A final goodbye to Phil Woolas and his rubbish


11:30 am - December 9th 2010

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contribution by Cory Hazlehurst

Apologies for coming back to the Phil Woolas saga after his career was shot to pieces, but I couldn’t help it after I got around to reading his statements after leaving court last Friday.

It’s very impressive in how many inaccuracies it contains.

1. Woolas: “The judges have said that there is no avenue of appeal for my electors, who elected me at four general elections, to have their say.”

Well, this is stretching it a bit. The judges found Woolas guilty under s. 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983. That, I would argue, is the main conclusion they reached. The fact is, that Parliament never intended for there to be a right of appeal in cases such as these.

As this BBC blog puts it:

Mr Woolas did well to get even [as far as judicial review]. The law was deliberately drafted to avoid exactly this kind of legal delay; once an MP has been disqualified, they are expected to simply shut-up and go.

Also, the people of Oldham East and Saddleworth will now have a say in a by-election. It is surely right and proper that if you have broken election law, you should receive some sanction for it.

2. Woolas: “This is the only area of law, as far as I can see, where there is no appeal.”

This makes little sense. The court granted Woolas the right to appeal against the facts, but said that he had dishonestly made untrue statements against Elwyn Watkins that Woolas knew were untrue. As the summary judgement shows, the original election court said that Woolas had made three untrue statements that were illegal. The decision last week granted him leave to appeal, yet still found him guilty on two of those three charges.
[thanks to Peter, it’s worth adding that Woolas could also appeal to from the High Court (such as the Court of Appeal) but he is not going any further.]

3. Woolas: “We won on the costs argument, we won on the point of law, that I’m pleased with.”

I assume the costs argument means that he no longer has to pay Watkins’ costs. Woolas neglects the fact that he has to pay a £5000 fine.

4. Woolas: “But the judges’ hands were tied by what is out of date law.”

This is nonsense. The law Woolas was found guilty under was passed in 1983. It was amended by New Labour, and as I’ve pointed out before, Woolas voted for that law!

5. After this, Woolas says thanks to both people in Oldham and Labour for the support he’s had. Then a journalist asks “What mistakes did you make, Mr Woolas?

Woolas: “My argument is that my election leaflet and the way that has… (pause) this was one leaflet in fifteen years of Parliament that I’ve been thrown of out Parliament for.”

Although, of course, it was two leaflets. Woolas was found to have made illegal remarks in both The Saddleworth and Oldham Examiner and the Labour Rose. Sigh.

However when it was asserted in The Examiner that those whose votes were being wooed by Mr Watkins were those who were not simply extremists but those who advocated extreme violence, in particular against Mr Woolas, it plainly suggested, as the Election Court found, that Mr Watkins was wiling to condone threats of violence in pursuit of political advantage. It was not then a statement about the type of support he was wooing, but a statement that he was willing to condone threats of violence. That further statement took the statement from being a statement as to Mr Watkins’ political position to a statement about his personal character – that he conducted criminal conduct. It is not simply an implied statement in relation to a political matter, but a statement that goes to his personal character as a man who condones extreme violence. (my emboldening)

6. Woolas goes on: “I never said, as some have said, that the Liberal Democrats supported violence. That is a preposterous thing to say. Of course that is not the case.”

As the judgement clearly shows, this was related to the personal conduct of Elwyn Watkins, not the Liberal Democrats.

Goodbye Phil Woolas – we won’t miss you.


Cory Hazlehurst blogs here and tweets here.

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Reader comments


1. ex-Labour voter

Why no action taken by the Labour Party against those campaign officials that devised this strategy and carried it out?

@ex Labour voter

I really have no idea. Maybe Ed Miliband is still embarrassed that he appointed Woolas to the shadow cabinet. I think the most likely explanation is that Labour just wants to move on from this saga as quickly as possible, but neglect the fact an apology would help do that.

For anyone who’s interested, a longer version of this appears here: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/12/09/a-final-goodbye-to-phil-woolas-and-his-rubbish/

Though I understand there’s only so much Phil Woolas one can take of an afternoon. 😉

Woolas, my dear, you do us wrong,
To cast us out discourteously,
For we have loathed you for so long,
Delight in your bankruptcy…

4. Dick the Prick

As a dirty bastard Tory troll (see any of Sally’s posts for suitable insults) I kinda feel sorry for the lad.

He was damned unlucky to get caught and bang to rights. The odds were pheeeeenomenal. As Tony used to say on Bullseye when a dart hit the floor ‘Unlucky’.

Anywho – see ya Phil, tara.

Have no time for the man, but if politicians are going to be taken out because they lied, then that rules out the whole House of Commons. They are all liars.

