The week Uncut

Ed Miliband appears to be faced with his “first big defining moment” every week. At every turn he faces hyperbole. PMQs will define. The CSR response will challenge. Can he slay them on tuition fees? Will he fall in to a trap on child benefit? What will he do with Woolas?

Some of the answers to fleet streets leadership milestones are still to be found. The answer to the question of Woolas was more forthcoming. With the verdict still reverberating around Westminster the party turned, and shot him.

Phil Woolas is no longer an MP. He is no longer a shadow minister. He no longer represents the Labour party. The party has pulled their support for legal costs, brushed their hands, and walked away. Good riddance we hear you cry.

The court ruled that campaign literature, in which Woolas accused his Lib Dem opponent of cosying up to Islamic militants, contravened a statute prohibiting “false statements” against a rival’s “character or conduct”. Put simply, his campaign lied. But this wasn’t just the standard fare of dragging up past jobs in lobbying, or claiming homes were outside the constituency boundary. It went beyond the “usual rough and tumble.” “It crossed the line.”

Harriet showed her killer instinct. She dropped him like a stone; there was no room for manoeuvre. When asked about an appeal Harman said:

Whatever happens in an appeal – what might happen in an appeal, if he does appeal, it could be that they could say on the basis of the facts that the election court found it was not warranted for them to strike down the election result and disqualify him, so he might win on a legal basis. But it won’t change the facts that were found by the election court, which was that he said things that were untrue knowing it, and that is what we are taking action on – because it is not part of Labour’s politics for somebody to be telling lies to get themselves elected.

Ed has made his position equally as clear on Channel 4 News:

The court’s made a very clear judgement in this case. A clear finding of fact about what happened and what Phil Woolas did and that he knowingly made false allegations about his opponent and therefore I think we’ve taken the right decision. The right decision is to suspend him from the party and to say we’re not going to fund his further legal action. I think reasonable people will think we’ve done the right thing.

There is obviously rough and tumble in politics, but sometimes you go beyond rough and tumble. I think this is a salutary reminder to all politicians across the political spectrum about the importance of a clean fight. It’s certainly a reminder that I think all of us will take to heart.

But there is no such thing as a clean fight. Politics is a contact sport. Negative campaigning will always take place, because it works. But there has to be a line. Across the country if you listen very closely, you might be able to hear the low hum of shredders whirring. Better to be safe than sorry, how many have gone “beyond rough and tumble.” Simon Hughes and Sayeeda Warsi should pause from chucking rocks for a moment and remember that they have very big conservatories.

But what happens if Woolas wins the appeal? Legally he remains the MP for Oldham. There is no by-election. And he returns to work, until the good people of Oldham get the chance to vote again. Ed and Harriet have drawn the line; win or lose he is not welcome.

If he does appeal, and he wins, you know what – it might just be Ed Miliband’s first big defining moment.

In case you missed them, here are Uncut’s best-read pieces of the last seven days:

Michael Dugher says the loony libertarians in the government are not confined to the Lib Dems

The Tories swaggering arrogance is storing up trouble

Tom Watson goes to the movies and finds a new leading man

Andy Bagnall says the Tories defence review was a disaster

Dan Hodges says Phil Woolas is our fall guy

Jessica Asato says it’s time for debate and dialogue

Kevin Meagher says the battle for the regions has just begun

Peter Watt thinks Labour are wrong on housing benefit

One Response to “The week Uncut”

  1. Mike Homfray says:

    The decision to support the outcome of the electoral court, is, I think, the right one. I cringed when I saw Woolas’s leaflets, which really were worthy of the BNP. But it was right to back him and give him the chance to defend himself, given that we didn’t pick up what was going on earlier. Now we know – I for one hope that we never have anything like this again within the Labour party. There is no excuse for it, and yes, it has to be good riddance.

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