Friday, 5 November 2010

Ruling could pave the way for a return to honest politics

I don't imagine I'll have to explain to anybody from around these parts the significance of the verdict in the Phil Woolas case heard by two High Court judges:

Phil Woolas, Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth (and former party activist in Hounslow), beat his Liberal Democrat rival by 103 votes at the recent general election. The Lib Dem, Elwyn Watkins, claimed that Mr. Woolas had knowingly made false statements about him in his election material that may have had a decisive impact upon the result.

He took legal action against Mr. Woolas under Section 106 of the Representation of the People Act and the case was heard before a special elections tribunal, the first of its kind to sit for almost a century.

The Act makes it an offence to publish "any false statement in relation to the candidate's personal character or conduct" in order to prevent their election - unless they believed it was true and had "reasonable grounds" for their belief.

Having considered the evidence, the judges found in favour of Mr. Watkins and a re-run of the contest has been ordered.

I've not yet studied the Act to ascertain whether or not it applies to local elections as well as to general elections. Natural Justice would suggest that it should.

As we know, Labour in Hounslow not only regularly produces material about its opponents during elections that it knows to be untrue, it even openly boasts of the fact.

There are several examples from Isleworth during recent contests to which I can point. The alleged "firebomb attack" on a Labour candidate's house in 2006 followed almost instantly by a leaflet suggesting that the ICG was responsible. A leaflet circulated in 2010 claiming that I owned a holiday home in Portugal when its originators knew at the time that I was in an Individual Voluntary Agreement (IVA) with my creditors which would have made it impossible for me to so. Another leaflet circulated during the same campaign alleging that ICG candidates had held a meeting discussing plans to sell off local authority housing stock. There are countless examples of which these are just a tiny few.

That the circulation of untrue and sometimes malicious allegations about opponents is deliberate local party policy was confirmed in a debate at Borough Council when the Deputy Leader of the then Labour opposition, Councillor Ruth Cadbury, casually dismissed criticisms of dishonest campaigning with the immortal words: "You call it dishonesty, we call it politics".

Anybody who has ever spoken to these people on a personal level will confirm that when confronted about their actions they appear genuinely confused as to what all the fuss is about. They almost all give an impression of regarding dishonest campaigning and vicious personal smears against their opponents as being an integral and quite normal part of the process of political campaigning, and that the end result completely justifies the means. One must assume that such a peculiarly mercenary approach to human engagement is instilled in them by the organisation the service of which would appear to dictate their every deed and emotion.

Away from politics many of them are actually quite decent, trustworthy, friendly, sometimes helpful. I have found myself especially impressed that they always seem to stand their round. And yet when they don the rosette...

For what it is worth, I would like to state publicly that I do not believe local Labour's dishonest campaign methods cost us the seats that we lost in Isleworth and Syon back in May. The political conditions under which that election was fought did for us, and in my considered view we would have lost all six seats even had the Labour campaign been a paragon of honesty and honour. Let me be quite clear about that.

However in another place and in another time it is conceivable that a small reverse could be brought about as a result of local Labour's policy of deliberately smearing and misrepresenting its opponents in the most crude and malicious manner.

I hope the electorate punishes Labour dearly in Oldham East and Saddleworth in a determined expression of righteous anger. If there is any justice the Lib Dem victim of Labour's smears will be selected by his party and elected by the voters. As victory was probably rightfully his in May it would be nice to see the Conservatives stand down and give him a clear run, but I doubt whether they will.

It will also be interesting to see whether Labour have the nerve, not to mention the contempt for the electorate and for the integrity of politics, to field Mr. Woolas once again.

No comments: