Monday, November 15, 2010

Why I've Donated to the Phil Woolas Appeal

This blogpost will probably lose me a few readers, but, hey, that's life.

Like virtually everyone else, I was appalled by the leaflets Phil Woolas put out during his election campaign. They were wrong, racially inflammatory and totally indefensible. He deserved to lose his seat, and came perilously close to doing so. But he didn't, and that was the decision of the Oldham East & Saddleworth electorate.

His LibDem opponent complained about the tactics to an election court, which found in his favour. It ordered the election to be rerun and Woolas to be banned from parliament for three years.

The longer I have thought about this the more I think this decision is profoundly ill-judged. In my view it is for electors to decide who sits in parliament, not courts. If indeed there was to be a re-run, Phil Woolas should have been able to put his case to the Labour Party for continuing as their candidate.

And then on top of this, he has been told he can't appeal, but may be able to apply for a Judicial Review. Judicial Reviews can be prohibitively expensive and are way beyond the means of most normal people. Woolas has therefore set up an appeal to help fund a Judicial Review. I make no predictions as to what the outcome of this might be, but I do think it is right that he should be allowed to take the legal process to its conclusion, and that he should have the means to do so.

So that's why I have donated £100 today to his appeal. I repeat,I found his leaflets disgusting, and I would never in a million years vote for him, but I do think he has every right to take the legal case to its conclusion.

And after all this is over, we should look at the application of this law, because the long term implciations are quite stark for the way we conduct our election campaigns. We need to ensure that robust debate continues. To my mind, the way these kind of disputes should be resolved is not to take them to 'election courts', but instead through the libel courts. It's interesting that the LibDem candidate didn't go down that route. I wonder why not.

126 comments:

londonmuslim said...

interesting how the political class look after each other when one of them comes under attack.

Johnny Norfolk said...

I think you are wrong. Please explain why he should be above the law.

Matt Wardman said...

I think you are on the wrong side of this one Iain.

As I see it, the Court did not decide who should be Elected or not; it decided that one candidate had created a false election by deceiving the electorate.

I can see no reason why the LD candidate couldn't take action for defamation, but that or any libel action would not address the question of the manipulation of the Electorate, which is the issue at hand.

Alex Agius said...

Iain when did you decide that the rule of law was a bad idea?

Sres said...

It's your money Iain, the electorate are lied to every time these politicians go to the polls so what does it matter.

You don't see them from one year to the next, then suddenly they're there kissing babies, having a beer in the pub trying to look concerned as you tell them how they've f*cked up the country, probably rubbing their thumb along a roll of £50's.

They make promises to do more, build statues and make the world a better place by spending our money the way we think we want it spent.

After the electorate vote someone in, they turn their back on the people and do what they want until the next time that they need to come out amongst the dirty masses.

Smaller government, smaller state, the sooner the better.

john in cheshire said...

Iain, do you really think that supporting the enemy is a 'good thing' to do? They wouldn't help you or a Conservative(probably not even a Libdem) in the same circumstances; and you know that to be the case.

Mark Taylor said...

It seems odd to me that you think people who break election law should be permitted to vote in the House of Commons but people whose lawbreaking is punished with a prison sentence shouldn't be permitted to vote in general elections. Why, in your view, is it for the courts to decide who the electorate should be?

SteveGJ said...

Indeed the electorate should decide, but only in a free and fair election. However, there comes a point where outright lies and misrepresentations mean the election is no longer free and fair.

Never let it be forgotten that the court was not extending law. It was applying a statute law, passed by parliament, which specifically prohibits behaviour of this sort.

The court has not decided the outcome of the election. It anulled it on the basis of statute. If you want candidates to have completely free reign to tell blatant lies about their opponents as part of an electoral campaign, get the law changed.

Contented Lib Dem said...

Yep, you're right, you will lose readers over this.

Alan said...

I also think you're wrong. Parliament passed election laws, and asked the courts to enforce them. That is exactly what they have done in this case.

The courts are not determining who sits in parliament - they are prosecuting a crime. A consequence of this is their ruling that the election was void (should we really let the result stand as it has been determined that the election was unfair - we rightly complain about this in Burma and other places).

Woolas is a convicted liar. The legal process is over.

Like any other convicted criminal, he can seek to query either the jurisdiction (judicial review) or procedure (appeal) of his conviction - but not the content. He has been given leave to do so.

However, until/unless his conviction is quashed, we are "post-judging" not "pre-judging" the issue - it has already been judged in law.

Brian said...

By your logic capital punishment and membership of the EU ought to be decided directly by the electorate. That's progress. There's quite a few more unpopular policies on the statute book that wouldn't be there if the politasi hadn't stitched grubby deals together in back rooms to suit their selfish whims.

Matelot said...

Iain, you are so, so wrong about this one. Woolas and his team deliberately published disgusting lies against another candidate which almost definitely turned the result of the election in his favour. Surely this should disqualify him from remaining an 'honourable' member of parliament. Politics needs cleaning up and perhaps this will serve to "encourager les autres" at future elections.

sinosimon said...

totally captured by the westminster bubble. What a joke. so you think that politicians should be free to tell any lie they wish, and as long as that lie is appealing enough to the electorate they should benefit. lovely. total abdication of moral responsibility.
so candidate x says that candidate y is a paedophile. it isn't true but the filthraking puts off enough people to let x win. and you, Iain, think he should keep his seat, because after all, the electorate has decided.
decided on totally false information...but hey what's wrong with that? tough old games politics blah blah blah, mine a g + t put it on expenses, the proles don't understand, little people can't see the big picture......
sickening absolutely sickening. you should take a long look at yourself.

Samuel Dale said...

Very interesting. Initially I thought it was the right call to ban Woolas because of how disgusting his campaign was but you have made me think again.

What is clear though is that he should be removed from the Labour party and should never have been appointed a shadow minister after his revolting campaign.

matterhorn said...

I think you're overworking and you've lost the plot. These things happen once in a blue moon, and it is a bad habit of journalists and commentators to make a big thing out of one-off events and extrapolate beyond all reason.

OldSlaughter said...

So electoral law can be breached under some sort of Parliamentary privilege or democratic principle?
I don't understand this.

I am pleased the courts seem intent on enforcing a standard of behaviour.

Nick said...

It was not simply the court autonomously deciding that the election should be re-run, Parliament set-up these laws in the first place to ensure that elections are conducted properly. Contrary to your conclusion, this decision has upheld democracy rather than bypass it.

Patrick said...

The man is an arrogant incumbent who has got his just deserts..

...and the election should be re-run and without woolas, which is the ruling....

Wallenstein said...

Iain, you say "that was the decision of the Oldham East & Saddleworth electorate", but by putting out leaflets containing outright lies Woolas ensured that the electorate weren't making their decision from a position of knowledge.

