Phil Woolas is our fall guy

by Dan Hodges

JUDGMENT day for Phil Woolas. Though not for his accusers in the liberal mob – their verdict was passed long ago. “He is guilty. Those leaflets pandered to prejudice. They have no place in the new politics”.

Save your breath. Woolas was never anything more  than a patsy. The fall guy. Ritual sacrifice to our conscience.

His campaign was “toxic” according to the Telegraph. Made him “unfit to sit on the front bench” said Liberal Conspiracy. Even Trevor Philips found himself moved to describe the leaflets as “unhelpful”.

In the eyes of the law, Woolas stood charged with misrepresentation, not inflaming racial tensions. Sharp political practice. Not racism. But that was always a detail.

Yes, we can take our positions. Swap stories from Oldham with similar tales of electoral skulduggery in marginal seats the length and breadth of the land. Debate the constitutional implications of the judiciary imposing their judgment over that of the electorate.

It would be an exercise in irrelevance. This case was not about clumsy photo shopping mixed with a few equally crude allegations. It was about the politics of immigration, religion and race. Or more accurately, about the Labour party’s shameful failure to adopt a coherent, let alone moral, stance on any of these issues.

It has become fashionable for those on both the left and the right to call for an “honest debate” about immigration. In the leadership election it became a mantra. Andy Burnham:

We were in denial. We were behind the issue all the time, and myths were allowed to develop. There’s still an ambivalence among some in Labour about discussing immigration. I’ve been accused of dog-whistle politics for doing so.

Ed Miliband:

The new generation recognises that we did not do enough to address concerns about some of the consequences of globalisation, including migration. All of us heard it. Like the man I met in my constituency who told me he had seen his mates’ wages driven down by the consequences of migration. If we don’t understand why he would feel angry—and it wasn’t about prejudice—then we are failing to serve those who we are in politics to represent.

And then nothing. We must debate. We must listen. If really pushed, we must acknowledge policy failures of the past.

But what we should actually do. What we should say. What stance we should adopt –  collectively as a party and a movement – to face these supposedly definitive challenges. Silence.

People want an “honest debate”? Fine. Let’s have one.

When Phil Woolas’ campaign took the decision to “get the white vote angry” it wasn’t an aberration. They were deploying a localised variation of a national strategy. When we, as a party, call for British jobs for British workers, or a ‘debate’ on immigration, we are speaking in code. And when the code is deciphered it says, “we think you’re racist, but we don’t care. We want you to vote for us anyway”.

When did Andy, Ed and the other leadership contenders develop their keen interest in the socio-economic implications of mass migration? Where are Andy’s pamphlets? When were Ed’s adjournment debates? Their speeches, fringes, seminars? These are senior representatives of the mother of parliaments. If they really wanted a ‘debate’ they, more than anyone,   have had ample opportunity to engage in one.

We don’t want a debate. We want votes. And frankly, my dear, we don’t give a damn where they come from.

When the battle for the leadership reached its crescendo, who did David Miliband wheel out as one of his final endorsers? Mrs Duffy. “This new government is not on the side of people like Gillian Duffy”, he said, “I am determined the Labour party will be”.

When his brother had finished his leadership speech, whose was one of the first adulatory hands he clasped? Gillian Duffy’s. Asked whether she thought he shared her views on immigration, she replied “Most probably yes, it was very good”. Ed’s office said he was hoping to grab a cup of tea with her later.

Pandering to white working class prejudice isn’t the preserve of one junior immigration minister. It’s Labour’s official line to take.

Every time the BNP makes a breakthrough, our response is the same; it’s a reaction, a cry for help. People are just protesting against the system. They’re not racist.

The hell they’re not. At the last election the BNP secured 1.9% of the vote. Two percent of the country racist? We should be so lucky.

Of course the debate about race and immigration is complex. Yes, the rise of the BNP is influenced by a range of factors. We all know the check list. Housing. Unemployment. Loss of community. Fracturing class identity.

But another of those factors is good old fashioned working class racism. The great Labour taboo.

