Phil Woolas: still crazy after all these years

Apologies for not blogging sooner on the Phil Woolas news. I wasn’t sure what to say, until I heard the man himself speaking straight after leaving court last Friday. It’s very impressive: every sentence contains an inaccuracy. It therefore deserves a good old-fashioned fisk. Woolas’s remarks are in italics; my commentary isn’t.

“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.

So the fact that Woolas was granted a judicial review on the facts, and yet his appeal was rejected anyway, is worth recounting.

Also, the people of Oldham East and Saddleworth will now have a say in a by-election. Woolas cannot stand, because he broke election law, and his punishment was to be disqualified as a candidate for three years. It is surely right and proper that if you have broken election law, you should receive some sanction for it.

So, one sentence in and Woolas has already got three things wrong. Let’s carry on.

“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.

[a little addition thanks to Peter: there are further avenues Woolas could appeal to from the High Court (such as the Court of Appeal) but he is not going any further. Not that this means the factual findings would change]

“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.

“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!

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?”, at around 1.02 on the video.

“I don’t believe I did make any mistakes.”

Still no apology for stirring up racial tensions. Still no apology for trying to “make the white vote angry” in a town that had race riots less than nine years ago and has a fairly significant BNP presence. Still no acknowledgement he’s broken the law.

“I believe I’m the victim of the circumstances of this law.”

Woolas is trying to paint himself as the victim. That’s an, er, interesting move.

“As I say, I believe it’s unfair that the electorate have not got the chance to say what they think.”

They do, in an upcoming by-election. Though if opinion polls were anything to go by, 71% of voters backed the electoral courts’ decision.

But he must have some regrets, surely? Only a moral vacuum could have no regrets over the kind of campaign that he led.

“I don’t regret anything that has been said.”

Oh.

“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.

“My argument was and is that wooing certain types of vote, that is a political comment.”

Indeed. But the court decided differently. See paragraphs 121 and 122 of the full judgement. The court has said that merely saying that Watkins was an “extremist” would have been a political statement on his position, and therefore not illegal:

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)

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.”

This is the weakest of straw men. I’m slightly obsessed with the Woolas case, as you might have noticed, and I have not read once, in any of the reports connected with it, that he accused the Liberal Democrats of supporting violence.

But that was the interpretation given by the judges.

*hits the roof, goes absolutely apoplectic, kicks kitten*

Apologies for that outburst of anger, but Phil Woolas brings out the worst in me. As the judgement clearly shows, this was related to the personal conduct of Elwyn Watkins, not the Liberal Democrats. To say otherwise is a complete untruth.

Not by the people, but by judges. And I regret that much.

As I’ve argued elsewhere, it is a fallacy to suggest that it is undemocratic for judges to intervene in this way.

That’s enough for now. I’m going to have a lie-down.

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6 Responses to Phil Woolas: still crazy after all these years

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Phil Woolas: still crazy after all these years « Paperback Rioter -- Topsy.com

  2. Glittery Delpher says:

    Good post. In fact, excellent post.

    I have yet to hear one single Labour grandee, MP or even member apologise for this. Woolas’s agent and Cllr Battye, who were shown to be complicit in the illegal campaign, and indeed who came up with the juiciest quotes about making white folk angry etc, are still in the party. Battye is still a labour councillor!!

    One point I will pick you up on is the costs issue. It’s my understanding, though I would welcome *informed* opinion from others in the know, that team Woolas were not as successful on the costs issue as they are indicating.

    After the original judgement, full costs were awarded against Woolas. Woolas said that his costs were £600,000 or something ridiculous. Watkins hasn’t stated his costs, as far as I know. Woolas was ordered to pay everything including a 5 grand fine.

    I think what may have happened is that the costs for the appeal were shared. But these will have been far for far fewer hours than a four day trial with witnesses etc.

    Woolas also argued that, because the second hearing viewed the “he’s a liar because he didn’t move house” allegaion was political and not personal, that he the orginal allocation fo costs should be re-examined. The judicial review hearing said that they should go back to the elections court if he wanted the original costs reviewing.

    So, not exactly overwhelming in his favour.

    This case has been very complicated throughout. Woolas and his team have been very clever in seeking to misrepresent what has actually happened to make him seem a victim. Seeing his agent, Comrade Joe Fitzpatrick, on regional tv is sickening because he lies, disembles and misrepresents the truth. It’s got to the point where I genuinely don’t know if they know whether they are telling the truth any more.

  3. David Boothroyd says:

    As I’ve pointed out on Liberal Conspiracy, all the points you make here are wrong. Specifically:

    * There is no way to appeal the textual interpretation of the leaflets.
    * The law relating to election petitions changed to transfer them to the courts in 1868 when there was no proper appeal structure, and hasn’t fundamentally changed since then.
    * There is no £5000 fine, because Phil Woolas has not been convicted of anything.
    * The law dates from 1895, not 1983. Phil Woolas has never voted for it. He has only voted to repeal an obscure subsection within it which set the mode of trial for an injunction under the section – which would not affect a petition trial.

  4. Hi again Glittery Delpher!

    Thanks very much! I agree it’s shameful that no Labour person has apologised for this. I can only assume that they want this issue swept under the carpet as quickly as possible. I’m afraid I’m not sure on the costs issue, but I can try and find out.

    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

  5. David Boothroyd says:

    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.

  6. 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.

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