There must be plenty of voters would would say "had I known that te leaflets were totally false, I wouldn't have voted the way I did".

So while the rest of your post makes sense, I don't think it's fair to say that because the electorate had their say we should respect that decision.

Norton Folgate said...

So a dodgy MP gets caught acting dodgy and swinging an election by dishonest means, a judge decides that another election is in order and the dodgy MP can't play, is that correct?

I don't see the problem, he broke the law and should pay the price.

Now despite being caught bang to rights the arrogant crook is behaving like he should be above the law and and should be immune from any punishment.

The fact that so many are prepared to support him and in effect condome his actions is pretty indicative of how out of touch the westminsiter political bubble is from real life.

Eddie Buxton said...

I must say I agree with londonmuslim: "interesting how the political class look after each other when one of them comes under attack"

Very disappointed in you Iain. You are right that the electorate should decide who represents them in parliament, but if someone breaks election law surely the courts have to step-in?

There has to be a sanction available to courts to punish wrong-doers.

trevorsden said...

As ever you are far to soft on your opponents who would be more than happy to spit in your eye.

But at least you are consistent.

Tony_E said...

I can't agree Iain. There is a set of laws which govern elections which must be applied strictly.

It's not as if this was in any way not a clear breach of election law, and I would have liked to have seen Kerry McCarthy on the wrong end of a similar punishment for attempting to reveal voting patterns before the poll was closed.

Why have laws if we cannot enforce them, or think it is wrong to do so? Surely then this is an issue for Parliament, to repeal current election law. That would still have no efect in the Woolas case because you cannot change the law retrospectively.

The law is the law, Woolas was found guilty, and the punishement was one defined by legislation.

No One said...

plenty of normal working folk cannot use the so called justice system, i fail to see why woolas should get any favours

LetUsFaceTheFuture said...

He's only doing this because he knows the Woolas situation will stir up trouble now the party made the move to expel him.

A successful Woolas will mean embarrassment for the Labour Party. It will make Harriet Harman look rash, it will make the party look divided and it could mean an independent Woolas beating a Labour candidate in the future.

I'm shocked people can't see through Iain Dale's nonsense and see this stunt for what it really is.

Plato said...

Sorry Iain, Woolas broke the law and was found guilty.

The electorate were lied to so his win was invalidated.

Had they not been told a pack of lies, there is a fair chance he'd have lost according to his own agent.

It's your money, but I'd rather you donated to a worthier cause.

Pensfold said...

Electors can not make a fair assessment of candidates when lies about their character are put in leaflets.

DespairingLiberal said...

To be fair to Iain, he makes a good point about the libel issue - if this is so clear-cut, why didn't the LibDem seek a libel redress? Even more puzzlingly, since he now has a cast-iron legal ruling saying that Woolas knowingly lied, surely that is the best ever basis for a libel action! Can it be that far from this being some freelance action by a disgruntled LibDem candidate, there are wider powers at work?

On the issue itself, yes, Woolas should not be above the law, but this isn't as simple as something like ballot-rigging. Some of you are missing the point - all sorts of candidates have lied in election literature over the years. LibDems more often than most. Surely this is all just politics? How can it be right that in a democracy, some unelected judge or judges can displace a winning candidate because of falsehoods in election communication - where does that leave us?

As I said before, this opens the floodgates - a great many losing candidates should now carefully review the lies told about them in election materials. The PR from the LibDem candidate that they did this already and found nothing nearly as bad must be boll***s.

It's also quite wrong that Woolas wasn't granted an appeal on such an issue of grave public concern. Manipulations are underway and they are not nice ones, not just for Woolas, but for democracy.

We endanger our rights to choose our elected representatives come what may at our peril. Whooping it up that Woolas is at the sharp end is not a useful guide to thinking about this. I knew Woolas in my student days (he was President of the NUS) and thought him slippery and untrustworthy at that age. I haven't changed my opinion. But that's not to say there isn't an important principle here.

Jane Griffiths said...

Phil Woolas is NOT a criminal. The offence of which he was convicted is not a criminal one. And Iain can do what he likes.

Sir Norfolk Passmore said...

Iain,

The reason the Lib Dem didn't go via the libel route is that the remedy for libel can only ever be cash, which he would say is totally inadequate for the theft of an election not only from him personally but from the electorate.

The court found that Woolas said things about his opponent which were not merely hyperbole, or spin, but cold calculated lies cutting to the heart of his character. That Watkins "wooed extremists"; that he failed to condemn death threats Woolas claims to have received. These are vile untruths to level at anyone, regardless of their politics, and would clearly have lead at least 52 people across the constituency to change their minds in the mistaken belief they contained some element of truth.

In terms of due process, Woolas had every opportunity to make a lengthy case in front of an independent, judicial tribunal. He can appeal on points of law, but the findings of fact are what they are - that he deliberately lied about the personal character of his opponent for electoral advantage, which is contrary to legislation most recently revisited by his own Government in office. There is such a thing as finality in judicial proceedings - he has lost at the end of a fair and thorough process.

You are utterly wrong on this, I'm afraid, Iain. It seems utterly extraordinary that, the day after the culmination of this year's hugely worthy Royal British Legion Poppy Appeal, you perversely think it fit to contribute a hefty sum to the "fighting fund" of this discredited, despicable man.

A sad day indeed.

Sir Norfolk Passmore

Klaus Westwood said...

Don't agree Iain. The law he's been found to transgress derives from statute - passed by Parliament (and for them to repeal too if they so wish). So why you should have a problem with the courts merely interpreting Parliament-made law (as is their job) is beyond me. You may want to reflect that it was reviewed most recently in the PPERA 2000 - and Phil Woolas voted in its favour!

Miles Barter said...

He faught the law.
The law won.
He should be breaking rocks in the hot sun.

David said...

I have to agree with majority here and say that in this instance you are most certainly wrong. It is not about the electorate it is about the fact that he lied to them and possibly gained the extra 100 votes he needed from those who voted for him based on their agreement with what he was claiming. He lied. Full stop. Therefore not suitable and never has been an honourable man anyway given the way he behaved in power. Getting fed up of MPs etc lying, claiming expenses which ordinary folk cannot (how does a DVD player help them in their role?) and then claiming privilege for protection against the force of the laws of this country. If they make the laws then they must abide by them.

richard.blogger said...

There are several issues here.

First, there has to be rules about elections. We have to know how much someone can spend or how they reach the electorate with their message. If someone breaks those rules then there should be a mechanism to deem the result invalid and to re-run the election.

Surely we can agree that if rules are broken then there must be some way to sort out the issue?

Second, there is the issue of the punishment for breaking the rules. If someone breaks election rules should they be allowed to stand again? If they have broken the rules once, won't it mean that they will try and break them again? I don't know.