Twitter was running hot a few weeks ago when a working class mother appeared on the Today program assaulting the government over benefit cuts. For a brief moment she was the heroine of the Twitterati. Then she launched an attack on the immigrants who come to our shores, stealing her benefits. Twitter fell into silence. Reproach came there none.

Do we defeat prejudice by running around screaming, “Racist!” at the top of our lungs. No. But nor do we tackle it by pretending it doesn’t exist, or that Nick Griffin is its sole practitioner. An essential tool in the fight against racism is to occasionally have the guts to call it when we see it.

Attacks on Polish workers. Voting BNP. These are acts of prejudice. End of story. If we sometimes have to respond to them in a politically intelligent way, so be it. But they don’t need to be rewarded with a pat on the back and a cheery cuppa.

Enoch Powell made his rivers of blood speech in 1968. Four decades later, at the height of the election campaign, Frank Field again marched to the banks of the Tiber. “Our political leaders must allow the ballot box to decide this issue before anger over the scale of immigration spreads to our streets”, he told the Telegraph. It was, he proclaimed boldly, “the issue that dare not speak its name”.

No court cases for our Frank. Not even a quiet word from the whip’s office. Frank’s just being Frank.

No. We will stick with Woolas.  Our sacrifice. Sacrifice to a new generation.

A generation that will not pander. A generation that will have honest, open debate. A generation that  will learn to speak again to the working class. Especially the white working class. A new breed, who will keep a polite distance from the Fields and the Blunketts. Whilst being pluralistic. And perhaps finding a discreet way to represent their point of view.

But all that’s for the future. Today, we have visitors. That nice Mrs Duffy is popping round for tea.

Dan Hodges is contributing editor of Labour Uncut.


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35 Responses to “Phil Woolas is our fall guy”

  1. heppi says:

    Woolas isn’t on trial for racism. He’s accused of telling lies that the lib Dem was a fraudster and tax evade who was in the pay of foreign powers and condoned death threats and terrorism. Guilty or not, those are the charges, not racism.

  2. Dan Hodges says:

    Thanks. I think the piece makes that clear.

  3. Yes, I now associate the “let’s have an honest debate” mantra that we hear repeatedly, regardless of the issue, as a sure sign that one isn’t going to happen.
    Infuriating.

  4. Phil Ruse says:

    Wow – I’m a voter from the ‘other side’ (sorry) but have to agree you’re spot on on how to defeat prejudice; a problem that exists across all parties and one that has been mishandled by all. Don’t indulge but don’t scream either. Unfortunately I’m not sure anyone has the courage to walk that tightrope as they’ll be accused of one or the other sin should they even try.

  5. Ian Willmore says:

    So what exactly are you suggesting should now happen? Should Mr Woolas be the Labour by-election candidate or not?

  6. Dan Hodges says:

    Phil,

    Thanks.

    Voters from the other side always welcome.

    Dan

  7. Dan Hodges says:

    Ian,

    Well, my reading of this may be wrong, but I think the point is mute.

    If he wins the appeal there is no by-election to fight.

    If he loses, there will be a by-election, but Woolas is ineligible to fight it.

    Dan

  8. is this the same Dan Hodges as the one who writes in the Fulham Chronicle?!

  9. Dan Hodges says:

    Chris,

    Fortunately for both of us, no.

    Dan

  10. Mick Hall says:

    “Pandering to white working class prejudice isn’t the preserve of one junior immigration minister. It’s Labour’s official line to take.”

    You cheeky sh!t, pandering to white working class prejudice my arse, New Labour spent its whole period in office pandering, nay grovelling to white middle class prejudice and after they rejected you at the ballot box 2010 you now have impertinence to blanket tag us working class folk with racism.

    It seems I need to remind a chancer like you, it was not us who went out and ripped half the world off with the British Empire and practiced the most despicable racism towards the locals.

    It was not us who institutionalised racism within organisations and institutions amongst them the British police, judiciary and civil service.

    It was not us who stood silent whist the British army and institutions like Oxford and Cambridge remain racist and class prejudiced to the core, but you nice middle class folk, especially the upper middle class who have benefited most from it.

