Hung out to dry by Labour: I know how Woolas feels

by Peter Watt

I have a very personal experience of what it is like to be brutally cast asunder by the Labour party. The circumstances were different than those which have led to the position Phil Woolas finds himself in – but I suspect that the personal impact was similar.

I was general secretary of the party when, in November 2007, the Abrahams 3rd party donation scandal erupted. It happened on my watch. I took responsibility and in a blaze of negative publicity I resigned.

I knew that once I’d resigned an important part of the “handling strategy” of the donation story would be to rough me up a bit. I wasn’t naive. I accepted it as part of the rough nature of politics. The more I was damaged in the short term, the less the party was going to be damaged in the long-term. That had to be the right thing for the “greater good”.

What I was not prepared for was the massive toll this took on me, my family and friends.  I expected that the party would support me personally, behind the scenes. That they would caveat their attacks. Issue some statements of personal support that recognised my contribution to the party over many years. With a few notable exceptions, what I got was a character assassination. It went beyond being “roughed-up” to being a full blown assault. The personal impact was devastating.

In the space of seven hours on November 26 2007 I went from being part of a safe and familiar tribe to being a pariah. I was offered no support from the party from the moment I walked out of Victoria Street.

It felt like I had no friends and I was incredibly lonely. I was also scared and I think, with hindsight, depressed. I certainly wasn’t sleeping, couldn’t watch or listen to the news without feeling sick and was hardly eating. The party that had been my life, that I’d believed in – that had nearly cost me my marriage – had become my enemy. I scoured internet coverage desperate for a sign that the party was quietly briefing something a bit more positive about me. But it wasn’t there.

My poor family. We had to stay with a succession of family members over a period of weeks living out of suitcases as our home was being staked out by journalists. One of my children was bullied at school because of me; another kept reading the papers and crying at what was being said about their Dad. My wife, Vilma, had to try and keep it all together. As weeks became months and then years, life slowly settled down.

So what? Wel,l there will always be people who, for whatever reason, suddenly “become the story” in politics. Sometimes that will be their fault, sometimes not. Sometimes they may actually have erred and sometimes not. But the party, and I mean that in the broadest sense, has two options. It can respond to the situation with either cold, hard political thuggery, or it can do what it has to do politically but with a degree of humanity. To have no sense of duty of care, no sense of our basic values and no regard for the personal impact of whatever events are in play is cruel.

In the last few days we have seen a complete lack of humanity in our approach to Phil Woolas, the treatment of whom has been nothing short of disgraceful. And before anyone says it – yes I know that he was found guilty of a breach of the representation of the peoples act. The leaflets and stories that formed the heart of the case were controversial to say the least. I would not even attempt to question the outcome. It is for Phil to explain his case.

No, the reason that I say that he was treated disgracefully is very different.  He has been a party member for 35 years, an activist since his days in NUS, an active trade unionist, an MP in a three way marginal seat since 1997 and a man who, until 11.00am on Friday was seen as a loyal member of Ed Miliband’s shadow ministerial team. He was abandoned by the party to which he had given much of his life in a callous act of political brutality that had absolutely nothing to do with our values.

Phil may not have been everyone’s cup of tea politically.  He was definitely found guilty of breaching electoral law by telling untruths about one of his opponents. But does that overwrite his history and contribution to the party of so many years? Of course the party had to react and be seen to act in a tough way. But did it have to put the boot in? Did anyone stop and think before beginning a political character assassination of what the impact on Phil or his family would be?

He would have expected that the party would have to put some necessary distance – but abandonment?  That is just cruel.

Personally I wish him and his family well, life must be tough at the moment.

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60 Responses to “Hung out to dry by Labour: I know how Woolas feels”

  1. Rob says:

    oh ffs!

    self-pitying tosh! Aitken committed perjury. Went to jail and political career ended. Archer committed perjury, went to jail and political career ended.

    You were General Secretaty of the Labour Party – an organisation with multi-million pound turnover and you didn’t know (or turned a blind eye to) how donations were being handled to hide the true source from the Electoral Commission.

    Woolas lied in order to win an election.

    Both of you got everything you deserved. Get some balls and get over it

  2. Jacobi says:

    I have no sympathy for Woolas. He was doing what the Labour Party do best – scare-mongering the public and smearing anyone who stands in their way. Did Woolas stop to think about the damage he was doing to the reputation of a decent man? Woolas knowingly and wilfully lied in order to gain his objective, and Peter Watt reckons he is worthy of our pity. What kind of mental planet do these Labourites inhabit?

    The mystery is; why did Miliband appoint Woolas to his cabinet while this scandal was hanging over him? Did Labour think that by making Woolas a cabinet minister they would make it harder for the Election Court to find against him?

