After a busy day at work I am only now catching up with the reports of last night’s meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party. If the reports are to be believed (and they have been confirmed by some present) what is being described as “a mutiny” occured amongst Labour MPs over the leadership’s treatment of former Labour MP Phil Woolas.
It seems that many Labour MPs objected to Deputy Leader Harriet Harman’s condemnation of Woolas’s actions during the election and her statement that the Labour Party should not tolerate such behaviour. They also did not like the suggestion that such an individual should have no place on the Labour benches. They are now having a whip-round to raise funds for an appeal if a mechanism can be found. I have been told by a lawyer friend that there is no right to a Judicial Review of an electoral court decision, something that is also confirmed here. Woolas’s first application for Judicial Review failed.
Another position I cannot understand is the incredibly arrogant view expressed by some MPs that MPs should be above the law, in other words an election court should not have the power to declare an election “void”. This is such a bizarre view that I am amazed that serious people can even express it. Imagine a case where a successful candidate was found to have stuffed ballot boxes with fraudulent votes and then won by a small margin. Should an election court not have the power to order a re-run and bar the offending candidate? What is the difference if a candidate deliberately lies in order to mislead electors and then wins by a small margin? This is exactly what Woolas was found to have done. The judges’ verdict does not subvert democracy, it upholds it!
It is absolutely right that a winning candidate that debases politics by lies and smears should be barred from public office. Once again I pose the question as to what these same Labour MPs would now be saying if it was a Conservative MP that had sought to stir up racial fears and tensions among white people in order to get elected and had knowingly told lies about his or her Labour opponent in the process. Would these Labour MPs be saying that democracy had been subverted if a Conservative MP’e election had been declared “void”? I think not!
How on earth do Labour MPs think this looks to the public? They are now seen as supporting a man who has lied and smeared an opponent. Some have argued that such a man should effectively be above the law. Very few Labour figures have had the courage to speak out against what was done to the Lib Dem candidate and some of those that did have been attacked by colleagues for so doing.
When voters in Oldham East & Saddleworth get to vote again I am sure that they will bear in mind the fact that many in the Labour party appear prepared to condone the despicable behaviour demonstrated by Phil Woolas in the last General Election. I am sure that voters in Reading will take note as well!