Tag Archives: phil woolas

Meet the Lib Dem bloggers: Nick Thornsby

Welcome to the latest in our series giving the human face behind some of the blogs you can find on the Liberal Democrat Blogs aggregator.

Today it is Nick Thornsby who blogs at http://nickthornsby.wordpress.com.

1. What’s your formative political memory?
The 2005 election was the one I was probably first properly aware of as a 15/16 year-old. I remember reading the Liberal Democrat manifesto and seeing posters up in my area (mainly Labour, though I’m pleased to say that’s no longer true, and orange diamonds are now far more pervasive during election campaigns).

2. When did you start blogging?
September 2009.

3. Why did you start blogging?
I’d been reading various blogs for a while, and had previously thought about starting my own, but the catalyst was probably chatting to a number of bloggers at Lib Dem Voice’s BOTY awards at the 2009 conference.

4. What five words would you use to describe your blog?
Straightforward, rational and occasionally random.

5. What five words would you use to describe your political views?
In every possible way: liberal.

6. Which post have you most liked writing in the last year (and why)?
Attending and blogging about the court case which ultimately led to Phil Woolas being kicked out of Parliament was obviously quite an experience, and I also particularly liked writing this post on a rather daft claim by Ed Balls, which was very short and simple but which, I think, demonstrates the value of blogging as a medium.

7. Which post have you most liked reading in the last year (and why)?
I hope the rules can be bent, as this was just over a year ago, but I found this post by Stephen here on Lib Dem Voice on why Clegg should rule out a coalition (!) extremely compelling. It was faultless in its logic, and I agreed with Stephen at the time, but its arguments were based on a number of assumptions which we all made but which ultimately proved to be false (particularly that the Conservatives would never give enough ground, including on electoral reform, to ever make a coalition even remotely possible). Speculating on what might have been had the Lib Dem leadership followed Stephen’s advice is an interesting game, and I can’t help coming to the conclusion that we would now be in a (perhaps significantly) worse position than that which we are currently in.

8. What’s your favourite YouTube clip?
My Twitter followers won’t be surprised that I’ve picked this clip from the magnificent West Wing, the script-writing and acting in which demonstrate just why the show is so brilliant.

Posted in Online politics | Also tagged , , , , , and | 1 Comment

Mike Hancock wins courts case over paedophile allegation

The BBC reports:

A rival who falsely claimed a Liberal Democrat MP was a paedophile has been convicted of attempting to affect a result in the general election.

Les Cummings, 66, made the false statement about Portsmouth South MP Mike Hancock.

Mr Hancock had strenuously denied the allegations made in an election leaflet pamphlet.

Cummings, who stood for the Justice and Anti-Corruption Party, was fined £500 at Southampton Magistrates’ Court.

He had falsely written on the flyer: “Mike Hancock is a paedophile.”

It then showed a picture of Mr Hancock with children and the words: “Would you let him get this close to your children?”

This …

Posted in Election law and News | Also tagged , , and | 7 Comments

The final Phil Woolas judgement: its legal implications

Although the BBC got rather excitable in its coverage of Friday’s legal defeat for ex-Labour MP Phil Woolas, talking about how the ruling was set to have a major impact on how elections are run in the UK, the reality is rather more prosaic. The law which Woolas broke isn’t new and nor has the case thrown up significant precedent or previously overlooked aspects to it.

There probably will be some candidates and agents whose eyes have previously skipped over the part of the guidance from their local returning officer, the Electoral Commission or their political party which makes reference to this law and who next time round will pay a little more attention to what the guidance says. But there will not be any rapid major rewriting of any of those sources of information – as warnings about this part of the law have regularly featured in all of them.

That said, there are some legal points which the Woolas case has addressed and on which the High Court’s ruling gives clarity.

The most important is on whether or not the High Court can judicially review a determination made on a point of law by an election court for a Parliamentary election. Points of fact are settled by the election court, but in other cases where the facts are settled in one court, points of law can still be challenged in another court.

