I thoroughly enjoyed watching the odious Phil Woolas being ejected from parliament for lying about Muslims in his election leaflets.
During the general election campaign Woolas, then a sitting Labour MP in Oldham, Greater Manchester, put out a leaflet in largely white areas claiming that “extremists are trying to hijack this election”.
It said that his Lib Dem opponent courted Muslim extremists who had advocated violence against the MP.
Woolas was rightly scared that Labour’s unpopularity – and his own statements on immigration – would damage his vote, particularly among Oldham’s Asians. An email from Woolas’s agent, Joseph Fitzpatrick, said, “If we don’t get the white vote angry he’s gone.”
Despite desperate attempts to whip up racism, Woolas won by just 103 votes.
People across the political spectrum are now rushing to condemn him. The Labour leadership is right to suspend Woolas from the party and begin a disciplinary process against him.
Yet Woolas is not without friends in the Labour Party – as Labour MPs’ rebellion against his suspension and collections for his legal costs this week has shown.
The Blairite Labour right has expressed outrage over how the sovereignty of parliament is being undermined by the court decision. This is smoke and mirrors – they are defending one of their own.
And Woolas’s views were hardly a secret after May’s general election, when he was appointed Labour’s immigration spokesperson and a shadow immigration minister.
Scapegoating Muslims was mainstream policy under the last Labour government.
Woolas was an immigration minister then too and kept up a stream of anti-immigrant rhetoric. In 2008 he boasted, “We need a tougher immigration policy and we need to stop seeing it as a dilemma. It’s not. It’s easy.”
In 2006 he toured the country on a “Tackling Extremism” road show. In Bolton he dismissed a suggestion from the floor that British foreign policy might be partly responsible for extremism as “crap”.
When Woolas first stood in Oldham in 1995 he attacked the Lib Dem candidate for being “high on tax and soft on drugs” – as the Lib Dems were discussing decriminalising cannabis. His campaign was run by Peter Mandelson.
The Lib Dems are no strangers to playing the race card either. In 1987 the Lib Dem council in Tower Hamlets, east London, made national news by claiming that 52 Bangladeshi families living in bed and breakfast accommodation had made themselves homeless by coming to Britain, and were therefore not entitled to benefit.
The council was eventually beaten in the courts, but the damage had been done.
The following year Lib Dem mayor in Tower Hamlets Jeremy Shaw travelled to Bangladesh to tell the government there that immigrants were not welcome because the borough was full.
In fact there were 900 empty yuppie flats on the Isle of Dogs and the council owned 3,000 empty properties.
The country’s first Nazi British National Party councillor was elected on the Isle of Dogs in 1993.
The point of this kind of propaganda, then as now, is to shift blame for social problems to vulnerable people.
In 2003 Woolas wrote to the Commission for Racial Equality, attacking anti-racists for concentrating on racist attacks on black and Asian people. He said, “Politicians across the party divide have failed to be seen to condemn racist violent attacks against white people as strongly or as forcibly as such attacks against Asian and black people.”
This followed riots in Oldham in 2001, which much of the establishment had tried to blame on self-segregation by Asians—despite a long history of imposed segregation and racist attacks from white people.
A sad footnote is that Woolas says he originally became involved in politics at the age of 16 through the Anti Nazi League.
Youthful enthusiasm and rage at racism quickly drained away as he slithered up the greasy pole of establishment politics.