Third "the electorate should decide" but if they electorate are being mislead by one or more candidates, how can they make a fair choice?

On the other hand, how far does this "misleading" issue go? We have seen pledge after pledge of the manifestos broken, and we see personal pledges from the candidates broken too (how many "family man" MPs are later found out to be bonking their researchers? What about people campaigning as the "straight choice"?). The line between what are legitimate lies (whether in government or opposition I will vote against rises in tuition fees) or illegitimate lies is difficult to codify. So perhaps there is a case for a judicial review.

Stuart Bruce, Wolfstar said...

Iain, respect for doing this. I agree with almost every word, except obviously I would have voted for Phil, despite (but definitely not because) of his leaflets. It's totally wrong that a court should decide this and in the long-term is very damaging to democracy.

davidc said...

i remember hearing a 'small town' politician from somewhere in the southern usa saying that a very successful tactic to use against an opposition candidate who looked like they could win was to spread a rumour that said candidate was in the habit of having sexual intercourse with pigs (only he didn't say 'sexual intercourse).
when asked 'why?' he replied that of course it wasn't true but 'let's hear the sob deny it'

chronic said...

So the next time the bbc need a Tory mouth piece to comment on the Woolas story I wonder who will get the gig? £100 pound investment and £100+ in appearance money.

liberal majority said...

You are as out of touch with public opinion as the rest of the 'Westminster Village'.

Last time I read you. You were wrong on Dorries as well.

Andrew said...

He probably didn't go down the libel route because his election insurance wouldn't cover that way of tackling it.

The guy lied and therefore misled the electorate - if they had been aware that they were lies at the time of voting ok, but they weren't.

You were an Agent Iain - you know this!

John said...

Iain,

Would you have been so laissez-faire had he published homophobic slurs?

Mark Senior said...

What you seem to be saying is that it is ok for someone to win an election by lying and smearing but they should then be able to stay in place for 5 years when they are free to repeat the process .
Sounds good to me let's stand for election and call my opponent a paedophile - Labour have done that . Doesn't matter how I win , the only thing that matters is getting most votes .

Iain Dale said...

Some of these comments are predictably risible. I made clear I deeply disapproved of what Woolas said in his leaflets. How much clearer could I have been, yet several people seem to have completely ignored that in commenting. I suppose I shouldn't be surprised.

P-Pod said...

Would you be happy if someone bribed their way (more than politicians already do...) to winning an election? Or what about other rotten borough tactics?
What about companies threatening their work force en masse if a certain candidate doesn't win?

This wasn't just a "robust debate", which is a frankly stupid line put out by his supporters. The emails uncovered and presented before the court showed it was a clearly established dirty tricks campaign designed to not have a debate about anything but to misrepresent his opponent.

Woolas is unfit to be in Parliament because our representatives should be held to a higher account than the rest of us because of the power they wield. That they haven't been in recent times is what has led to the public's severe mistrust in politics.

Plus 5 years is an eternity in politics. The electorate should not be expected to have to wait 5 years to correct that injustice, nor should they be expected to have to weigh up voting between the party they might wish to support versus a candidate they want to kick out.

Corporal Jones said...

Iain,

I've read the comments. Few strike me as risible.

You need to answer the serious question: do you agree that there should be a law governing how elections are conducted? The answer must be "yes".

And do you suggest that Mr Woolas did not break the law? Two eminent judges heard the evidence and concluded that he did. They will not have done so lightly. Do you have any reason to doubt their decision?

Finally, Mr Woolas is not seeking to appeal. He is seeking judicial review which would involve setting aside the decision on some basis (acting beyond powers, breaching natual justice, acting irrationally). He will lose and you have wasted your money.

RonLiddle said...

The last time I rememeber this happening was the Miranda Grell affair. Her conduct was deplorable. Interestingly, the labour party supported her appeal - given she was such a prominent black, female role model.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miranda_Grell

But, what she commited was an offence. Even in the words of Kinnock of Terry Fields "Law Makers must not be law breakers"

And on this count, I agree with Kinnock. How can one be afforded the luxury of influencing our law if one is not held accountable by those very laws?
Now, I cannot envisage a situation where

Overtiredandemotional said...

If you have a law then what other than a court can enforce it? Having said that, I would not trust most judges to tie their own bootlaces still less analyse the hurly burley of an election. Judges are usually good at theoretical analysis, and I think that is where disquiet over this ruling comes in.

In my book, they were right to order another election, but I think Woolas ought to be able to stand again either as a Labour party candidate or an independent and the people can then speak.

I still think it's rich that a Liberal brought this case given their own fairly breezy approach to telling the truth in campaigns.

bird said...

Iain i think you are unfairly dismissive of some of the comments posted. Your views on Mr Woolas' comments are abundantly clear. What is not clear is what you think should happen? Should Mr Woolas remain as an MP and let the libdems sue him for libel? Or should there be a rerun and he be allowe to stand again? Voters should decide who their MP is but MPs must abide by the laws in seeking to be elected. An election that is not lawful is not a free and fair election. If I had voted for him based on his leaflets I would be furious that I had voted based on lies and would feel cheated of my democratic right. I am also troubled why the political establishment are so troubled by the idea that election literature must be honest.

Wrinkled Weasel said...

You can be proud to have now fully become part of the establishment.

It has been a long time coming, but hardly surprising now that you are surrounded by wannabees and yesmen and personal assistants ( the first resort of the newly coined celebrity) and perch yourself in your ivory tower.

This blog ceased to be interesting long ago. You lost a plot a long time ago.

What puzzles me is that you used to have such a strong sense of right and wrong. I liked that. So inward looking and so insular you are now, just a few yards from the mother of the morally bankrupt, that you cannot see what is bleeding obvious to anybody outside Westminster.

Sorry, but after five or six or maybe more years of commenting here, and enjoying your blog, it is time for me to get some fresh air.

Bye

Michael Heaver said...

I don't get why LibDems who promised to not raise tuition fees couldn't be done as well, could you explain Iain (if you know)?

Scary Biscuits said...

Iain, you haven't donated to Woolas; you've donated to the Labour Party (who are the only possible beneficiaries of Woolas's appeal). Well done!

John Woodman said...

When I stood as a councillor, the implications of electoral law were explained to me. In short, if I broke the law I could be taken to court. Phil Woolas was an experienced MP who has stood in many elections. He should have known - I am sure he did know - that he had to comply with electoral law.

He didn't comply, he was taken to court and found guilty.

I don't understand why you - and many politicians - seem to think he has been unfairly treated, or that the electorate has been unfairly treated.

He was elected improperly and therefore (subject to allowable appeals) must be removed from office and should not be able to stand again.

Iain Dale said...

