» Labour ¦ What You Can Get Away With

Yes, yes, yes

Go read Anton Vowl on Phil Woolas:

It was Labour’s fault in the first place, for not booting Woolas out sooner. Those leaflets were evidence enough to see him off. The claim that the party didn’t want to prejudice the court case and so waited for the verdict is simply not good enough. You either think that publishing such leaflets is appalling, in which case you take action, or you don’t; you don’t wait for someone else to tell you what to do. That kind of wobbling leaves Woolas and his chums with the defence that Labour didn’t kick him out until the court ruled, so if the ruling can be overturned, then everything will be rosy again.

It may be disappointing to see a democratically elected person be kicked out of office by the courts, but it’s more disappointing to see someone resort to dog-whistle racism and lies to try and win a tight election. Woolas knew the law (or at least he should have been aware of it) when he started his campaign, and – at the risk of using a fairly standard phrase you see everywhere at the moment – he had 13 years in government to change that law, should he have thought it was unfair. He didn’t, and neither did anyone else who is suddenly getting heated about the decision.

There is no absolute right to tell a lie, and get away with it, just because it’s politics and electioneering. It doesn’t chill political debate to call someone out for lying; it simply makes people less likely to lie in the future. We can wring your hands if we like, but I don’t find that tremendously worrying, in the cold light of day. And yes, Liberal Democrats and Tories do leaflets of their own that aren’t very pleasant. If you don’t like them, call them out. Whataboutery doesn’t work in this instance because everyone has the opportunity to complain about election communications. And there’s a world of difference between a dodgy bar chart and the kind of awfulness found in Woolas’s material.

Update: And don’t miss this either.

Solidarity and loyalty are fine and noble things. Loyalty towards someone who has disgraced your movement and your party is something quite different. It taints you, and it makes you look bad. If Labour want to carry on clinging on to Woolas, that’s fine. If they want a vote from me afterwards, they can go whistle for it.

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I’m sure there are lots of blog posts about the Labour leadership election today, so I’m not going to add to the crystal ball-gazing about just what Ed Miliband might or might not do now he’s leader of the opposition, or even about the structure of the result, but there is one curious part of Labour’s electoral system that I wanted to comment on.

There’s a huge lack of secrecy involved in the process and declaration, with some dubious implications for how the party is run. In the results section of the Labour website, there are separate pages for the three different parts of Labour’s electoral college – MPs and MEPs, members and unions & affiliates.

While I can see that there are valid reasons for the unions and affiliates section to be counted by organisation – to prevent ballot stuffing by an organisation, for instance – I’m not sure what the party’s reasons for declaring the membership results by constituency party are. It may be useful to know which areas of the country might have the most peeved Miliband (D) and celebratory Miliband (E) supporters this morning, but it seems to me that if a vengeful leader wanted to know where to find their enemies (not that I think Ed Miliband is like that), breaking down the result to that level makes it quite easy. Of course, this may be a hangover from the time when the Labour leadershp wanted to know where the Militant supporters were – and the Militant supporters liked it because it helped them know just where their entryism had been most successful, I assume.

However, that’s probably explainable by me being used to an entirely different way of structuring a party and reporting results, but I’d be interested to hear what the justification is for every MP and MEP’s individual vote being made public. It seems really odd to me – given that the Labour Party likes to see its roots in the Chartist movement – that they’re not trusted to have a secret ballot. While it is amusing to see those who didn’t want to use any preferences in their ballot, publishing their ballots like this surely causes quite significant pressure on individuals to vote in favour of political expediency rather than their conscience.

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(if any happen to be passing by this way…)

You might have heard that Phil Woolas is this week in an electoral court because of a legal challenge about his campaign in Oldham East and Saddleworth during this year’s General Election.

Regardless of the rights and wrongs of the electoral petition, look at the copies of his leaflets that are available here and here (pdf files) as part of it. Now, ask yourself this: are you happy that Phil Woolas used those leaflets as an official Labour candidate? Are you happy that he has faced no disciplinary action or disapproval from the leadership of the party because of them? And are you happy that a man who can happily put out such leaflets remains an official Labour front bench spokesman on home affairs, including immigration? And if you are fine with that, just how far does a Labour candidate have to go before you’ll disavow their actions?

(links from Anton Vowl on Twitter, and further coverage of the electoral court is available via Nick Thornsby’s blog and Twitter)

UPDATE: Interesting post here from a Labour member wanting him expelled. However, what interests me is the suggestion in the comments that Woolas is involved with David Miliband’s leadership campaign – anyone know more about this?

