It has been interesting to follow the Labour response to one of their own front-benchers being found guilty in a court of smearing his Lib Dem opponent with lies that amounted to stirring up racial tensions. From the national party the response has been mixed. The new Leader Ed Miliband, who appointed Woolas to his front bench as immigration spokesman, has been quite muted. By contrast Labour’s Deputy Leader Harriet Harman has condemned Woolas strongly and stated that even if he were to appeal and win there would be no way back for him to Labour’s highest ranks.
However, Harman’s view is clearly not shared by many of her MP colleagues. The Labour MP for Broughton and Blackley, Graham Stringer is standing by Phil. He said he was ‘disappointed and surprised’ at Harman’s comments and the suspension. He added: “Phil is appealing this decision and I don’t understand why he is being hung out to dry. If Phil was accused of telling untruths in the last General Election to get elected I am sure he was not on his own.” So that’s alright then! According to Stringer one of Woolas’s defences is that others were doing the same. Perhaps he would care to name such offenders.
Another senior Labour source, who did not wish to be named, said: “I’m flabbergasted. This is outrageous and will upset a lot of people. Phil led a robust campaign. He has an outstanding record as a politician and should not have been treated like this.” Again in the eyes of this MP, leading a robust campaign and having “an outstanding record” justifies smears and lies that sought to stir up racial tensions to secure election. It is a vivid demonstration of the thinking on the Labour benches at present.
The defence of Woolas contrasts sharply with the comments on this blog by Jonny Morris, former Labour Councillor in Reading who describes Woolas thus, “The man has always been dodgy, bordering on racist to gain electoral advantage, and now it seems he is also a liar.” If only the rest of the Labour party shared Jonny’s view and was prepared to condemn the man in such forthright terms.
It will be interesting to see if the Reading Labour Party expresses any view on the case and what impact it will have on their campaigning tactics. So far the evidence is not encouraging!