Why Phil Woolas is unfit to be in the Labour front-bench


9:05 am - October 11th 2010

by Sunny Hundal    


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Out of all the shadow cabinet appointments, it’s having Phil Woolas back at the Home Office that is the most disappointing. No actually, it makes me angry given recent revelations.

And it’s worth pointing out once more, properly, why Phil Woolas is unsuitable to be in the Labour party, let alone a shadow minister.

During the recent Labour party conference I went to a debate on immigration that featured Woolas as one of the speakers. He sounded perfectly sensible at the time.

One of his main points, I recall, was that immigration itself was sometimes conflated with debates on race and extremism.

In other words, it was perfectly possible to have a debate about the level of immigration the UK could handle or needed, without being racist or xenophobic. I agree, and it’s in all our interests to keep these issues separate.

What was pernicious about Enoch Powell’s ‘rivers of blood’ speech wasn’t just that it warned about rising immigration, but it did so exclusively in racist terms by talking of how “the black man will have the whip hand over the white man”.

At the Labour fringe debate, I raised my hand to ask a question, and I said this: How did Phil Woolas’ claim that we must separate these issues out, in order to have a sensible debate, square with what his election agent and campaign manager said during the recent general election?

1. During the campaign, according to emails obtained by the Telegraph, Woolas’s election agent Joseph Fitzpatrick went out to exacerbate racial divides by saying in an email:

We need … to explain to the white community how the Asians will take him [Woolas] out … If we don’t get the white vote angry he’s gone.

2. This was an election leaflet Phil Woolas put out. As far as I understand it, this is not subject to a legal complaint in the ongoing case.

I mentioned the leaflet specifically because it refers to “extremists” who want to “punish Phil” for “being strong on immigration”. It goes on to attack Libdems for their stance on amnesty for illegal immigrants.

But the picture of Muslim extremists has nothing to do with immigration. They were protesting against the Danish cartoons. The leaflet implies that increasing immigration or giving amnesty would lead to more Muslim extremists.

It conflates immigration with extremism and bigotry – the precise opposite of what Woolas warned against earlier.

3. (I couldn’t make this point but add it here anyway) The Telegraph reported recently about emails exchanged recently between Woolas’ team:

Mr Fitzpatrick emailed Steven Green, the MP’s campaign adviser, to say: “Things are not going as well as I had hoped … we need to think about our first attack leaflet.”

He proposed publishing a newspaper-style mailshot, called The Saddleworth and Oldham Examiner, with the alleged main aim of persuading Tory voters, many of whom disliked the fact that the Conservative candidate was Muslim, to vote Labour rather than switching to the Lib Dems. “Tory voters are talking of voting Lib Dem,” wrote Mr Fitzpatrick in an email to Mr Green on April 25. “If we can convince them that they are being used by the Moslems it may save [Woolas] and the more we can damage Elwyn the easier it will be to stop the Tories from voting for him.”

A twin-track approach was allegedly adopted: Mr Watkins would be portrayed as a friend of Islamic extremists, while Mr Woolas would be painted as a fearless opponent of militants. Mr Fitzpatrick suggested to Mr Green: “We need to go strong on the militant Moslem angle,” and suggested the headline: “Militant Moslems target Woolas.” This would send out a message, he suggested, that Muslim extremists wanted to “take down” Mr Woolas for standing up to them. “Like it!” replied Mr Green in another email. “It’s going to be hard to write to minimise offence to some though.”

Does that sound like the campaign of someone senstitive to the issues of keeping immigration, race and religion separately?

At the fringe, Woolas replied by saying it was bigoted to assume that Muslims did not want to oppose extremism within their own communities. But that isn’t the charge here. The charge here is that his campaign went out to mix race, religion and immigration to win an election. That, in an area like Oldham and Burnley, has long been used by the likes of the BNP to stir up trouble and and incite racial violence.

This is why he should not be in the shadow cabinet*, let alone within the (shadow) Home Office team or an MP.


I’ve amended the headline to reflect the technicality. I knew he wasn’t in the cabinet as such, but just didn’t use the correct term

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Media ,Race relations

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Reader comments


Excellent post, Sunny.

