now he has lost the case Labour are happy to suspend him, but it is easy to disassociate oneself from a loser!

I cannot believe that Labour HQ did not know this was going on. I have not forgotten the disgusting leaflets that went out nationally (produced in the NE of the country) that at the very best were misleading about Conservative Party policy and at worst blatant untruths. I refer to the scare tactics with regard to cold weather payments and the treatment of breast-cancer. It was an attempt to frighten sections of the community against voting Conservative. Whilst not an offence against the law it showed Labour to have fallen to an extremely low level of moral depravity. Like Woolas Labour were desperate.

Whilst this case reflects the fine balance between free speech and libel laws, it could well prove a landmark judgment, that all future politicians and their agents would be wise to keep in the forefront of their thoughts, when publishing election literature.

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