    It is a fact in recent years the working class (of all colors and creeds) have suffered from mass immigration more than any other section of British society, nevertheless, it is amongst us most newcomers live and always have, it is within our families they marry, become friends of etc, it is us they work alongside or stand in the dole queue with. So before you insult us with the charge of blanket racism, I suggest you check out the local golf club, you arsehole.

  11. John Hird says:

    The Grotesque chaos (Part 94) of a Labour minister, A LABOUR MINISTER, running round Oldham ‘stirring up the white folk’ with racist leaflets.

  12. william says:

    A generation that will have honest open debate?This is precisely the opposite of Woolas’ actions, as found by a court of law’with plenty of evidence.Maybe judicial review will find some legal technicality to have a retrial, but do not hold your breath.Labour will have to find a new candidate, whose campaign consists of one sentence,’I apologise unreservedly for what woolas said and I will represent all my constituents,whether or not they vote for me,fairly and squarely.’That candidate would win.

  13. ”good old fashioned working class racism. The great Labour taboo.”

    Why do you characterise racism as working class, Dan? Do you think the aspiring middle classes who move out from our multi-ethic inner cities to increasingly mono-cultural suburbs and the commuterland beyond are somehow immune? The only difference between the classes is that some people are more exposed than others to the dangers of poor housing, low wages and unemployment. That is why Ed Miliband is right to say that immigration is a class issue.

    Woolas’s exi from parliament (and it seems the party) is a chance for Labour to become tough on racism and tough on the causes of racism.

  14. Cole says:

    I hope the Labour Party isn’t wasting it’s limited cash on Woolas’ legal bills.

  15. A really well-argued piece, Dan. Thank you for writing it. You hit the nail on the head for me re: pandering.

    I once asked a candidate I was working for how he deals with folks that go on and on about immigration and he told me he just nods, and says, “Yes, I understand. Mmmhmm. Yes, I see. Of course. Mmmhhmmm.” And then walks away hoping the voter feels that he’s had his concerns listened to and might lend him his vote.

    Not really an approach I can take when canvassing, but hey it worked for him.

    Similarly, as you pointed out our own rhetoric on immigration is so disingenuous. In short it argues that yes we can see that mass immigration has caused people to lose jobs and wages to fall. And yes there’s huge pressure on housing stock. And then it just ends. It seems to miss the last element – a solution. Are you going to build more houses? Create more jobs? Or just deport some brown folks?

    The lingering implicit threat of the latter – well, threat to me, but tantalising taste of what they’re really after to those holding less enlightened views – the thousands of nutters that crowd the Sun and the Mail’s comment sections to scream in block capitals – IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, GO HOME to various brown and black folks. That lingering implicit threat is what makes this issue so piquant.

    The truth is that we believe to win elections we have to tease racists with the potential of something awful/ awesome.

    Yeah. Laid out like that. I wonder sometimes why we bother.

    P.S. Phil Woolas WAS guilty of flagrantly exploiting other people’s bigotry to win an election. Just like Warsi sold out her own community to make dark and as yet completely unevidenced claims of Asian intrigue and fraud. And just like Hughes was the Straight Choice (guffaw).

  16. I agree with a lot of this article, but also with above commenters that racism should not be characterised as a working class thing. The middle classes can be prejudiced too.

  17. Dan Hodges says:

    Jon,

    Please do not misrepresent my views. Especially on an issue like this.

    I did not characterise racism as working class. I identified there is a taboo within the Labour party about addressing working class racism when it occurs. Your article and post are a classic example of it.

    Race is a class issue. Especially, though not exclusively, if your black and working class, or a migrant and working class. But hey, let’s not worry about them at the moment. It’s the white working class that count.

    Racism is racism. I’m not going to legitimise it when it comes from working class Labour supporters just to get some street cred.

    Ed Miliband tough on racism and tough on the causes on racism. When he’s posing for photos with Mrs Duffy. Your having a laugh aren’t you?

    Dan

  18. paul barker says:

    Imran, Im an oldie & you will have to take my word for it that Straight meaning not gay is a very modern usage among straights- mid 90s at the earliest. Tatchell was subjected to vicious abuse but from the breakaway- Old Labour faction led by Bob Mellish, the former MP. Their slogan- KEEP OUT THE N…… KEEP OUT THE Q… was painted on walls all over Bermondsey.

