Phil Woolas: One last chance to save career

Phil Woolas is unlikely to get his Saddleworth and Oldham East seat back
Phil Woolas is unlikely to get his Saddleworth and Oldham East seat back

By Ian Dunt

Phil Woolas faces his last chance to save his political career early next week, as he launches an application for judicial review.

The former immigration minister managed to drum up £30,000 in 24 hours for his legal fighting fund, after friends and fellow Labour MPs got behind him.

Most legal experts believe Mr Woolas' legal avenues are severely restricted but the High Court surprised many observers yesterday when it agreed to hear the application for judicial review.

That process will begin on Tuesday. The review is likely to be thrown out - a move which would effectively end his career. There is a slim chance it would allow the judicial review to proceed, which would require another cash injection from Mr Woolas.

But the row threatens to highlight severe divisions in Labour. Ed Miliband and deputy leader Harriet Harman were quick to distance themselves from Mr Woolas following the court case which found he had knowingly lied about his opponent during the general election race for Oldham East and Saddleworth.

Many Labour MPs responded by attacking Ms Harman for her statements at the start of the week and their decision to start a fighting fund for the former MP shows that Mr Woolas remains popular among the parliamentary party.

"Labour's leaders had spoken but since then many Labour MPs have come out in support of Phil Woolas both on and off the record," deputy Liberal Democrat leader Simon Hughes said.

"The judgement of the court was clear: Phil Woolas made statements which were not about Liberal Democrat politics but personal attacks on our candidate's character and conduct which he had no reasonable grounds for believing were true and did not believe were true.

"Residents in Oldham East and Saddleworth and across the country will not understand why the Labour party won't say clearly, with one voice, that there is no place in British politics for this kind of behaviour."

Writing in the Guardian this morning, left wing Labour front bencher Diane Abbott said: "The loyalty of Phil Woolas friends does them credit. But they need to try and see this how the public does.

"The Labour party should never get involved in the politics of racial division. And although lying about your opponents (both inside and outside the party) may be commonplace. it is a way of doing politics that the public loathes and the party should be moving away from."

Deputy Conservative chairman Michael Fallon said: "The Labour party's defence of an MP who has brought disgrace to politics is extraordinary. It shows how out of touch they are that their party meetings are dominated by internal squabbling, not sorting out the mess they created."

There was considerable criticism of John Bercow's statement this week putting off a by-election until Mr Woolas' legal avenues had been exhausted, with some newspapers even suggesting he was being influenced by his wife, Labour supporting Sally Bercow.

Commons authorities have been keen to point out that the decision was not Mr Bercow's to take.


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