Idiot comment, Scary. But I am coming to expect that on this thread.

ferial ferret said...

I'd worry more about loss of Readers due to:-

excessive promotion of Biteback publications and LBC

and blogs that are too long

enquiringmind said...

I disagree strenuously Iain, but shan't be running off in a hissy fit never to return - I'm not a Lefty, after all.

Man in a Shed said...

Its your money - spend it how you want.

Perhaps a better approach would have been for the Lib Dem candidate to sue for libel.

But having faced a dubious Lib Dem campaign in our local area its easy to think what goes around comes around.

I'd much rather see Gordon Brown on trial for destroying our economy and selling us into debt slavery. I'd put my money on that.

SteveGJ said...

Iain,
perhaps you could tell us which arguments you considered risible.

My summary of the main points are the following:-

1) the court was just applying the law as defined in the RPA.

2) this was not a free and fair election due to the nature and extent of the lies. Indeed the RPA is explicit on the matter.

3) because it wasn't a fair election, the result was annulled.

4) as a punishment for breaching the RPA Woolas was banned from standing for parliament for 3 years.

5) whilst the law of libel is available, this would not have had any affect on the result of what many people felt was a debased election result.

6) that the reaction of many in the Westminster Village was one of self protection in a privileged group. Indeed it would appear to be exactly the sort of attitude that Peter Oborne has attacked in his book "The Triumph of the Political Classes" and his Telegraph column

http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/news/peteroborne/100063444/our-parliament-is-rotten-to-the-core/

These are not, in my view, "risible" arguments. Indeed it's a word that would appear have been chosen to dismiss opposing arguments rather than tackling the issues.

With the way the RPA is worded, then it would appear the court's decision was virtually inevitable.

Unsworth said...

The Court didn't decide who should be elected. It decided that Woolas was wrong in law. If Woolas wants a judicial review let him just get on with it. Or would you prefer that all laws are dealt with by some other system than the judiciary?

sinosimon said...

instead of attacking everyone else Iain, you should stop and ask why you appear to be in a minority of not much more than one.....
this week you have kept the odious Yasmin as part of your company's advisory board despite her hysterical departure from the real world and public hounding of a man for an obvious (very poor taste ) joke, and now you are helping a convicted liar to spin out a ludicrous appeal......a man who deliberately stirred up racial tension to advantage himself. instead of having a fit of the vapours perhaps you should take your moral compass back to the store( and gordon's can go at the same time, i assume you both bought them from the same vendor).

Edward said...

Iain, I think you've really missed the mark on this one. Why is it important to our democracy that politicians should be able to tell outright lies in order to mislead the electorate into voting for them?

You've been out canvassing on the doorstep. You should know that almost all voters lack the time or ability to fully scrutinize the claims in election leaflets. Therefore people like Woolas will be able to prosper from lies unless the law steps in.

Weygand said...

How would a libel victory help the electorate of East Saddleworth?

How can a decision be legitimate if the information on which it is made is false?

Do you hold that the Courts have no role to play? Should Judges not have intervened in the previous case of allegations of paedophilia? If the Courts cannot intervene, how do you protect the electoral system?

Why should the cost of a JR be beyond Woolas - and why if his own party will not back him should anyone else?

And it's no good getting exasperated about the comments. You should expect them when you run a post off the top of your head on such a complex and important topic such as this.

Roger Thornhill said...

Though I would not put any money in, it is your freedom to support Phil in whatever legal way you see fit.

For others, does one have to continually quote "A Man for All Seasons"?


Wife: Arrest him!
More: For what?
Wife: He's dangerous!
Roper: For all we know he's a spy!
Daughter: Father, that man's bad!
More: There's no law against that!
Roper: There is, God's law!
More: Then let God arrest him!
Wife: While you talk he's gone!
More: And go he should, if he were the Devil himself, until he broke the law!
Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat?
This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down (and you're just the man to do it!), do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!
======

Due process, especially for those we disagree with and find objectionable.

Also on video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WMqReTJkjjg

Gavin Kennedy said...

Ian
Surely the issue is that in a short election campaign when a candidate knowing lies about another candidate's behaviour, the outcome is in doubt because sufficient electors may not know of the lying, which if they did they may have voted differently.

If there is no punishment and anything goes the trend will be worse behaviours.

Gavin

Iain Dale said...

Ferial Ferret, clearly you are more expert at what makes a good blog than I am. So expert in fact, that you don't have one. Collect your refund on the way out, there's a good chap.

Scary Biscuits said...

Calling me an idiot doesn't help your case, Iain. Let me explain.

As electoral court does not decide who goes to Parliament but instead returns the decision to the people, there can logically be no right of appeal (except on a point of law). The Election Court's findings of fact (that Woolas deliberately lied about the character of his opponent) are final.

It is highly unlikely that the Supreme Court will either overturn this principle or fly in the face of some pretty compelling evidence. If Woolas had a good argument as to why the Election Court's ruling was improper in any way I suspect we would have heard it by now, suggesting that Woolas has no substantive argument. Many papers, however, quote Labour MPs as saying Woolas is "one of us and should be supported". I suspect that is the kernel of the argument.

Therefore, the only real reasons for appealing are: socialist solidarity, for Woolas to continue to draw his MPs salary for as long as possible and to give the Labour Party a better chance of regaining the seat. This is why I claim that Iain has effectively donated to the Labour party, as they are the only possible beneficiaries of an appeal that they must know will fail.

For anybody interested in the facts of this case (rather than hurling insults) see the judgement at http://www.judiciary.gov.uk/Resources/JCO/Documents/Judgments/judgment-oldham-election-05112010.pdf

Section 29 demolishes Iain's argument and explains why free elections are supported by the Election Court's decision, not threatened by it.

Chris Whiteside said...

Your money, Iain, and you've every right to your opinion, but I'm absolutely astonished.

You didn't give money to Miranda Grell, did you? When she got the same treatment as Phil Woolas, I had the impression that you strongly approved of the judges overturning an election result based on despicable lies.

So how is Woolas any better? If you've read the full judgement you can't be in any doubt that he knew his campaign was telling not just lies, but dangerous lies, in an area which had race riots less than ten years previously.

If you or I put out material like that our political careers would have been terminated. His should too.

Scary Biscuits said...

Iain, you definitely are more expert that Ferial Ferret at what makes a good blog and long may you continue. However, on this thread you might try engaging with some of the arguments here rather than dismissing them as 'risable', 'idiotic', telling them to get lost and changing the subject. Did you get out of bed on the wrong side today? ;)

Just Wonderful said...

Sorry Iain, but i'm joining the increasingly long list of people who think that you are wrong on this one.

Phil Woolas was well aware of the stricures of the law going into this election and conspired with his election team to produce electoral literature that was found by the court to have gone far beyond that which is acceptable. He was punished in line with that law.