I don’t know if this is the best email to get Ed Miliband on, but I urge Labour members pissed off at this awful appointment to email the leader: contact@edmiliband.org

Small point of clarification, as some seem to be confused over this: Woolas is a shadow junior minister, shadowing the Home Office. I think this means he is not technically in the Shadow Cabinet, which comprises the 19 elected by the PLP, the leader, the NI/Wales appointees, leader of the Lords, and 1 other I think. The same way that (for example) Lynne Featherstone is a Minister for Equalities, but not in the Cabinet.

It’s important to raise this because some Labour people are defending EM on the grounds that Woolas was “elected” to the Shadow Cabinet and so had no choice of his being there.

What was Ed thinking??

I think it’s important to separate the legal case and the moral case. The legal case is about a very small area of election law. I don’t know how this will go, but I suspect Woolas will be convicted.

But the moral case is clear cut. Woolas has said these things. He has never denied saying these things. He has made similar statements in a court of law.

Woolas is therefore not fit to be a member of the shadow government.

I hope that this is an oversight by a busy new leader. To think that it is a deliberate act by Ed Miliband is to think that Ed is the worst kind of cynical politician. It needs correcting before the court issues a judgement, or Ed’s progressive new generation will be shown to be so much stuff and nonsense.

To think that it is a deliberate act by Ed Miliband is to think that Ed is the worst kind of cynical politician.

Excuse me, are you kidding me??? He put Woolas in there by mistake??

And yes, those of us not drinking the Kool-Aid do think that Ed is a very cynical politician, maybe not the worst kind, but others have actually justified/praised him for his ruthlessness and his ability to triangulate.

I think that very senior people do not always have all the details of a case before they have to okay decisions. It seems possible to me that Ed Miliband has not read the leaflets that Woolas has put out. It seems possible to me that Ed Miliband has not seen the court transcripts where Woolas admits that he attempted “to make the white folk angry” and associate his opponent with non-existent death threats. It seems possible to me that Ed Miliband did not personally select every one of his junior shadow ministerial team, and that a list was put in front of him, and he said “okay”.

Perhaps I am being too generous. But I still hold out that there are some decent politicians out there. And I still rather hope that Ed Miliband is one of them. Either way, we will find out soon enough.

Before the general election, Ed Balls’ local campaign (generously funded by Unison and Unite) issued an “immigration survey” to voters asking inter alia whether a probationary period should be passed before they {immigrants} are able to claim state benefits?

OK, so he didn’t conflate religion/race etc. as is alleged against Woolas, but what the heck was that about?

And how comfortable was the rest of the party with Gordon Brown adopting the BNP slogan ‘British jobs for British workers’? Or with Labour’s blowing the dog-whistle on Polish migrants during the Crewe and Nantwich by-election?

Woolas’s tactics were disgraceful, but do they disqualify him from holding high office in the Labour Party? The answer, I think, is NO – because cynical opportunism over race and immigration has been mainstreamed in Labour.

@Flowerpower

That is a very sad indictment of the modern Labour party, new generation or otherwise.

What a lot of PC nonsense!

I mean, just read the leaflet! Do you want to let YOUR community be over run by msulims and immigrants?

Thank goodness that at least Labour and the EDL have the sense to stand up to the PC brigade on this issue.

For once, I agree with Sunny. Woolas is at the very least a cynic who has played to the racist gallery, even if he isn’t racist himself.

“Excuse me, are you kidding me??? He put Woolas in there by mistake??”

LOL

Sounds like they’re using premium grade tinfoil hats over at Libcon towers :)

12. Roger Mexico

What amazes me is that Ed Miliband said in his conference speech that Labour would support good Tory ideas and specifically picking out Teresa May at the Home Office. He seemed to be signalling a change in Labour’s combative attack on civil liberties and hard line on law and order – he also mentioned Clarke at Justice.

He then puts Balls and Willis, two snidey,civil liberty-hating thugs up against May, Green and Featherstone. Oh and Nick Herbert’s there as well, so it’ll give them a chance to be homophobic too.

At best they’ll produce the sort of performance that goes down well in the Commons with public school boys and looks appalling on TV to the rest of us. At worst Labour will look Stalinist, vicious and lots of things ending in -ist.