You will never find a tory loosing his seat by a court because he lied. No tory judge would ever let that happen.

6. David Boothroyd

Sorry, Cory, you’ve become hopelessly confused on the issues here.

Firstly on the issue of appeals, there was no appeal against the factual findings of the election court about what the leaflets meant. That was the main problem because the election court seems to have misinterpreted them, but the High Court had to accept at face value their interpretation. Election petitions were transferred to the courts in 1868, before the present structure of appeal courts were set up, which is probably why there is no proper provision for appeals.

Second, there is no £5000 fine. That is the maximum penalty (level 5 on the standard scale) for anyone convicted of an illegal practice – but Phil Woolas has not been convicted of anything. He has been reported personally guilty by an election court, which is different. The CPS could now choose to prosecute, but there is no indication that they are to do so.

Thirdly, the 1983 Representation of the People Act was a consolidation Act. No substantive discussion took place on it because it simply repealed and re-enacted existing legislation. (The section in question had come from the 1949 Representation of the People Act, but that had also been a consolidation Act) The section in question had been passed in 1895 and not substantially amended since then, although it had been repealed and re-enacted. So Woolas is substantially correct.

Phil Woolas was not an MP in 1895, nor even in 1983. And the amendment in 2000 for which he did vote amounted to the repeal of subsection 8 which solely deals with the mode of trial. How you spin that into endorsing the section is beyond me.

It is quite clear to me that any statement about how a candidate views Islamic extremists is a statement about their politics, and not their personal character. The Judges got that wrong.

That’s nice, David, except that Woolas’s campaign literature didn’t comment on the “views” of Mr Watkins but claimed that he’d made a “pact with the Devil”. How insinuations of a big ol’ love-in with Satan don’t represent attakcs on one’s personal character are beyond me.

David,

Have you read the judgement? It searches for every reasonable explanation for the offending statements, but on three is forced to accept that it was a personal attack on Mr Elwyn by portraying him as cosying up to extremists for votes (and also that he deliberately implied Mr Elwyn was receiving illegal funding). This was not said to be a Liberal Democrat policy (which would be wrong, but allowable) or an insinuation, but rather an out-and-out accusation which could not be realistically interpreted any other way.

I do not think you can just claim the electoral court ‘misinterpreted’ the leaflets, considering that they had Mr Woolas, his lawyer and his election agent to explain the meaning of the offending passages. If there was a believable innocent meaning, even if it was only a possible interpretation, the judges would have had to acknowledge this and dismiss the case.

9. David Boothroyd

Section 106 only covers factual statements. Saying that the Lib Dems have a pact with the devil was a (highly inflammatory) expression of opinion and was not covered by the statute.

I don’t think that touches the fact that Cory Hazlehurst was factually wrong in all of his assertions.

10. David Boothroyd

Watchman, which judgment, the election court or the High Court? I presume you mean the election court but no matter as it happens I have read them both.

The election court is plainly mistaken in holding that a statement about how Elwyn Watkins viewed Islamic extremists was a statement about his personal character. It is plainly true that any such statement was about his political views, and therefore did not come within the statute. The High Court was compelled to accept the interpretation of the leaflets as found by the election court. I have to say it is utterly bizarre to hold that a candidate’s statement about where they live to be a political statement, but their views about muslim extremists to be an expression of personal character.

There is no way of testing, on appeal, whether the election court came to the right interpretation, notwithstanding that the explanation given by Phil Woolas and his legal team was not accepted at first trial.

David,

Give it up will you – saying that someone is seeking support from muslim extremists when you have no reason to believe this is lying. Plain and simple. Mr Woolas could not give any evidence to back this accusation up, and the emails before the court clearly showed this was a move of desperation, not something related to any evidence. And it is not as if Mr Woolas did not have a track record of playing on racial tensions…

And the house thing was thrown out remember, because there was the possibility of confusion or of someone missing a key fact; the judges here allowed the possibility this was not a deliberate slur. Once that was allowed, then it became a political statement; it was still an erroroneous statement, but one which might have been published in good faith rather than deliberately added to imply Mr Elwyn was a liar. (As a sidebar, I presume all candidates are going to want receipts for change of address cards sent to other candidates from now on…)

@1

“Why no action taken by the Labour Party against those campaign officials that devised this strategy and carried it out?”

Why indeed?

13. David Boothroyd

It is not for me to say what was in Phil Woolas’ mind. What I can give opinion on, having read the legal judgments, the precedents and the law itself, is whether the law was correctly applied – and my opinion is that it was not correctly applied.

The statute covers only statements of fact made concerning a candidate’s personal character. It is clear that a statement about a candidate’s views on muslim extremism is a statement about their political beliefs. That is all that needs to be said.

David,

The accusations made by Mr Woolas were that Mr Elywn was financed by a Saudi Sheik, sought support from Muslim extremists and did not live in the constituency. None of these were true, although the last was allowed as a possible error.

Now to make an untrue accusation against someone is to imply something about their personal lives, and nowhere were these accusations about Mr Elwyn’s policies (Mr Woolas did not suggest Mr Elwyn supported sharia in the UK for example) but about Mr Elwyn personally. You are trying to draw an artificial distinction between the character of a person as a person and as a political candidate (which as I remember was what Mr Woolas’ lawyer tried as well), whereas the law differentiates between the character of a person (sensibly recognising people remain the same person in different roles) and the nature of policies – it is apparently permissible to make things up about your opponent’s policies (so even if you are right, Mr Woolas was guilty of blatantly lying in order to secure his own election, which isn’t a crime but is morally dubious – and you want to support this guy!).

In each of your last three comments you have stated that in your opinion the law was not correctly applied. But you seem to be relying (at least as far as this comments go) on your opinion there. Would be nice to know why you are relying on opinion when the judges had the rely on the balance of possibilities.

Incidentally, you claim to have read the precedents. What are these – wasn’t the last one in 1909? And the logic of the case was pretty similiar – how do these support your interpretation?

Mr Woolas aparrently hasn’t heard about “dignity in retirement”.

The statute covers only statements of fact made concerning a candidate’s personal character. It is clear that a statement about a candidate’s views on muslim extremism is a statement about their political beliefs. That is all that needs to be said.

In our judgment, to say that a person has sought the electoral support of persons who advocate extreme violence, in particular to his political opponent, clearly attacks his personal character or conduct. To adopt the language of Gibson J. in the North Louth Case, as did Lord Ross in Fairburn, such a statement attacks his “honour” and “purity” in that it suggests that he is willing to condone threats of violence in pursuit of personal advantage. That is also an attack on his political conduct (because the advantage sought was an electoral victory) but that does not put the attack outside the protection afforded by section 106 if his personal character is also attacked.

“Why no action taken by the Labour Party against those campaign officials that devised this strategy and carried it out?”

And still no answer.

Come on, comrades, level with us. Is Ed too weak to act against them or is he retaining their race-baiting services voluntarily?

18. Honest Josehine

David: you say you do not know what was in Woolas’s mind when he and his colleagues wrote the leaflets?

Really?

Because in the court case private emails emerged showing quite explicitly and unmistakenly that they were trying to “make the white folk angry” and convince “sun readers” that the Lib Dem was in league with “mad moslems”.

As per other comments on here, I would like to know why people who featured in those email exchanges, including Councillor Battye, are still members of the Labour party.

Hi David,

Thanks for your comment.

I see you still haven’t adequately responded to the people who responded on the Liberal Conspiracy post. Not to worry.

I can only assume you haven’t read the judgement. The court gave Woolas the chance to appeal on the facts, and still found him in breach of the law.

I can also assume that you haven’t read the BBC article (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-11904630) which says “The court ruled he was guilty of breaching the Representation of the People Act 1983 and barred him from standing for elected office for three years, as well as fining him £5,000.”

New Labour introduced 3000 new laws. They amended the ROPA in 2000. One assumes if they had a fundamental problem with the law, they would have changed it. You obviously have a problem with the interpretation the electoral court have, but I’ve yet to see any evidence that they were incorrect in their interpretation.

Also, there is right of appeal from the High Court to the Court of Appeal or Supreme Court if Woolas wishes. To say otherwise is nonsense.

One final thing: are you the same David Boothroyd who was found to have edited David Cameron’s wikipedia entry in various non-flattering ways about a year or two ago? http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1191474/Labour-councillor-David-Boothroyd-caught-altering-David-Camerons-Wikipedia-entry.html

(cross posted from my blog)

@ 15 …..Correct.

21. David Boothroyd

Since Cory “Mr Inaccurate” Hazlehurst has cross-posted his comment, I will cross-post mine in response:

Perhaps if you checked what you write more carefully you wouldn’t look so stupid. I have indeed read the High Court judgment. (Perhaps you could tell me if you have read 6 O’M & H?) A judicial review can take into account and review more of the judgment than the simple appeal allowed in the RPA but it did not reopen the factual interpretation of the leaflets as found by the election court – on that there was no appeal, and were the High Court to be appealed to the Appeal Court they would equally be bound to accept what the election court found. Phil Woolas is correct, and you have not acknowledged it.

The BBC report is wrong. There is no mention in the Election Court judgment of this supposed fine, nor in the report and certificate – because the election court is not a criminal court and cannot actually find people guilty. It can merely report their guilt, which isn’t the same thing.