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Life is composed of reality configurations so constituted. To abandon her would be to say, I can’t endure reality as such. I have to have uniquely special easier conditions.

Philip K Dick, ‘Now Wait For Last Year’

It’s been a rather eventful day, but I think the situation for the Liberal Democrats still hasn’t changed. Clegg is playing a difficult hand extremely well, but for me the situation still looks as though all he can hope for is to get out with what proves to be the least worst option for him and the party. However, as you might expect in this situation, which option that will turn out to be won’t be obvious for six months or so when the commentators get to write the ‘why didn’t Clegg do X instead?’ articles.

There’s been a lot of commotion this evening over the supposed ‘progressive alliance’ that might now be a possibility. Leaving aside my habitual concerns over the use of the word ‘progressive’, even with Brown out of the way, I’m still not sure this would make for a workable and stable government. Even if one assumes that the entire Parliamentary Labour Party could be brought into line to support the promises that are being made now, any Commons vote would be entirely dependent on keeping some combination of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the DUP in agreement, which is nothing more than a recipe for Alex Salmond or Peter Robinson to hold the Government to ransom every time they watch their opinion poll ratings start to fall.

But then, neither of the Tory options – either a full-fledged coalition, or a looser confidence and supply arrangement for a minority government – would have been high on the Liberal Democrat pre-election wishlist. The first offers the chance of a chunk of the party’s support and membership walking out on the grounds that they can’t suffer a deal with the Tories, while the latter leaves the Damoclean threat of David Cameron calling an election the moment he thinks he can get an outright majority and crush us into the dust while Labour’s new leader gathers up the rest of our disaffected support. If we’re lucky we go back to the position we were in during the 70s.

In that ideal world we’re not living in, I’d love us to be able to hold up our hands, take a step back, say ‘you know what, you can sort it out between yourselves’ and let them form some grand Labservative coalition. The other day I was thinking that was possible, remembering back to what happened in Germany in 2005, then realised they have fixed term Parliaments which would encourage a solution like that when a minority Chancellor can’t just cut and run when they want to. Besides, us saying we don’t want to deal with someone is hardly an advert for the new politics we like to advocate. While perhaps not what we were envisaging this time last week, this is the sort of situation we’ve wanted to be in, and if we don’t take this opportunity now it’s here, why should anyone take us seriously in the future?

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…is to find a candidate in the General Election with a website worse than this.

Of course, it could be argued that the site reflects the candidate – many people find Phil Woolas to be particularly offensive, so his having a website that feels like a calculated and co-ordinated offensive against your eyes is pretty appropriate. It’s nothing compared to what children detained in Yarl’s Wood have gone through thanks to his Government’s policies, though it’s nice for him to try and spread the suffering around.

And want a wonderful example of New Labour’s approach to criticism? At the bottom of the page there’s a line of text that reads “Problems with the web site? Click here to contact the webmaster” – which you can’t click on.

Oh, and contrary to Woolas’ claims (a Labour Immigration Minister being inaccurate with the facts? Surely not!) voting Lib Dem in his Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency doesn’t mean you get the Tories – it means you improve the chances of Elwyn Watkins getting the 5% swing he needs to unseat Woolas.

(Thanks to The Bureau of Sabotage for the link)

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Another thought struck me this morning: what if Gordon Brown already knows when he’s resigning?

We can safely assume that if he was to resign that the General Election countdown clock would start, with the dissolution of Parliament likely happening within a week of the announcement of the new Labour leader. So, what if Brown and his aides have worked backwards from a May 2010 election and pencilled in a date based on that?

Brown can then come back after the Christmas break and announce that he’s decided that ‘for the good of the party and the country’ he has realised that it would be best that he not lead the Labour Party into the next election. He will thus resign as Labour leader, but not as Prime Minister, to enable the Party to choose who should lead them into the election while he concentrates on saving the world, or whatever his speechwriters think will sound best there. The Labour Party NEC then agrees to hold a leadership election that will declare its result sometime around March 20th, and this time the party will ensure that they have a proper contested election, even if it’s going to end in the sort of result that makes John Smith vs Bryan Gould look like it was a close-run thing.

So, while Brown can get on with governing and lobbying Obama and Merkel for an international job of some description, Alan Johnson and whoever the agreed sacrificial lamb of the Left is get to tour the country, generating headlines and – perhaps more importantly – keeping David Cameron out of them. Around the end of March, the new Labour leader is announced/coronated and then Brown hotfoots it to the Palace, with the hope that they can get to the election before anyone notices how flaky the paint is over New New Labour (now with extra shiny Johnson Man Of The People Power).

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