Either Ed M’s setting them up to fail or he’s going to make them promote liberal causes till their heads explode. (Now that I’d pay to watch).

What is it about former presidents of the NUS? Woolas is another one. Those leaflets were pretty vile. As I’ve said before, if a Tory or Lib Dem had put them out every Labour politician would have denounced them to the skies – and rightly.

@11. You know how it is. You’re a new leader, writing out your first Shadow Cabinet and junior ministers list. You’re a busy man, after all you’re eagerly expecting the Coalition to fall any minute now and for you, leading the natural party of government, to be whisked off in morning suit to the Palace. Woops you forgot to take Woolas off the list.

And anyway, it’s not like anyone’s been talking about this case, is it? I mean, MPs are disqualified on an almost daily basis for lying about their opponents. I bet Miliband simply forgot that Woolas has an election petition outstanding against him. Even if he remembered I bet he thought it was for something else, like not kissing his quota of babies on the campaign trail, or delivering leaflets to a house with a “No Junk Mail” sign or something like that.

A very easy mistake to make.

14. Mike Killingworth

When I was taught politics (far more years ago now than I care to recall :lol:) I was told: “the sources of political cleavage are race, class and religion”.

Since we gave up making Welsh nonconformists pay tithes to the Church of England (sometime before the First World War, I think), and with the exceptions of Glasgow and Liverpool, religion has played no part in British (as opposed to Irish) politics. It’s easy to mock some of the more récherché corners of Equalities legislation, but it has prevented widespread or frequent race rioting – arguably it has been a greater success than the French integrationist approach (although that does produce the world’s most elegant black women…)

Islam has changed all this. In Europe it is a conflation of race and religion like no other (white Muslims carry no political clout within Muslim community politics which are often a kind of “race politics in denial” – think Turks in east London, Pakistani-sourced Brits in Lancashire). It’s a heady mix.

The Woolas case asks us if there can ever be “noble cause” racism (if you think that asking Tory supporters to vote for you ‘cos their chap’s a Muslim is racist, which I guess most of us do). Perhaps the most famous example of it comes not from politics at all, but sport. Clive Lloyd would only have blacks in his (all-conquering) cricket team, no matter how talented the Asian-origin and white Caribbean cricketers of the time. He believed the racial solidarity was a key ingredient in his team’s success.

Like many white people, I feel uncomfortable about criticising blacks (shame) or Muslims (fear). But to say that Woolas is wrong while Lloyd was justified does seem to involve some special pleading somewhere.

One other point. Let’s look again at that Powell speech. The white man – quite literally – held the whip hand over the black man for over two hundred years. For some black radicals, at least in the 1980s, race equality meant that they should have precisely what Powell feared: hence Patrick Kodikara’s call for compensation and another black councillor (whose name escapes me right now) making a visit to buy weapons from Ghadaffi (who insisted on cash the black guy hadn’t got). The first Africans to see Europeans rowing inshore thought that they were devils (more because of their blue eyes than their skin colour – genetics provided albinos in most tribes now and again): it is pretty much the definition of a black radical to say that they’re someone who is (a) black and (b) agrees with the wisdom of their ancestors in the matter. This does not mean that they support political violence as such, only that they are more likely to justify it in specific circumstances.

Similarly, we can define a Muslim radical as a Muslim who agrees with Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” hypothesis. The last sentence of the previous paragraph applies.

Perceived political impotence makes people very cross. Socialists were always able to make the argument that the workers were so numerous that they could achieve their ends democratically through elections, demonstrations and industrial action. Blacks and Muslims in Britian don’t have this recourse. Their only political weapon is to create fear, whether through riots or bombs.

I like how right-wingers become pro-immigration once they’ve got a Labour MP to bash, eh flowerpower?

“Excuse me, are you kidding me??? He put Woolas in there by mistake?

No, I’m being told that they didn’t want to rock the boat too much and stuck with him for now. He was already in the role. That of course doesn’t guarantee he will be there in two years time, or even when Labour returns to power.

This is the area where Labour neeed to show that it had changed. This appointment shows that it hasn’t.

“Excuse me, are you kidding me??? He put Woolas in there by mistake?”