You say that the Lib Dem candidate should have sued for libel. What then? If found guilty Phil Woolas is still MP in the consituency and is out of pocket a few pounds. We all know that 5 years is a long time in politics memories of the smears will have faded and more spin will be thrown out the next time around to lessen the impact of his conviction.

The consequences for the long term are, in my opinion, that all prospective candidates will have been reminded that the Electoral Court has some teeth and will uphold the law where it has been found to have been broken. I can't see how it will stop robust debate, indeed it may have the effect of forcing candidates to actually debate the real issues rather than throwing smears and hoping they stick.

You say that despite the disgusting nature of his leaflets he still won the vote and that was the decision of his electorate. The whole point is that the election has been found to be tainted. We howl at tainted elections overseas, I'm sad to see that you are happy to encourage it here at home in the UK.

Tom Harris said...

The fact that you think Woolas' leaflets were "appalling" and "disguising" makes your decision even more bizarre. Parliament puts law on statue book (complete with punishment). Man breaks law and court administers punishment. Iain Dale labels it a miscarriage of justice!

I'll stick to the two main legal points you raise.

Firstly, why should the application of the law be looked at? The judges applied the law as Parliament wrote it. Did he knowingly lie about his opponent’s personal character? Yes! Guilty. What's the problem? By all means propose changing the law but the application was fine.

Secondly, why didn't he sue for libel? A legitimate question. If he succeeded he'd get a load of money, which is nice. But maybe, just maybe, he'd rather have the chance to fight a fair campaign to get elected to Parliament? I was under the impression you wanted to be an MP for a while. If you had the choice between a few grand or a seat in Parliament which would you go for? We all know now; clearly the money is more important. Anyway, it’s not an either/or. This ruling doesn't prevent Watkins from suing...

IamRhino said...

The court has not decided who is the elected candidate ..... It has decided who is not fit to be a candidate according to law !!!!!!!

Therefore it has upheld the democratic process & ordered a re-run whilst preventing those deemed unfit for office from running ...... British Democracy at its purist & best !!!!!!!!!!!!!

Jon said...

He mislead the electorate which meant the people of his constituency didn't get to have their say, because he knowingly and calculatedly lied in order to win.

The law was in place before he chose to flout it, and as a MP and cabinet minister he was almost uniquely placed to change this law before the election.

The electorate should not be lied to in this way, with clear untruths about the character of other people, and if this is judged to have affected the results of the election then the election should be rerun. Woolas has lost the support of his party, and the law requires that he cannot stand for 3 years. This is both a punishment and a deterrent. Parliament enacted these laws, and they can change them if they like (and the people want it). In this case he is guilty, and should accept the punishment and apologise.

Torontory said...

Sorry Iain,

Yet another who thinks you have lost the plot on this one. The Court has found he has lied, misled his constituency electorate who therefore were unable to exercise judgement based on facts. As such the court found he had broken electoral law and passed sentence.

However, one 'mistake' will not lose this particular reader!

Pensfold said...

Iain

In my view your readers' comments are logical rather than risible.

Please try to stand back, read the arguments and think unemotionally about the legal position of parliament, the judges and the electorate.

Jabba the Cat said...

Why should a little prick like Woolas be helped out of the hole that he dug all by himself by his own stupidity.

I would though, be happy to operate the JCB to fill in the hole on top of him with concrete.

Lord Blagger said...

When he loses his JR, he should be prosecuted for Fraud.

He obtained employment by deception, by lying about his opponent.

The public should get its cash back.

Interestingly, its not illegal for politicians to lie to the electorate in order to get elected.

e.g. No rise in tuition fees.

Dobson said...

...sorry Iain I think you are wrong.

Thorpe said...

I read your blogpost earlier this morning. I didn't agree with it at all, and for all of the non-risible reasons above. However, what you choose to do with your own money is entirely up to you.

My only purpose in commenting now is to ask if the weight of comments, and near unanimity of view has caused you to rethink your position? The law is clear: it is for electors to decide who sits in Parliament, but an election that is unfair can be set aside by an electoral court. There is no right of appeal to a higher court. The jurisdiction of the electoral court is not at issue. When the election is re-run, then electors get to choose who represents them.

I do agree with your last paragraph. Specifically, the no appeal aspect of the current law is worrying. Justice, being blind, sometimes trips up.

OldSlaughter said...

"Ferial Ferret, clearly you are more expert at what makes a good blog than I am. So expert in fact, that you don't have one. Collect your refund on the way out, there's a good chap."

Like a theatre critic needs to own a theatre or direct a play.

Touchy today Iain.

neil craig said...

O rather like the idea that politicians standing for election should be held accountable for their promises, lies & deceiving of the electorate.

Unfortunately what we see is not MPs as a whole being held accountable but one particular one being held accountable for one very particular statement & by no means the most obviously dishonest one any MP or manifesto has had.

I very much doubt if the judges would have found the same way if he had said, for example, that his opponent had been getting support from libertarians (or some other minority not supported by political correctness).

Thus though I approve of the principle here the even greater principle is that the law be applied impartially, without fear 7 favour, rather than as the judges have clearly done here.

If Woolas is guilty of deceit to win an election so is every main party MP.

White Rabbit said...

Iain,

Rather than rail against what are very reasonable comments, it may be better to admit you are wrong and acknowledge the overwhelming force of the arguments against Woolas. A sovereign parliament set the parameters for the conduct of free and fair elections, Woolas knew (or ought to have known) these parameters but he chose to ignore them (a judicial finding) so he can't whine about how unfair his treatment is now and pretend his right to free speech has been infringed. The fact that many other Labour MP's are giving Harriet Harman a hard time over his treatment only shows how self serving they are, not how wrong the legislation and courts are. Rather ironic that they are quite happy to restrict our right to say what we think but somehow want an exception made for their own political purposes.One rule for us, one rule for them again! Expenses anyone?

Paul said...

Good grief, Ian. You're 100% on the wrong side of this one. Regardless of the court case, Labour should have withdrawn the whip from Woolas, and put in another candidate, as soon as he published those disgusting leaflets. You may think that you're committing some grand, principled act here, but all you're really doing is helping an odious politician stake a claim to a seat for which he shouldn't have even won if Labour had done the decent thing in the first place. Not remotely impressed, Ian.

Mark Senior said...

There is still plenty of time for Watkins to sue Woolas and his agent for libel , the high court decision will guarantee almost certain success . I am sure Iain will dig in his pockets and help Woolas to pay the ensuing costs .

bantambabe said...

I can't agree with you on this one, but I do agree with Matt Wardman when he says that the Court did not decide who should be elected, only that one candidate had cheated, therefore, another vote is what's needed here. Also, it must be remembered that election law, like all other laws, are made by MPs in Parliament, that'll be people like the aforementioned Phil Woolas, and we are all supposed to be equal under it! If you've got money to throw about, how about sending it to a much more deserving charity, not a lost cause like Woolas!