  19. ZED45 says:

    @Mick Hall – is that what he is saying, really. why don’t you read it again.

    same goes to

    @Jon Lansman – Jon you should no better. Or is it a case of accuse him of a crime he hasn’t perpetrated so you can then plug your site?

    Labour is, or at least was, built on and from the working class. He is obviously not saying only working class people are racist. if you think that what he is saying you are an idiot. I don’t think you think that is what he is saying, i think you thought that would be a clever response to a thoughtful article and really Jon says a lot more about you mate.

    this is a solid and interesting piece. working class racism is a taboo of labour because labour has been the party of the working classes. just like upper class racism, in the main, would be a tory taboo. the rich tory right has and still does harbour far right racist views.

    grow up. you shouting ‘classist’ at someone is particularly ironic today.

  20. Mick Hall says:

    @Mick Hall – is that what he is saying, really. why don’t you read it again.

    ZED45
    No your wrong, I understood perfectly that Dan is deeply prejudiced against working class people, he probably believes we are one large, unfeeling homogenous lump of prejudice and ignorance. Otherwise why single us out en block and tag us as racist, I clearly pointed out where the font of racism lays in the UK, but Dan was to cowardly or feels to superior to debate with an old worker like me.

    The overwhelming majority of working class people are not intellectual racist, unlike much of the English middle class, if there is racism it is mainly of the surface sort. I am not suggesting this is not wrong and of course it must be exposed and opposed, but it a million miles away from the deep seated racism which many middle class people exhibit. I should not have to say this, but the over whelming majority of Working class people would not give the time of day to the BNP and to suggest we are in the main racist is one insult i will not sit still for.

    I suggested Dan read a history book, for if he had he would understand historically the working classes have been the bulwark against fascism, whilst the lower and upper middle classes have often been its fodder and back bone. It is true the most economically disadvantaged section of the working class, that which the media calls the underclass, have been recruited in comparatively small numbers as fodder by fascist, but when they are challenged head on, and the true nature of Fascism is pointed out, as the May results from Barking and Dagenham show they reassess their support.

    As I have already said, the overwhelming majority of workers have always rejected the Nazis, whether in Italy in the 1920s, Germany and Spain in the 1930s, France with Le Pen and the UK with the NF in the latter 1970-80s and later the BNP.

    ZED45, I find it indicative of your own class prejudices, you mention working class racism and upper class racism and call them a taboo, but fail to mention middle class racism at all, sadly you are not alone in this, as this is the daily fare of the MSM.

    As to your last sentence, you sound a little like a Cameronite Tory who spouts about class no longer being an issue whilst carrying out a class war. Sorry for being harsh, but I get sick to death of people like Dan, who are on our side, failing to understand what makes us tick.

    To suggest WC peoples wories about immigration centrers on a hatred of ‘Brown’ people as Dan does is infantile and displays a total ignorance or people real concerns.

  21. ZED45 says:

    @mick hall – why is he ‘deeply prejudiced against working class people’ you’re having a mare here mate.

    of course any one of any ‘class’ can be a racist. and all are as bad as each other, no matter what class they – or you – see them as.

  22. Mick Hall says:

    ZED45

    OK, perhaps I have been a little hard on Dan, but why should I put up with such prejudiced shit, he singled the white working class out to the exclusion of all other classes. His implication being if we are to have a debate about immigration the LP needs first to deal white working class racism as if it is a major problem when it is not.

    It is an infantile thing to say as the whole debate about immigration has little to do with race when compared with the major class issues which are involved. NL’s dreadful record in government, marginalization of the economically disadvantaged, a lack of democratic accountability, exploitative employers, lack of council housing, jobs, globalization, free movement of people, neo-liberal economics, etc, the bloody list is endless; and as far as racism is concerned it comes way down the list. Not least because Black, White, Asian, whatever, working class people on this issue have much the same fears and concerns, whether they are justified or not is why we need such a debate.

    Your right, any one of any ‘class’ can be a racist, whether they are as bad as each other is debatable, if someone has had the best education money can buy and becomes a racist, I would feel they are much worse than a working class kid who went to a sink school and was never taught any better.

