Monday, 11 October 2010


Two High Court judges will announce on November 5 whether to debar Labour MP Phil Woolas and force a by-election in the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency.

A specially convened election court – the first of its kind to be held in nearly 100 years –heard four days of evidence last month.

Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins challenged the result of last May’s election on the grounds that Woolas has secured his majority of just 103 votes by making false statements about his opponent.

Most commentators who followed the hearing say that the case was proven to be strong and the odds are in favour of a judgement against Woolas.

The case centres around a Labour election leaflet, headed ‘The Examiner’, that was designed to appear like a tabloid newspaper.

Elwyn’s barrister described it as part of a campaign intended to galvanise the white Sun-reading vote against him by suggesting that he was conniving with “Mad Muslims” and extremists to defeat Woolas.

I have lived in Saddleworth for 25 years, and I remember when the leaflet came through our own door that my wife, Carol, described it as “appalling.” That was saying something, given that she and I thought that my own 1995 Littleborough and Saddleworth by-election fight against Woolas had inured us to his nasty style of campaigning and the gross distortions of his opponents’ views he practices.

Whatever their verdict the judges’ ruling will shape the nature of election campaigning for years to come. If Elwyn’s petition fails, and the judges allow Woolas to keep his seat, then the message they will send is that there are no limits to the way in which truth can be twisted in the name of politics.

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