Phil said...

I'm with 'Scary Biscuits' on this one, Iain. You really are not engaging in the argument.

I appreciate that many of the comments here have expanded more on the point than you actually initially made - and on which you are about to lose your 100 quid (serves you right). But the thing is, when you cut through all this, you can count the number of supporters for your argument on the thumbs of one hand!

Let's see if I can extrapolate your point about the court banning Woolas from standing for three years (and by the way, if the court hadn't stopped him standing, the Labour would - and they did): Assume that Woolas had committed an imprisonable (trivial by today's mores) offence and been sent to prison for three years, your argument would still hold: a court would have prevented him from standing for election. Would that be equally unfair?

You should really start to engage with your commenters and stop listening too much to Mrs Speaker Ber-cow. Today's blog leads me to suspect that she has submitted a guest post for you.

Danny Law said...

hang on - i can understand people disagreeing with iain - but thats no reason to stop reading his blog.

i dont agree with iain on this one. i think another poster picked up on the fact that iain can be too nice sometimes. and i suspect this is one of those times.

but why stop reading his blog because you disagree with something he said.

i personally dont want to read something i just agree with all the time. argument and debate are what make life interesting.

................................. said...

"The longer I have thought about this the more I think this decision is profoundly ill-judged. In my view it is for electors to decide who sits in parliament, not courts."
You're wrong, and for precisely the reason that Johnny Norfolk identifies. The court's role is to make a judgement on the basis of what the law says, not what they (or you) would like it to be. Parliament has decided that courts can remove an MP and bar them from standing for election if they lie to the electorate about their opponent. Whether you think the law is right is quite a separate argument to what the law is.
What is it that makes you think Mr Woolas should be allowed to tell racist lies about his opponent to the electorate, Iain?

Paddy Briggs said...

Well done Iain - I applaud you.

Julian White said...

I think he's right.

What if the court found that one of David Cameron's leaflets contained what they perceived to be text which breached electoral law? What if that decision is questionable?

So they remove him from Parliament and refuse to let him stand again for three years. There is no right of appeal to the decision, as there is in many situations, and it seems to me that there is potential for this to be abused.

And putting that to one side, even if Woolas has been removed from Parliament via due process, he should be able to stand again. It is the decision of the electorate whether they want him given what has happened.

Paula Keaveney said...

Iain, election law exists for a reason. This particular law, which is the 1983 Act, is no different to any other law.

Stabledoor said...

sorry Iain - can't agree with you on this one. The legal arguments seem pretty clear although I guess it would be good to push this to its judicial conclusion as soon as possible.

Enjoyed reading the comments - but you seem to have suffered a catastrophic sense of humour failure over this - cheer up, you can't be right on everything!

Peter said...

Whatever happened to the idea that local electors could get rid of there MP if they fiddled expenses or digressed from the straight and narrow.
Woolas has certainly done the latter and it should be up to the electors if they want to force him to step down NOT the courts.

trevorsden said...

Yes we may be cross but look at the number of comments. !!

What I will say to Johnny Norfolk and his ilk is that Iain is not saying Woolas should be above the law - that is just plain thick.

He is saying he should be entitled to appeal. Maybe he should, so let him go to his friends for the money not his opponents.

As for 'stres' - your comments are nothing to do with the thread; which is just as well since its total bollocks.
Smaller state is all right until you want something from it. All oppositions can make promises - and the entire election process encourages that - but 'events dear boy events' inevitably take over.

straggly dan said...

Phil Woolas.
The electorate voted for this candidate on the basis of statements which were proved to be lies. Of course the result must be overturned. Are the electorate to have no safeguards?

Iain Dale said...

Phil, you seem to be under the misapprehension that I write blogposts just so people will agree with me. Incorrect. And I certainly don't form my opinion on the basis that about 85 out of 92 people disagree with me! I knew that when I wrote the post.

M said...

Wrong! wrong! wrong!

Surely you cannot be seriously suggesting that a politician who thought it OK to spread smears and lies about his opponent should be allowed to remain in parliament?

If the UK political class think this is OK then the UK really has degenerated into a "banana republic."

Twig said...

"Paddy Briggs said...
Well done Iain - I applaud you"


Iain,
Proof, if proof were needed that you've made a big mistake.
Is there still time to cancel your cheque?
...

Bongo said...

Way off base Iain. The electorate did not choose Woolas the Labour Party did. The electorate elected the Labour Party candidate. In the re-run the electorate will have a Labour Party candidate so their democratic rights are not impinged.

Basically, Iain you have donated £100 to support the often corrupt selection practices of a political party and in doing so no doubt unintentionally have shown your support for cheating. In short you are very wrong!

The other point is that if in this case it is wrong for the Courts to judge whether a candidate or his team have cheated how can it be right that they judge other matters of electoral cheating?

Basically you can't have it both ways and without the courts we would be open to all sorts of corruption from the political parties were they left to their own devices.

So we must have judicial control to protect us from the corruption of our political parties and in my view the courts have acted in an absolutely correct manner in this case maintaining the integrity of the electoral system.

We need to purge the cheats from our political parties and the sooner the better and to do that we need the courts and more actions like the one taken by the Libdems!

Osama the Nazarene said...

While I regasrd it as important for the judiciary to be involved AS LITTLE AS POSSIBLE in the electoral process, I consider it vital that the LYING of political candidates should be brought under control.

One reason why a libel court would not be a sufficient sanction is that it could not order the adulterated by-election to be re-run.

A reasonable but angry man said...

Not only wrong but profoundly wrong. The judgement did not seek to say who should be elected or who not. It just confirmed that one of the contenders lied about the character of a opponent (policy is fair game of course, which leaves more than enough room for normal political behaviour, one would have thought) and knew that he had. The entirely reasonable penalty is disqualification. Electors have precious little chance to assess whether a candidate is lying and it is surely reasonable to make it illegal to lie in these specific circumstances. I believe the only change required to the law is to increase the penalty to one of imprisonment if the lie is designed to foment racial tension, as was Woolas's lie here. So I am afraid that may be well wide of the mark, Iain. In this and several other recent 'alignments' (YAB et al) you seem to be getting very close to our disgraced bien pensant politial commentariat. Beyond criticsm, beyond understanding by the hoi polloi, beyond the pale. Which is sad. I wonder if you'l publish this. After all, I disagree with you.

adamcollyer said...

Well, I'm with Iain on this one. Woolas' leaflets were obviously dodgy, but then candidates of all parties in all elections issue dodgy material.

Try this, published by Elwyn Watkins in March, just before the election, which basically accuses the outgoing government of being responsible for 14 cases of starvation in the constituency.