The High Court decided that it does have the power to do this, even though – as the ruling points out – there is already a process to refer points of law from the election court to the High Court (see paragraphs 59-62 of the ruling). This extension of the ability to query points of law with a body other than the election court itself is a welcome one as it provides a strengthened safeguard against the law being wrongly applied.

The other point on which this case may well be cited in future is its refinement of the law’s wording on what is banned. As the ruling says, “There is in our judgement a very significant difference between a statement that goes to the political conduct of a candidate and one that goes beyond it and says something personal about his personal character … Freedom of political debate must allow for the fact that statements are made which attack the political character of a candidate”.

If anything, the ruling widens the grounds for defence under this law rather than narrowing them.

Phil Woolas Judgement

Posted in Election law | 4 Comments

Now is the time to help in Oldham East and Saddleworth

As you may have heard on the news, High Court judges have dismissed the appeal by former Labour MP, Phil Woolas, against his conviction for illegal practices in the General Election.

There will now be a by-election in Oldham East and Saddleworth with a likely polling day of January 13th.

Last May, Elwyn Watkins lost by just 103 votes because of the lies told by Phil Woolas that have been condemned by the Court.  A couple of days ago I canvassed one couple who told me: “We we’re going to vote Liberal Democrat, but when we read what Labour were saying about your …

Posted in Parliamentary by-elections | Also tagged , and | 9 Comments

BREAKING: Phil Woolas loses bid to overturn election court ban

The BBC reports:

Phil Woolas has lost his bid to overturn an election court’s ruling that stripped him of his Commons seat and barred him from politics.

He narrowly won his Oldham East and Saddleworth seat in May but the result was declared void by an election court over his conduct in the campaign.

He argued that the election court’s interpretation of the law was flawed.

But three High Court judges upheld the election court’s decision. If he does not appeal there will be a by-election.

Lord Justice Thomas, Mr Justice Tugendhat and Mrs Justice Nicola Davies said that, although Mr Woolas was entitled

Posted in News | Also tagged and | 25 Comments

Help early in Oldham East and Saddleworth, regardless of when it’s called

Unexpected by-election HQ poster!
There’s been a lot of speculation about the possible date of the Oldham East and Saddleworth election rerun. Three High Court judges are considering Phil Woolas’ request for a judicial review of the ruling that voided the election result in the constituency.

Today there have been reports that there may not be a court judgement this week, which would delay an election until after Christmas.

Lib Dem Voice understands that the situation isn’t quite so clear cut and there is still the …

Posted in Parliamentary by-elections | Also tagged and | 14 Comments

Tim Farron asks Labour where they stand on Phil Woolas

From a party news release:

Liberal Democrat Party President-Elect Tim Farron has written to the General Secretary of the Labour Party, Ray Collins, asking him to clarify the Labour Party’s position on Phil Woolas following criticism of Harriet Harman’s decision to suspend him by a number of backbench MPs.

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear General Secretary,

Firstly may I offer you my heartfelt congratulations on the news of your elevation to the House of Lords.

However, I am writing to you to raise the matter of the judgement of the Election Court in Oldham East and Saddleworth on November 5th and

Posted in News | Also tagged , , and | 6 Comments

Memo from Phil Woolas to Labour MPs


From: Phil Woolas
To: Labour Party MPs

Dear colleague,

Thanks for speaking up about how outrageous it is for the courts to oust someone elected by the public with a surprise ruling that sets an awful legal precedent for what was a spur of the moment decision people made during the election.

As the media are building up a welcome interest in the number of MPs who share your views and mine, I have prepared the following brief notes to help you avoid any snarky questions from journalists on this topic.

DON’T say it’s awful for someone the public elected to be ousted from office …

Posted in Humour | 11 Comments

Michael Meacher faces legal action for repeating Phil Woolas’s claims

Labour MP Michael Meacher is facing the threat of legal action after he took to his blog at the weekend to repeat some of the allegations made by now disgraced Labour MP Phil Woolas despite the court ruling that they were false.

Michael Meacher represents the neighbouring seat of Oldham West and Royton and claimed on his blog on Saturday that, “In the course of the one-week election court proceedings it appears that Watkins himself admitted that he had spent some £200,000 on the election, which is 7 times above the maximum permitted limit.”