Do you still assert that Phil Woolas endorsed the Act of 1895 because he voted for an Act one of whose many provisions made a very minor repeal within it? If so that is a pathetic assertion.

One final thing: what “various non-flattering” edits have you found? Because the Daily Mail identified zero. They even acknowledged it through gritted teeth. The edits were (a) neutral (b) accurate (c) sourced. The edit summary quoted was when I removed an unflattering pisstake photograph which made Cameron look like he had a halo – that’s defending the article against vandalism. Furthermore it broke no policy, rule or guidance to edit the page in this way and no-one has asserted the contrary. If you wish to do so, justify it here. Or if you’re just a twat casting around for another pathetic argument in a fight that you’re losing, you can just shut up.

This isn’t the last we’ve seen of Woolas. My guess is he’ll earn a few bob as a non-exec or a lobbyist for a couple of years before slowly re-introducing himself into politics, probably with a column in a tabloid. Then he’ll prob wait for labour to get back in power and become ever more critical of his former colleagues, before UKIP offer him a nice cushy euro MP job Kilroy Silk style.

@ 22 Planeshift. A good theory and one that has worked well for many of these slime balls. In this case I suspect he’s too hot to handle as this was the first court case of its kind in about 100 years. The other parties and media alike, would destroy him long before any selection process could get under way. He’s ‘soiled goods’ in more ways than one.

Hi David,

Apologies for my snarky comment last night. One should probably not comment on issues such as these in the heat of the moment. You have of course read the judgement. Here’s my issue with all of this:

Woolas might not agree with the finding of fact, but so what? A convicted murderer may claim he doesn’t agree, but that makes very little difference. He was found guilty on the highest level of proof – that of criminal standards – and it wasn’t a jury but two High Court judges who applied them. That’s good enough for me.

To say “There is no avenue of appeal” is indeed grossly misleading. Woolas was given a right of judicial review on the law. You are right in saying that there was no appeal on the facts, but that’s always the case under English law. Apart from lower courts like magistrate courts, if a superior court makes a finding of fact, that is the end of the matter. An appeal court only looks at mistakes of law or procedure, except in exceptional circumstances.

I really don’t understand your comments about the fine. Nobody else has taken issue with the BBC report, so unless you provide evidence that Woolas doesn’t have to pay this fine, I don’t think I’ve been misleading. I’m hardly being inaccurate in stating that Woolas has to pay a £5000 fine when I’m quoting a BBC report that says he has to pay £5000.

Is the law out of date? I still think it’s fair comment to say that if the Act was amended in any form by Labour, and the basis of it was kept fairly intact, then it’s hardly *that* out of date. It’s not just some small provisions – s.106 was actually amended as well (s106.8 was repealed in 2000) then I reckon it’s not fair comment. It’s certainly not inaccurate to say that the act was most recently amended in 2000, and Phil Woolas voted for that act. Because he did.

Also I find it quite upsetting that you not only say all my points are inaccurate (which is manifestly not the case) but you’ve also resorted to calling me a twat. Heyho, whatever floats your boat I suppose.

You still haven’t given any reasons why the judges are incorrect in *interpreting* the law either, in response to the posters on LC.

Also, I did not mean anything by asking if you were that person: I don’t remember the case at the time. It was idle curiosity to see if you were that same person. I apologise if that angers you at all.

It’s not legally relevant but don’t forget that Woolas also made insinuations about Watkins sexuality.


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
  1. Liberal Conspiracy

    A final goodbye to Phil Woolas and his rubbish http://bit.ly/fMEQA0

  2. Robin Green

    RT @libcon: A final goodbye to Phil Woolas and his rubbish http://bit.ly/fMEQA0

  3. David Allen Green

    #Woolas gets a good fisking by @goldenstrawb at LibCon: http://bit.ly/fMEQA0

  4. Ian

    RT @davidallengreen: #Woolas gets a good fisking by @goldenstrawb at LibCon: http://bit.ly/fMEQA0

  5. Cory Hazlehurst

    An edited version of my latest piece on Phil Woolas is up at @libcon now: http://bit.ly/g4wnQp

  6. Welsh Ramblings

    RT @libcon: A final goodbye to Phil Woolas and his rubbish http://bit.ly/fMEQA0

  7. sunny hundal

    RT @davidallengreen: #Woolas gets a good fisking by @goldenstrawb at LibCon: http://bit.ly/fMEQA0

  8. Get Political Fund » Blog Archive » A final goodbye to Phil Woolas and his rubbish | Liberal Conspiracy

    […] Read more: A final goodbye to Phil Woolas and his rubbish | Liberal Conspiracy […]





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