"The gap between the richest and the poorest has widened under Labour and this kind of horrific statistic is the result", he says.

Obviously he can dish it out but not take it.

Dual Citizen said...

What Tom Harris said!

A reasonable but angry man said...

"adamcollyer: Well, I'm with Iain on this one. Woolas' leaflets were obviously dodgy, but then candidates of all parties in all elections issue dodgy material."

Difficult to know how to comment on the views of someone who misses every relevant point of this matter. Maybe adamcollyer is Aaron Porter's new nom be plume.

So here's another angle. Iain: this is sort of specious and fatuous nonsense you're lining up with now. Scary.

Phil said...

Iain: Of course you write blogposts so that people will agree with you! You just love to share your views all over the place. Let's face it, in the last few months you've been all over the media like a bad rash.
The thing is, although I can agree with you that just because you are in a minority you are not necessarily wrong (wonder if you feel the same about the 'concensus' on CAGW? Sometimes, I'm sure minorities can be right).
However, you failed, once again, to address my comment, as you did with all the other commenters you responded to; you just resorted to name calling and self-inflation.
Not to worry, I figure I'm in good company in calling your argument wrong, but do take the time to figure out how your argument stands were a judge to send and MP to prison and therefore deprive the electorate of their MP - rather then they.
Your serve....

alistair said...

Iain
I think you have done a good thing for the Conservative party. Giving Woolas the money to continue his fight, means that this will go on longer. The longer this goes on the grubber and grubber he looks, which reflects badly for both him and the Labour party. Well done a good Pro Conservative strategic move

Paul Canning said...

Woolas did use homophobic slurs. I don't have the exact quote but it was something like 'he's single and he lives with his mum, nudge, nudge'.

As regards your argument, which I understand as "it is for electors to decide who sits in parliament, not courts" and "it is right that he should be allowed to take the legal process to its conclusion" and your suggestion that libel courts should decide disputes rather than electoral courts.

Of course he should be 'allowed' his judicial appeal, though what benefit it could possibly bring him I don't understand. Of your entire comment this appears to be the bit which resembles your ethical issue and reason for the donation. Others have made the point that libel is not a just solution for various reasons. Do electors really want a proven libeler continuing as their MP?

As for courts throwing MPs out, what is the point of ANY electoral law that does not have that potential consequence? Further, it was MPs, voted for by us, that created the law. And for good reason if you read up on the circumstances. It is judges job to interpret it.

The existing law I would venture would seem perfectly reasonable to most people, if they actually understood it rather than what seems to be the common and simple idea that its about the usual lies told ('I promise to do/not do X'). So I suspect that your view that "we need to ensure that robust debate continues", which presumably means that the lying about your opponents character tactic should have little consequence, would similarly see you on the wrong side of public opinion.

boggartblog said...

You miss the point Iain. Would the voters have returned Woolas had they known on election day he had broken electoral law to discredit his opponent?

Paul Canning said...

Just seen this on Nick Thorby's blog. Yes, he is a LibDem but it speak to my point about public opinion: 'Talking to voters – including (former) Labour supporters – in Oldham today, what really struck me was just how angry people are about what Woolas did. It’s no surprise really that people are extremely unhappy about having been lied to, and going to the polls in May having been told complete untruths about one of the candidates.'

gadfly said...

Mr Dale, you are wrong on many counts.

"It is for electors to decide who sits in parliament, not the courts", but it is for the courts to decide when an offense has been committed and offer suitable redress, not for the public.

In my view, Mr Woolas's wrongful action caused his libdem opponent to suffer damage (possibly the loss of a seat in Parliament) that is not only pecuniary damage but also a loss affecting personal rights and prestige. As such, the courts must intervene to restore the situation to the state before the damage occurred - i.e. to declare the election void - which, in this case, is an appropriate and achievable redress.
You cannot make Mr Watkins's right to extract justice for himself dependant on the whimsies of others (i.e. the electors). That would not be fair.

As far as I know, libel actions can only offer compensatory damages (which, if used to settle such a case, would mean that the results of an election can be 'bought')and only when actual malice has been proven (which is not what motivated Mr Woolas; he was more likely motivated by self-interest)

J said...

Iain, you're wrong.

It is up to the voters to decide - provided that the candidates play by the rules and don't lie to them about each other's personal character.

longrun2 said...

Iain, have you considered the costs involved in a libel case. Mr Watkins could only reclaim his costs to the extent that Mr Woolas was able to pay them after spending a small fortune on his own expensive lawyers. It is quite possible that Mr Woolas would declare himself bankrupt and Mr Watkins would be left with a huge bill.

Richard said...

I have little to add to what has been said above. I believe you are profoundly wrong on this issue. I think it's important to distinguish between spin and hyperbole based on policy (which the electorate have to weigh and judge) and lies about an opponent's character or actions (which the electorate may take at face value). Woolas was completely and despicably in the wrong, and the law (for once) took its course. You are defending the indefensible.

Salmondnet said...

You seem to be unpopular on this Iain, but you are right. If all the politicians who lied during their campaigns were excluded from the Commons there would only be a couple of dozen remaining in the House. It should be for the electorate, not the courts, to decide which lies matter and which don't. This is an appalling precedent, not least because the next time some exceptionally unpleasant terrorist, charlatan or crook stands for office, those who oppose him or her will probably not dare to mention it and the electorate will be denied a chance to evaluate them properly.

Sir Norfolk Passmore said...

What I find very disappointing, Iain, is that your only response to overwhelmingly negative comments on this thread has been to call them "risible" and those making them "idiots".

There's nothing wrong with taking a controversial view. That's free speech. But then to fail to defend it in the face of reasoned arguments is pretty pathetic.

The points have been made time and again and you haven't responded:

- Woolas was "caught" by a law enacted by Parliament, and most recently revisited by a Government of which he was a member.

- The court followed due and thorough process and Woolas had every opportunity to make his case on the facts. You're factually wrong on appeals - if Woolas has a point of law he has recourse to "normal" appeal; in fact he wants a tool to revisit the facts so is pursuing a highly dubious judicial review route.

- The lies were despicable and cut to the heart of Watkins' character. That he "wooed extremists" and that he failed to condemn people allegedly making death threats against his opponent in particular. Would you be doing the same if the allegations went to the person's sexuality or even accused them of sexual offences (as in the Miranda Grell case)?

- There can be little doubt in a knife edge election that the lies were decisive in swinging at least 52 votes.

- The libel courts provide no adequate remedy to Watkins (although he may well yet pursue an action there too) and none whatsoever to Oldham voters, who were grotesquely misled.

- Your decision to send a cheque shows grossly distorted priorities given the many worthy cases for your charity which plainly exist.