Yet the court judgement (which appeared before Michael …

Posted in Election law and News | Also tagged | 19 Comments

The Phil Woolas judgement: Arthur Balfour was right

The election offence for which Phil Woolas’s election was overturned is, deliberately and rightly, drawn narrowly and precisely (a point Nich Starling made very robustly on his blog and which Iain has also made on Lib Dem Voice).

The law gives very broad scope to contentious and aggressive claims, partly because – as Arthur Balfour succinctly put it when pushed to expand the law in 1905, “It is evidently not easy to go further, if only because of the difficulty of distinguishing between the mis-statements which are due to malice and those which are due to mere stupidity.”

The offence was introduced in 1895 with, until then, the only offence under election law regarding false statements about candidates being if you falsely claimed that someone had pulled out as a candidate.

It is worth considering what, however, would be the position if even this narrow legal offence did not exist. Imagine case, say, of a candidate campaigning to oust a Labour MP and making false claims about the Labour MP being a supporter of terrorism. The Labour MP loses, sues for libel and wins. During the court case it is revealed that the victorious candidate always knew the claims being made about the now ex-MP were false but even so deliberately decided to include them in leaflets distributed during the election.

Without the sort of offence for which Phil Woolas was found guilty the victorious candidate might have to pay up in libel damages but could continue as an MP. (Eagle-eyed readers will have noted by this point that there are some important difference between the Representation of the People Act 1983 and libel law, but they don’t affect this example.) They would be able to continue speaking and voting in Parliament, drawing a Parliamentary salary, accruing a Parliamentary pension and so on for the next few years. Would that be a satisfactory outcome?

Your answer to that determines whether or not the principle of provisions like those in the Representation of the People Act 1983 is right. I think it is – we should give very broad scope to the public getting to determine who wins and loses in elections, but that is not the same as saying that anything goes.

Those who argue otherwise are wrong and, in fairness to Labour, it should be pointed out that the vast majority of the online coverage from Labour bloggers has been to condemn what Phil Woolas did. I also had the experience of listening to Harriet Harman on the radio at the weekend and agreeing with her. She is right that what we know Phil Woolas did has no place in politics even if he manages a successful legal appeal. What puzzles me, however, is that very little new came out during the case. There have been some interesting details – such as the forged diary, the evidence of the Labour Party agent being called “not reliable” by the judges and the complaint about a cat. At heart, however, what we now know Phil Woolas did is what we always knew he did, which makes Ed Miliband’s decision to appoint him not merely a Shadow Minister but one for immigration, all the odder. Hopefully, however, that will soon become no more than a curious political footnote.

As for political campaigning more generally, I don’t think the ruling will have a major impact – nor should it, because the law should only be for exceptional cases. Leafing through the advice I’ve co-authored for candidates on what you should or should not say in political literature (which was quoted in the court case and described by Phil Woolas as “naive”!), there does not look to be anything that needs changing based on this case. In that, there’s nothing new – for when the original provision was brought in by the 1895 act, the Liberal Party’s then election manual, Woodings, was updated to mention this new offence. It rightly noted it but did not make a song and dance about it for it was rightly considered then, as has been the case, to be a provision that only covers unusual and extreme cases. As the Judge put it in the 1911 case which hinged on this offence:

The primary protection of this statute was the protection of the constituency against acts which would be fatal to freedom of election. There would be no true freedom of election, no real expression of the opinion of the constituency, if votes were given in consequence of the dissemination of a false statement as to the personal character of conduct of a candidate.

The law has been in place for 115 years. That Phil Woolas is one of only a very small number to fall foul of it shows not that the law is too broad but that his behaviour was so awful.

Credit, by the way, to the judges for their understanding of how easy it is to find coverage of election candidates online – para 123 of the ruling shows a familiarity with the internet that counters some of the stereotypes about an out of touch judiciary.

Phil Woolas election – full legal judgement

Posted in Op-eds | Also tagged , , and | 7 Comments

Allowing Woolas’ behaviour is not “vital to our democracy”

Phil Woolas has vowed to fight on to keep his parliamentary seat of Oldham East and Saddleworth, following the ruling on Friday that voids his General Election victory and bans him from standing as an MP for three years.