    The quote below from my blog sums up my attitude on these things.

    “A slave-owner who through cunning and violence shackles a slave in chains, and a slave who through cunning and violence breaks the chains – let not the contemptible eunuchs tell us that they are equals before a court of morality!”

    Not sure what having a mare means 😉

    Comradely regards

    Mick

  23. tobychopra says:

    except that no one made woolas run that sort of campaign. It was his choice. The vast majority of Labour candidates chose not to go down that road, even those in very tight seats. Because they knew that sort of hatemongering is just wrong. Woolas clearly had lost his moral compass completely and deserves to go.

  24. william says:

    A group of people obsessed with ‘class’are unlikely to be members of a winning party.Has the party not advanced beyond 1984?Blair recognised that this sort of dialogue was a guarantee of endless opposition.

  25. tobychopra says:

    In a way, both dan and mick are right. The leadership do pander to the gillian duffys of this world in a sycophantic way, hoping to grub up working class votes. But its not because working class people are inherently more racist than any other group.

    (Infact its completely the opposite. Working class urban communities are largely integrated, middle class ones discreetly segregated)

    No, the reason our leaders call for a debate and are then reduced to dog whistles is because they’ve had nothing economically to offer working class people in the face of globalisation as they long ago signed up for the free market free trade free movement model hook line and sinker.

    Dont get me wrong, I genuinly thouht this was the right way to go too, but i now accept it leaves too many people behind. the Challenge for the left is to find a globalisation philosophy that benefits ordinary working people worldwide, rather than pits them against each other. Miliband et al are starting to explore this idea.

    If they can figure it out the racist kneejerks will fade away.

  26. Mick Hall says:

    tobychopra

    Thanks mate, your post above sums up my thoughts perfectly, if in a little more moderate language;)

    William
    I hate to remind you but a group of people obsessed with ‘class’ currently form the government of the UK, or is it only the working class who must never mention the putrid nature of class prejudiced British society. What world do you live in mate, today more people in the UK die in the class they were born in than they did 40 years ago. But hey, don’t lets mention class. Bloody hell it stagnates and stifles this country.

    I’m off, lutta continua.

  27. Iain Gill says:

    issues that need debate include ICT visas, have a look at

    http://www.techmarketview.com/ukhotviews/archive/intercompany-transfers-exempted-from-migrant-cap

    http://www.techeye.net/business/uk-big-business-exploits-visa-loophole-to-decimate-it-jobs

    http://www.housepricecrash.co.uk/newsblog/2010/07/blog-intra-company-transfer-ict-permits-29471.php

    http://news.gcsltd.com/2010/10/tighter-controls-needed-to-halt-ict.html

    http://www.pcg.org.uk/cms/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=7306:pcg-speaks-out-on-ict-visa-abuse&catid=801:press-releases-2010&Itemid=1314

    and especially the comments from ordinary people responding to the posts

    how about

    http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/news/article.html?in_article_id=513769&in_page_id=2

    a story repeated countless times as british jobs get moved abroad, how much state subsidy was given to this company in recent years to keep jobs here?

    and so on

    it really is not racist to talk about immigration

    there really is widespread abuse of the visa and immigration system

    there really are post grad students taking 5 years to pass a one year course, failing each year on purpose, just to get a visa extension

    phil wollas was responsible for a nonsense of an immigration shambles, the current government are nearly as bad

    there does need to be change, and the political and journalistic chattering classes need to listen to the vast majority of the people

  28. Mike Power says:

    “No court cases for our Frank.”

    That would be because “our Frank” hasn’t broken the law, unless you know something the rest of us don’t, of course.

    Woolas wasn’t charged with racism. How could he have been? It’s not a crime! Nor was he charged with “sharp political practice”, again, no such crime. He was found guilty of knowingly lying about his opponent in order to gain an electoral advantage. That IS a crime. If you, or anyone else knows of any other candidate who did the same you are free to report him/her to the authorities.

    Woolas wasn’t a fall guy, he was a frontman, a mouthpiece for Labour’s increasingly desperate policies on immigration. He went too far and has paid the price. Let’s see who comes out to support him (apart from his chum Tom Watson, that is).

