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.”
“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.