He no right of appeal against the judges’ decision, but wants to take it to judicial review, though on what grounds isn’t clear.

Mr Woolas would like us to think that the judgement is not only wrong but fundamentally damaging to political discourse – that it will allow politicians to get away with all sorts whilst their opponents cower, unwilling to risk …

Posted in Election law and Op-eds | Also tagged | 20 Comments

Phil Woolas loses court case over his election

The Guardian (and many others) reports:

Labour’s shadow immigration minister, Phil Woolas, was ejected from parliament today after a court ruled he had breached election laws by falsely claiming his Liberal Democrat opponent had “wooed” extremist Muslims in the run-up to the 6 May poll.

For the first time in 99 years a specially convened election court has overturned the result of a parliamentary poll and ordered a rerun after two high court judges ruled the result of the Oldham East poll void. They upheld the claim by Elwyn Watkins that Woolas knowingly made false statements.

UPDATE 14:20 – Elwyn Watkins has …

Posted in Election law and News | Also tagged | 133 Comments

Ed Miliband’s home affairs appointments: can we really take him seriously on civil liberties?

One of the more cheering bits of Ed Miliband’s speech to the Labour party conference was his pledge that the party under his leadership would once again take seriously the issue of civil liberties, of individual rights

My generation recognises too that government can itself become a vested interest when it comes to civil liberties. I believe in a society where individual freedom and liberty matter and should never be given away lightly. … we must always remember that British liberties were hard fought and hard won over hundreds of years. We should always take the greatest care in protecting them.

Posted in News and Op-eds | Also tagged , and | 14 Comments

Woolas trial: court delays verdict

Lib Dem Voice can reveal that the rare Election Petition Court which was held in Uppermill for the constituency of Oldham East and Saddleworth earlier in September will be delayed in giving its verdict.

Mr Justice Nigel Teale, one of the two High Court judges hearing the case, originally indicated that they would give their verdict sometime in mid-October.

Helen Mountfield QC asked whether there was a likelihood of a verdict at the end of the week of giving evidence, but Mr Justice Teale made plain in the politest and firmest way that neither he nor Mr Justice Griffith Williams, the other …

Posted in Election law and News | Also tagged , , , , and | 7 Comments

Woolas trial report: day four

This report is from the Lib Dem Voice court reporter. You may also like to read Nick Thornsby’s account of the trial

Helen Mountfield QC today led the special election petition court through the substance of the arguments, case law and disputed facts of the case. Representation of the People Act 1983 section 106 was a specific time limited right of prosecution in relations to the conduct of a particular election. Both Helen Mountfield and Gavin Millar used many of the same pieces of case law and legislation. Amongst these was the Human Rights Act which …

Posted in Election law and News | Also tagged and | 14 Comments

Woolas trial report: day three

This report is from the Lib Dem Voice court reporter. You may also like to read Nick Thornsby’s blog for more trial news

Mr Woolas took the witness box for a third day in a row to answer questions in rebuttal from his own counsel. He insisted that photograph of a demonstrators often referred to in Labour emails as the mad Muslims had nothing to the article beneath which referred to Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins pandering to extremists in the Labour leaflet called the Examiner.

Next to be called to the stand was Miss Rebbecca McGladdery, who was a …

Posted in Election law and News | Also tagged and | 10 Comments

Woolas trial report: day one

This report is from the Lib Dem Voice court reporter. You may also like to read Nick Thornsby’s account of the first day of the trial

Helen Mountfield is the lead counsel for Elwyn Watkins with James Laddie QC her able second from Matrix chambers.

Elwyn was in the witness box first. Mountfield’s opening statement was devastating in that it refered to email from Woolas’ campaign team which wrote “we have to make the white folk angry” or as they put it ‘angrey’.

It would seem that all trials now have to refer to the European Human Rights …

Posted in Election law and News | Also tagged and | 14 Comments

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

Posted in Election law | Also tagged , and | 18 Comments

Has Phil Woolas declared himself unfit to be an MP?