  29. paul stock says:

    I have lived in Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency for more than 30 years.
    The constituency is both inner city and semi rural. The publications were silly and frankly a “turn off” to anyone interested in political debate. I suspect the vast majority of voters found them boring and not of great interest. I never heard anyone say that they changed their vote locally because of anything Phil Woolas or Emlwyn Watkins put out.
    As an interested observer (including the evidence in our local civic centre) I can only conclude that either Phil Woolas dropped a major clanger or his staff dropped him in it big style (probably a mixture of both).
    I think that what matters is how this will affect publications in future elections. If it helps to stop negative campaigning then that is a good thing. If it prevents legitimate campaigning and criticism aimed at others then that is not so good.

  30. Kitty says:

    Er err Mike Power – reporting these ‘crimes’ to the authorities won’t make any sort of difference. Woolas was found guilty of illegal practices during an election by an election court: nothing to do with criminal or civil law at all. And if u want to take someone to task in this way then you can go straight to a courtroom – if you’ve got about 800,000 quid of course. But for the ordinary people, forget it. So, don’t bother the plods, & don’t get excited that this might happen to anyone else, cos unless you’ve got some serious cash under the bed, the law won’t help you either…

  31. Lorraine says:

    Dan Hodges, I really object to you accusing Gillian Duffy of being a racist. It has become fashionable amongst lazy middle class lefties to typecast her in this way.

    Anyone who has campaigned in working class communities will recognise her complaints as fairly common and anyone with the capacity to engage people in conversation will discover that usually the complaint is not a result of racism but of desperation at living in a world where their friends and family struggle to get decent jobs and houses. Such individuals can often point to examples of immigrants taking jobs and houses in their locality so it is a small jump of (perhaps imperfect) logic to associate these as cause and effect.

    When Andy Burnham and Ed Milliband call for an “honest debate”, I believe they are just opening thier eyes to this issue and need to rapidly formulate some answers.

    Tobychopra expressed it perfectly when he said: “Challenge for the left is to find a globalisation philosophy that benefits ordinary working people worldwide, rather than pits them against each other.”

    Calling Gillian Duffy a racist is pitting us against the decent people we should represent.

  32. hobney says:

    Typical bullsh*t from Labour. Calling the people racist because we don’t like Labour allowing foriegners in to the country to bolster Labours vote.

    If you don’t listen to the people, you’ll be in the wilderness with your own arrogance for company.

    I don’t think you lot will ever learn….

  33. Dan Hodges says:

    Lorraine,

    Sorry you object. I think there’s a taboo in the Labour party about addressing working class racism. I’m not sure your comments rebut that argument.

    I didn’t call Gillian Duffy racist. I said her comments expressed prejudice. Her words – “You can’t say anything about the immigrants because you’re saying you’re – but all these eastern Europeans coming in, where are they flocking from?”.

    That, to me, is an expression of prejudice against Eastern European. You may find them justified. Fine. I don’t.

    I don’t think we should shout “racist” at Mrs Duffy. But I don’t think we should be holding her up as an example of all that is virtuous in the world and inviting her round to tea.

    Dan

    p.s. Presumably you don’t regard the comment below yours as motivated by prejudice either

  34. Dilys fletcher says:

    Having read the whole thread I am amazed how the word white is bandied about?the sheer misconception that racism can only be practised by white races would seem to be oblivious to the rest of the world. Racism is endemic in the world,India,Pakistan Bangladesh,South Africa, Tibet, Rowanda et al. There is a wealth of difference between colour prejudice and racism. Perhaps in the honest debate we should include tacling bradery or the clan system. The immense pressure put on MPs that says if we don’t like what you do we will throw our 500,1000 or more votes to the other candidate. Doesn’ t happen? You are living in dream land. We are not infamous in Oldham for postal vote fraud for nothing.
    The accepted credo that all white people in Gt Britain are racist and all people of colour are totally none racist is what probably drives people of all classes to despair
    I have been racialy abused several times in the last few years and believe me the people who did it were certainly not white people of any class.

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