    The Labour Party have no sense of decency or humanity. Their latest smear campaign against a member of the public for having the temerity to submit a Freedom of Information request about a Labour politician’s illegal donations goes beyond the pale. To turn the full force of the Labour Party and their media contacts against a member of the public shows just how low this party will stoop. Google “Labour and the ‘smear gone wrong'” for the full story.

  3. Mr Keith Majors says:

    What sort of low life claims, (with a straight face) that telling the truth is a threat to democracy? Is that not a tacit admission that they cannot win without lying?

    What sort of low life thinks that it is an acceptable political tactic to stir up racial hatred and use that for political advantage (Apart from BNP members)?

    What sort of idiot who engages in both of the above could expect that a like minded party of low-life, lying, bigots would do anything other than dump him like a ‘sack o shit’ when found guilty of the above?

    Now apparently some of the other low-life labour MPs are lining up to tear the party apart in defence of Woolas…

    Excuse me whilst I fetch the beer and popcorn and settle in for some entertainment!

  4. Romanes ite domum says:

    The Romans would have put Woolas into a sack together with a pig and a dog and dropped him in the river.

    Stop whining FFS.

    Woolas’ lies could have caused bloodshed.

  5. eric joyce says:

    It’s heartwarming to know so many paragons of virtue read Labour Uncut. Be interesting, sort of, to see what they have to say if Phil Woolas wins his appeal.

  6. Jim says:

    “A man who, until 11.00am on Friday was seen as a loyal member of Ed Miliband’s shadow ministerial team”

    Yes, and it was one of the most thoughtless things about this sorry affair. He was facing a court case directly related to his position as an MP (and therefore as a Labour immigration spokesman) – the fact it made it to court suggested it wasn’t definitely a spurious claim, so why was he allowed to continue in this position? It’s standard practice for people in official positions to stand down pending an investigation, but Ed decided to just keep him on.

    I don’t know enough about the OP’s situation to comment on that, but I completely fail to see why Phil Woolas should expect any support from Labour after lying and bringing the party into considerable disrepute, no matter his previous service.

  7. Deborah Harvey says:

    Eric Joyce said ‘Be interesting, sort of, to see what they have to say if Phil Woolas wins his appeal’
    You still don’t get it do you? Woolas has admitted that he sanctioned the claims in the leaflets. If he wins his appeal, it will be on a point of law NOT on the facts that were put before the court.
    And as for the public humilation- a close friend of mine was detained and two days away from deportation to a country where his life was in danger. After SIX court hearing and numerous correspondence with the Home Office, who either denied his claim or misrepresented the facts- he was finally granted both ILR and refugee status. The entire battle took eight years of his life and brought him close to suicide. And the judge was distinctly umimpressed wirh the attitude of the Home Office. And at the same time Woolas as Immigration Minister was bleating abiout the legal reps of asylum seekers spinning out the court process!

  8. S. Hark says:

    Just love it. Those LABOR(we don’t give a damn about U) MPs sit and make laws and when one of them is caught breaking a law they all come rushing to the trough to defend him/her, “Who gives a damn about the facts – hey we made the laws for you, not us!”

  9. Skiamakhos says:

    I’m not so sure Mr Woolas has been “hung out to dry”. There’s a collection going on for his defence fund, to help his appeal, which has been organised by his fellow Labour MPs. I think it may be misplaced loyalty, because the case against him seems pretty cut & dried, and I can see why Ms Harman wished to distance herself & the party from him. If as is likely his appeal fails, she will be vindicated. It’s a pity to see a fellow party member in trouble, but if as Deborah says he’s admitted to having sanctioned the leaflets’ claims, well, he’s dug his own hole.


    At the time of distribution of the flyer carrying the above assertion:

    1/ The Westminster term was flexible – not 5 Years.

    2/ Even if Labour won (against ill feeling in labour ranks) Brown’s chances of a full tenure were minimal.

    3/ Any LibDems returned, had an identical effect on Brown’s chances to Conservatives returned.

    4/ Even if Conservatives use of ‘here’ means ‘in UK’, points 1 and 2 still stand.

    5/ Taking ‘here’ to mean a given constituency, the claim depends on too many uncontrollable variables, across the rest of the country, to stand.

    6/ Had a poor Conservative result led to LibDem coalition with Labour, departure of Brown was known to be the ‘price’.

    7/ Had LibDems won outright, Brown was not in the frame.

    8/ With the above claim proved a lie – a lie intended to influence voting behaviour – section 115 of The Representation of the People Act is invoked, and the election may prove void.

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