These photographs have clearly been altered. This is wrong. This man is clearly unfit to be a member of parliament. When you send out an election address it has to be right – his is not.

So said Phil Woolas in 2005 when he accused the Lib Dem Tony Dawson of doctoring an election photo, an accusation Dawson strongly denied.

Odd, then, that Mr Woolas should have put out a newspaper in the 2010 general election campaign which appears to use a clearly photoshopped picture to imply that his Lib Dem opponent Elwyn Watkins was having his collar …

Posted in News | Also tagged | 11 Comments

Five MPs face questions over election expenses – how good are their answers?

Channel 4’s investigation with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism into MPs’ election expenses has raised questions about another five MPs in addition to Zac Goldsmith.

Having already looked at some of the legal questions around Zac Goldsmith, how do the other five stack up? Two raise important points of how the law should be interpreted, one has unclear evidence so far and two appear to involve administrative errors without any actual overspending.

First, the legal issues.

Phil Woolas (Labour), who is already facing a court hearing in the autumn over his election campaign, is accused of not declaring leaflets that …

Posted in Election law | Also tagged , , , , and | Leave a comment

Phil Woolas’ future as an MP to be decided “before Parliament reassembles”

A High Court judge has ruled that an election court should sit in the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency on 13 September, to decide whether Phil Woolas can continue as an MP.

As we reported last month, Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Candidate Elwyn Watkins is challenging the result of the election in Oldham, alleging a breach of the Representation of the People Act (1983). Mr Watkins claims that literature distributed by the Labour party “contained numerous misleading and erroneous claims” regarding his personal character and reputation, and that of his campaign.

Today the BBC reports:

Two High Court Judges will travel

Posted in Election law | Also tagged and | 4 Comments

Election court agrees to examine Oldham East slur leaflet

As we reported last month the Liberal Democrat candidate for Oldham East and Saddleworth was petitioning for a hearing of an election court, alleging a breach of the Representation of the People Act (1983).

The BBC now reports:

A court is to examine claims that a Labour Party election leaflet from former minister Phil Woolas linked an opponent to Muslim “extremists”.

An election court has agreed to hear the case brought by Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins.

He claims Labour falsely portrayed him as taking “illegal” foreign donations.

The court could order a fresh election in the Oldham East and Saddleworth

Posted in Election law | Also tagged , and | 4 Comments

Trevor Phillips describes Phil Woolas leaflets as ‘not helpful’

Last week, Lib Dem Voice commented on Lib Dem candidate Elwyn Watkins’ election petition against Oldham East and Saddleworth’s Labour MP, Phil Woolas. Watkins, who lost to Woolas by just 103 votes, believes that false claims were made in the leaflets, including allegations that he was trying to woo Muslim extremists, and claims about the financing of his campaign by a wealthy Saudi businessman.

Now the Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission has entered the row about the literature published on behalf of Woolas during the general election campaign. Former Labour politician Trevor Phillips described some of the language used in the party’s leaflets here as ‘not helpful’.

Posted in News | Also tagged , , and | 3 Comments

Oldham election result heading to court

As we reported last month, the election result in Oldham East and Saddleworth – where Labour’s Phil Woolas hung on by just 103 votes – has triggered complaints from the Liberal Democrat candidate, Elwyn Watkins, that Labour’s campaign broke the law.

The case is now heading to the courts. As the BBC reports,

In the last few days of the campaign, Labour put out a small newspaper which was predominantly an attack on their Liberal Democrat opponent, Elwyn Watkins.

Mr Watkins believes the leaflet falsely portrayed him as a politician courting votes from militant Muslims; not a group known to be particularly

Posted in Election law | Also tagged , and | 15 Comments

Liberal Democrat Elwyn Watkins issues a legal challenge over Oldham election result

The Liberal Democrat candidate for Oldham East and Saddleworth in the 2010 General Election has challenged the result.

Elwyn Watkins has submitted a petition for a hearing of an election court, alleging a breach of the Representation of the People Act (1983).

Posted in Election law and News | Also tagged , and | 22 Comments

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