Sunny, this was directed at Helen, who said it may have been an oversight on the part of Miliband. I find that hard to believe!

Rocking the boat or not, I simply do not see how this makes any political sense whatsoever. The guy is on trial, FFS. What if he’s found guilty? Do Labour want those kind of headlines?

Like Guano says, this is a major area where so many centre-lefties will just not touch Labour with a bargepole over.

Undoubtedly Woolas is a cynical opportunist who will do anything to further his career but then that applies to most politicians.

However the goalposts moved somewhat during the course of this article which began by stating the sensible argument about not conflating immigration with race and ended up arguing against conflating immigration with religious extremism.

The leaflet implies that increasing immigration or giving amnesty would lead to more Muslim extremists.

No need to imply, it is a fact.

Without making any comment on the wisdom of such a policy, if more Muslims are permitted to migrate to the UK or Muslim illegals are given amnesty to stay here, it is a statistical certainty that a proportion of those people will be extremists.

There are a lot more reasons than the election campaign for *Labour voters and ex-Labour voters* to hate Phil Woolas.

Here’s mine http://madikazemi.blogspot.com/2009/07/how-very-dare-he-woolas-claims-uk-fair.html

20. Canisayuddin

Re No 14

Off topic a bit but Clive Lloyd caPtained the West Indies cricket team with Alvin Kallicharran as a player. As far as I know Lloyd was a total non-racist and it was Viv Richards who tiresomely introduced a black power element into the game.. However I suspect that even in his day the team was picked on merit and that the absence of browns and whites in the team was for good cricketing reasaons and not prejudice,

@15. One can oppose increased immigration, or an immigration level one might view as too high, without supporting racism, without linking mainstream Muslims to extremism, and without supporting Woolas’s cheap campaign.

22. Mike Killingworth

[20] Quite right – my bad. It was Richards, not Lloyd, who, as you so neatly put it, was “tiresome”.

23. Just Visiting

Woolas’ leaflet was not good.

What about this April headline from someone on the left: – I don’t recall any LC criticism at the time:

> Muslims aren’t persecuted – but perhaps some of them should be

24. Chaise Guevara

@23

“What about this April headline from someone on the left: – I don’t recall any LC criticism at the time:

> Muslims aren’t persecuted – but perhaps some of them should be”

It’s out of context, of course, but I’d guess the fact that you don’t recall any LC criticism would be down to either a) it didn’t happen to get picked up by LC or b) it did but you’ve forgotten.

25. Just Visiting

Chaise

Yes, but I would have expected LC to have picked it up – it was one of the LC bloggers who said it.

@JV

Who said it?

Let’s hope that when the ruling is eventually made known (at the end of this month, it seems) it will be against Woolas. Which leaves unanswered the question why Miliband (E) chose him for a prominent position anyway, except that he “masterminded” Miliband (D)’s campaign and so the subtext is: Bliarites, I still love you. But I hope I won’t have to put up with this one for long.

”…..according to emails obtained by the Telegraph”

This is where I lose interest. It’s too much like:

” … according to mobile phone conversations hacked into by News of the World journalists….. ”

Ask Woolas what his opinions are fair and square. Not what you read on his private Email. It smacks of the Rod Liddle saga to me, where people on LC found out he was this ”monkey” character on a football fan site and poured over his private conversations.

29. Just Visiting

Blanco

Paul Sagar said it.

But the reason it got no flack on LC for being right-wing and anti-diversity, was the matter of one word difference:

He didn’t say:
> “Muslims aren’t persecuted – but perhaps some of them should be”

He said
> “Christians aren’t persecuted – but perhaps some of them should be”

The former would indeed have raised a furore on LC – whereas the latter..well no one batted an eyelid.

JV, just wondering: are you using a tiresome sixth-form debating tactic, or do you really believe those are comparable?

Just in case it’s the latter, Paul Sagar, like me and presumably you, is culturally Christian – i.e. whatever his personal beliefs, he has grown up of Christian descent in a society that is predominantly Christian. So when he criticises some Christians, this is clearly and explicitly *about the political views that they believe their religion compels them to hold*, not bigotry against people of Christian descent.

Similarly, it’s not bigoted for someone of Muslim descent to slate some Muslims (Hirsi Ali is the neocon poster girl for this, I believe…).

