Monday 22 January 2018

MP's election overturned over false poll claims

Thomas Penny in London

A FORMER minister in Gordon Brown's British Labour government had his election to parliament declared void yesterday after two High Court judges ruled he knowingly published untrue statements about his Liberal Democrat opponent.

Phil Woolas, who represents Oldham East and Saddleworth, was found guilty of falsely claiming that Elwyn Watkins had links to Muslim extremists and lived outside the area.

Mr Woolas was guilty of "an illegal practice" by making statements "he had no reasonable grounds for believing were true and did not believe were true," according to the judgment which was published yesterday.

It is the first time in 99 years that an election has been overturned as a result of a candidate making false statements.

Mr Woolas, who said he is applying for a review of the decision, was suspended from the Labour Party last night.

"It is not part of Labour's politics to try to win elections by telling lies," deputy leader Harriet Harman said. "We believe in good community relations -- in fact that is central to our politics," she added.

Mr Woolas, who was appointed as a home office spokesman by new Labour leader Ed Miliband last month, was also ejected by parliament as a result of the ruling.

The judges ordered that the election should be re-run.

Mr Woolas has always been a blunt politician who has never been afraid to court controversy on issues relating to immigration and race.

His appointment to the sensitive position of immigration minister in 2008 was widely seen as a signal to Labour's core voters in the white working class that the party was taking seriously their concerns over the scale of change in their communities.

Yesterday's ruling amounts to a judgment that he went too far as he struggled to hang onto his seat in one of the most fiercely-fought contests of the May general election.

Irish Independent

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