You haven't even attempted to answer these or other good points made by your readers.

JJ said...

Trying too hard

Nice try Ian...but no sale.

Victor, NW Kent said...

Everybody is entitled to make a mistake. I supported David Davis and then again when he caused a bye-election. But, come to think of it so did Iain and he also supports West Ham.

Of course Woolas is entitled to appeal - he will of course lose that as it seems that he is not appealing the judgement but appealing whether the two judges had the right to deprive him of his seat. Since the Special Electoral Court appears to have been properly appointed under an Act of Parliament it is hard to see his point being successful. However, Sunderland beat Chelsea over the weekend so all is possible.

Labour MPs are becoming quite deviant in their objection to the validity of Acts of Parliament - what bloody right do legislators have after all.

Bardirect said...

Parliament decided that this is how these issues should be decided. The election court is a creature of statute not an ordinary court applying ordinary common law principles. Parliament determined the consequences ie mandatory disqualification. It also limited the avenues for appeal.

By supporting Woolas you impugn the sovereignty of Parliament.

Chris Whiteside said...

Iain, I accept that there needs to be an effective appeal mechanism.

However, I remain astonished that you appear to be taking such a different position on this from the Miranda Grell case. Have you changed your mind, and if so, why?

At that time, when a Labour candidate won an election by spreading the false accusation that her Lib/Dem opponent was a paedophile, you not only didn't give to her appeal, you described it in these words

"However, despite being banged to rights Grell has decided to launch a fund so she can appeal."

You also quoted Andy Mayer's comments as follows which could have been written to include the Woolas case:

"The continued mealy-mouthed defence of her by some Labour commentators ... is disgraceful and frankly does their party a disservice. There are plenty of Labour campaigners who do not exploit hate to get elected ...

The Labour party needs to get on with expelling Grell ...
remind some of their bloggers that the party does not endorse the use of homophobia or other forms of hate in their campaigning, and restate their
commitment to eradicating prejudice."

Your post made clear that you were not defending the vile leaflets put out by the Woolas campaign. But given the overwhelming evidence which convinced two judges that those leaflets broke electoral law, surely Woolas stole the election as blatantly as Grell did?

Joe Public said...

Would you mislead the electorate if you decide to stand again?

A simple 'yes' or 'no' will nail your colours to the mast. Are you brave enough to give a 1 word response?

Not only should Woolas be banned, he should personally pay for the re-election. After all why should us taxpayers pick up the tab?

HampsteadOwl said...

Well at least one publication is running with "Top Tory backs Woolas Appeal"

Shame it's only the Saddleworth News, but some return at least for your £100 publicity investment

Matt said...

Iain, at what point would you draw the line?

Obviously not at fomenting racial tensions with the possibility of inflaming local tensions and causing a race war. But, hey! Phil Woolas though himself so special that he was willing to run that risk.

Well, if not that, how about stuffing ballot boxes with fake or forged votes?

How about intimidating people and forcing them to vote for the 'right' candidate or risk the health and well-being of themselves and family members?

Exactly where does it become such a serious breach of the election laws that you would think: "Yes, that's going too far!"?

Nigel said...

Is it because you fear that the God-given right of British politicians to lie with impunity is under threat ?

As for you mildly snide comment about a libel action, you might consider that the standard of proof required in the election court is substantially above that in a libel trial.

Kenneth said...

I haven't followed this story all that closely, so I'm perhaps ignorant of some of the issues involved, but here's my opinion after reading your post, Iain:

First, I assume that the electoral court has followed a rigorous process in finding Mr Woolas's allegations unjustified. I say this because I too find the lack of a libel case puzzling. Your post says the allegations "were wrong" - but what exactly does this mean, and how does the electoral court decide? The electoral court cannot say they were libellous if there has been no libel case. So in what way were the allegations "wrong"? Or is it just that in election campaigns, you're simply not allowed to accuse your opponent of certain things, whether true or false? I don't understand this point.

But leaving that aside, and assuming that it has been proved that Woolas was wrong to do what he did, then:
1. I agree with the decision to void the election result and order a re-run, in the light of what is now known.
2. I disagree with the decision that Woolas cannot stand as the candidate, and with his parliamentary ban. Indeed, as this is supposed to be a re-run of the May 6th contest, and not a "new" by-election as such, I think the rule should be that no party is allowed to replace or withdraw its original candidate.

David Anthony said...

Of course, he has the right to appeal the decision. And if you want to help him take that through the courts, fair enough. Your decision. I don't see the problem people have with this.

Politics-WTF said...

Instead of taking cheap shots at some of the comments without addressing the issues, formulate an appropriate and reasoned argument to the comments made by SteveGJ....no...thought not.When you throw your toys out of the pram you generally find your credibility goes with them.Respond and be big...the alternative is to remain small on this issue.

Grand_Inquisitor said...

I agree with many others here that if Woolas mislead the electorate as the court has found, then the election should be re-run. Recent books imply that Clegg's promise on Tuition Fees seems to be perilously close to being a knowingly made deception as well.

Q said...

To paraphrase many other posters, this is not about whether you like or dislike Woolas. It is about the law. The law was passed by Parliament and it was broken by Woolas.

I ask in all honesty, Dale: are you really saying that courts should be free to dismiss any piece of legislation they don't like the sound of? If you think that - and you must if you are supporting Woolas - you misunderstand the entire nature of the British Constitution.

I am sure that when you sat down to write this post, you had no intention of arguing that politicians should be above the law. Nevertheless that is what you have argued.

If you think the law is wrong, say so. If you think Parliament should repeal it, say so. But you cannot decree that any law which is inconvenient to you, your friends or any other pole-climbing politico should simply be ignored. The rule of law either holds or it does not. Think - as any first year law student could think - on what would happen if courts are empowered (or, indeed, encouraged by politicians!) simply to ignore inconvenient laws. Just think and, having done that, rethink your approach to Woolas' criminality.

freespeechoneeach2 said...

If lying in an election leaflet is good and proper free speech, then so is lying on a benefits application form, lying about your identity to an immigration officer, lying to the Police looking for a murderer, or even lying to a young child that everyone has sex with an adult at their age.
Do Phil Woolas and his supporters feel all lies should be protected speech? Or only their own lies? If the latter, what's the difference?
There are people in this world who will use murder, torture, rape, banishment and prison to prevent others from exercising their rights to express opinion freely. By equating the universal human entitlement to free expression with his own cynical, mendacious racism, Phil Woolas hands these tyrants a justification on a silver platter.
That's about as low as you can get. Shame on you, Mr Dale, for supporting bogus politician's "right to lie."
Any lie is an insult to the audience. If you truly respect the reader/ listener, you honour them with the truth. Mr Woolas lied to the electorate. They, not the former Minister of the Crown, are the victims in this affair.