It becomes much dodgier when you’re doing it to a group that you’re not part of, and where the point that you’re criticising the beliefs of a minority and not the entire shared culture is much less clear.

31. Ivor Cornish

Oh dear and some saw Ed. as the new man to lead the left.
I found this very confusing as he is the member of a party which implemented right-wing policies for 13 years. Some even flocked to the Labour Party convinced it would be a new dawn.
Now he has reinstated Woolas. A man who should have been sacked from the Labour Party as soon as the tactics he used in his election campaign came to light.

32. Chaise Guevara

@29

“He didn’t say:
> “Muslims aren’t persecuted – but perhaps some of them should be”

He said
> “Christians aren’t persecuted – but perhaps some of them should be”

The former would indeed have raised a furore on LC – whereas the latter..well no one batted an eyelid.”

Do you think it’s possible that nobody on LC battered an eyelid because it wasn’t published on LC? Just a thought.

I like the way that you are shoehorning in a non-sequiter so you can winge about a scenario that you’ve invented in your head and are now grumpy about. In any case, I just checked out the article and all it says is that child-rapists and people who facilitate them should be punished. Disagree?

33. Miles Platting

@28
The emails ‘obtained’ by the Daily Telegraph were not done so illegally or in any underhand way. They were correspondence between Labour’s campaign team that had been officially submitted as evidence. The Telegraph journalists were guilty of overstating their detective work on this but not guilty of anything dodgy.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

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  49. My reaction to finding out Phil Woolas was in the shadow cabinet « Paperback Rioter

    […] Sunny Hundal has written a far more sensible post on why he shouldn’t be […]

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  52. Ed Miliband’s home affairs appointments: can we really take him seriously on civil liberties?

    […] over at the Labour-leaning Liberal Conspiracy website, Sunny Hundal denounces the decision: Out of all the shadow cabinet appointments, it’s having Phil Woolas back […]

  53. Should Phil Woolas be in the party, never mind on the front bench? | Left Futures

    […] on immigration and race relations beggars belief. Sunny Hundal yesterday made a cogent case at Liberal Conspiracy for why he is unfit to be on the Labour front-bench. On the one hand, Mr Woolas argues that one can […]

  54. luke brandt

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  55. GuyAitchison

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    RT @veganpanda: The real (racist) Phil Woolas: http://bit.ly/9fvOEV #bbcqt

  62. On Student Politics (or, “You Can Take This Down In The Minutes)… « Uni Tunes

    […] the head of the most Blairite org this side of Transylvania and – oh, dear Lord – Phil Woolas. The dance school in Suspiria had better alumni. Still, their outgoing president – a New Lab […]

  63. EXCLUSIVE: Phil Woolas authorised use of force to deport immigrant children | Liberal Conspiracy

    […] [Also: Why Phil Woolas is unfit to be in the Labour front-bench] […]

  64. SOCIALIST UNITY » PHIL WOOLAS SHOULD BE EXPELLED FROM LABOUR

    […] Ed Miliband made the mistake of giving Phil Woolas a shadow junior minister position. As Sunny Hundal argued at the time, Woolas is not even fit to be in Labour, and has brought the party into […]

  65. Good riddance: Woolas found guilty | Liberal Conspiracy

    […] On behalf of all of us at Liberal Conspiracy, good riddance. […]

  66. Phil Woolas ejected from Parliament « NCADC news

    […] with a potential Lib Dem “illegal” immigrant amnesty. As blogger Sunny Hundal put it, his campaign went out to mix race, religion and immigration to win an election. Hardly the kind of tactics that would forward Woolas’ stated aim in 2008 to “heal […]

  67. sunny hundal

    @ewannic here's my reasoning http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/10/11/why-phil-woolas-is-unfit-to-be-in-the-labour-shadow-cabinet/

  68. Phil Woolas ejected from Parliament | NCADC - blog

    […] with a potential Lib Dem “illegal” immigrant amnesty. As blogger Sunny Hundal put it, his campaign went out to mix race, religion and immigration to win an election. Hardly the kind of tactics that would forward Woolas’ stated aim in 2008 to “heal […]





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