Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Labour meeting sending wrong message to electorate

First, there has to be the usual warning that we are relying on BBC reports of what was a private meeting. However, the only radio interviews I have heard so far dispute only the attribution of comments to particular MPs, but not that the comments were made. The BBC informant or informants gave the impression that support for Woolas predominated, and that Harriet Harman was "attacked from all sides". The grounds for the attack appear to be the following three:
  1. In announcing that Phil Woolas was suspended from the Labour Party and implying that he had no future in the parliamentary party even if he won his appeal, Ms Harman was pre-judging the normal disciplinary machinery of the party.
  2. That no action should be taken against Woolas until all his appeals had come to an end.
  3. That judges should not be ruling on the conduct of elections anyway.
As a member of a party which often criticises its own leaders for making policy "on the hoof", I have some sympathy with the first point.It was surely right for Ms Harman to express her own distaste for the Woolas campaign's methods (good for her - but did she really not know what was going on in Oldham East?), though she must have jumped the gun in pronouncing his suspension.

However, it is totally wrong to go further than that. Labour must dissociate itself from a man who has been found guilty of what, outside the political arena, would be libel, and of using racial suspicion as a political weapon. These are points of fact. If any of his appeals succeed, they can only be on technicalities. If Woolas is allowed to remain an active Labour member, the executive is sending a message that they approve of US-style character assassination and racism as valid campaign tactics.

It is often argued by Labour spokespeople that Liberal Democrats equally "fight dirty". However, when challenged, those people cannot come up with anything which a reasonable man would describe as "dirty". Staged photo-opportunities and misleading statistics are not in the same league as Woolas's antics, or what I know local Labour campaigners say on the door-steps but daren't put in their leaflets.

It's the third ground - that MPs are beyond the law - which really takes the breath away. Labour MPs are not alone in this arrogance: a Tory MP expressed the same view at the weekend. Do they still not get it? If judges cannot rule on electoral law, then who can? If Labour back-benchers don't like the provisions of the Representation of the People Act 1983, and preceding legislation which included the clauses against false statements, why did they not object before?

1 comment:

Frank H Little said...

This spoof email from Mark Pack both instructs and entertains.