Phil Woolas election case: follow the online coverage

Monday sees the start of a court case against Labour MP Phil Woolas alleging false statements were made about his Liberal Democrat opponent, Elwyn Watkins, during the general election earlier this year.

The case will involve a court judging on how far it is acceptable to go in very robust election literature and involves the rarely used provision in Section 106 of the 1983 Representation of the People Act which covers false statements about candidates:

(1) A person who, or any director of any body or association corporate which—
(a) before or during an election,
(b) for the purpose of affecting the return of any candidate at the election, makes or publishes any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate’s personal character or conduct shall be guilty of an illegal practice, unless he can show that he had reasonable grounds for believing, and did believe, that statement to be true.

(2) A candidate shall not be liable nor shall his election be avoided for any illegal practice under subsection (1) above committed by his agent other than his election agent unless—
(a) it can be shown that the candidate or his election agent has authorised or consented to the committing of the illegal practice by the other agent or has paid for the circulation of the false statement constituting the illegal practice; or
(b) an election court find and report that the election of the candidate was procured or materially assisted in consequence of the making or publishing of such false statements.

A defeat for Phil Woolas would see him disqualified from being an MP and a by-election in an extremely marginal Labour-Liberal Democrat contest.

Blogger Nick Thornsby has been given media accreditation for the case and will be covering it online as he explains here.

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This entry was posted in Election law.


  • Of course woolas is not being accused of racism in his leaflets – that can be judged by anyone who looks up his leaflets on the straight choice.
    Rather the things he said about watkins, and does not deny saying, are under the spotlight for being outrageous lies.
    And no, Mr. Woolas, holding you accountable for baselessly accusing an opponent of supporting terrorism and death threats, or of taking bugs from foreign powers and covering up their origins – does not attack your human bloody rights.

  • Hmm. Obviously bugs and not bugs. Although I have a pleasing mental image of woolas trying to PhotoShop watkin taking a brown envelope stuffed with ladybirds from a sheik

  • Bungs. Bungs. Bungs. Damn auto correct.

  • Helen, you’ll be starting ladybird related rumours…

    What gets me most are the emails about “getting the white Sun vote angry” as quoted in the Telegraph. Maybe it should be his campaign manager and not Woolas who is on trial?

  • Ladybird Traffiker 13th Sep '10 - 10:51am

    I understand that, for the purpose of this trial, Woolas and agent Joe Fitzpatrick are a single legal entity.

    BTW: Do you know how ComradeJoe got his nickname “Honest” Joe?

    It predates me, and I’d be grateful if someone could dig out the Oldham Chron story from 15 years ago.

    When he was a councillor he was on a housing board. There was a long a convoluted back and for about who on an estate would get voting rights. The upshot is that Honest Joe shafted a bunch of private tennants and quite happily admitted that to the housing committee. The Oldham Chronicle ran with a cracking frontpage headline along the lines of “So what? I lied”.

  • @Chris Squire

    Rights to appeal are servely restricted. It has to be on a point of law, and be lodged within 30 days. I can’t imagine this will go to appeal.

    Remember Miranda Grell? (If not, Google it) Labour were happy to back her and pay for her legal representation until she was found guilty. Then they dumped her. She promised to appeal but never did.

    Also, Woolas has been weeping in the Independent about how hard up he is. (As an aside, I wonder if the Woolas Diaries are going to make an appearance in the court case. That would be glorious)

  • Chris Squire – I agree, surely this is as much about his agent as it is about Woolas

  • I’ll try to be on my best behaviour, Mark. Though goodness knows, some times it’s more difficult than others…

    I’m not sure whether this site allows links, but the opening comments from Team Woolas are available on the Manchester Evening News site.

  • I mean, team Watkins of course. Golly, this is just so exciting I’m getting all a-tizz

  • One wonders, if Mr Woolas is disqualified, whether the Tories will run a candidate against the Lib Dems in the subsequent by-election….

  • Alex Macfie 13th Sep '10 - 7:00pm

    @Felix: I certainly hope they do. The Lib Dems would be much less likely to win any by-election in a Lib-Lab marginal if they appear to be a sub-brand of the Tories. I remember an opinion poll for the 1993 Newbury by-election (LD gain from Con, maj Tories >22,000) suggesting that the Lib Dems would have only just won the by-election if Labour had stood aside.

  • And I would be most surprised if the Tories did stand aside were there to be a by-election. They won 26.4% at the general election, up by 8.7 percentage points over the previous notional result. ( Do you really believe the OE&S Tories would consider standing aside for the Lib Dems in a seat that they would undoubtedly regard as winnable? Also it includes part of the old Little & Sad seat, which was Tory until the 1995 by-election.

    So they will certainly run a candidate and I as a Lib Dem hope that they do, as it will differentiate the two parties.

  • @alex Good point, sadly I keep forgetting these days, thanks to our leadership, that we are still separate parties…. 🙁

  • What I’m interested in is IF the election is ordered to be re-run, will the Tories put up a candidate. This is an interesting situation for if they don’t then it will be a guaranteed Lib Dem gain. But at the last election, they were only 3,000 votes behind Woolas, so in theory they could win this contest. But if they put up a candidate, it is highly likely Labour would retain the seat, for with the cuts, many Lib Dems will go back to Labour, and possibly some BNP voters as well.

    The intriguing bit for me is what will happen should Woolas lose the case, not whether he does or not.

  • Whatever the oucome this will remain a Labour seat. Labour have caught up with the Tories in the opinion polls and the Lib Dem share is expected even by people in your own party to fall to 5%! By the time a bi-election is called where will it be? All the votes cast by us many who thought you were an alternative to Tory and Labour have gone forever. The Labour and Tory parties must be hugging themselves in glee at this self inflicted downfall. What a tragedy for us all.

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