The Thick of It

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Friday, November 05, 2010

Phil Woolas and smears

Today's judgement that Phil Woolas fought a campaign including "lies and smears" at the 2010 general election demonstrates just how careful candidates must be. I campaigned in Oldham East and Saddleworth in the 2001 election for Woolas and saw then how emotions in a perennially marginal seat ran high. Relations between Labour and the Lib Dems were at absolute zero while racial tensions following rioting meant the constituency was littered with bitterness. Then much of the blame was laid at the hands of the council with some in my party blaming those in yellow of aiding the malaise and being indirectly responsible for Oldham's troubles. 


I'm not surprised it came to this after years of tensions in the area. I had always felt that Woolas had done a good job in tough circumstances. Now though I'm incredibly disappointed that Labour's name might be put to anything that could end up being described as nasty as this.

What happens now? Any one of the three main parties could win the seat. A backlash against Labour is possible but not automatic. The Lib Dems have been second there for several elections but are hitting rock bottom in the polls. The Tories haven't held the seat for fifteen years but could be in with a shout. The constituency is an odd mix of traditional Labour working class terraced housing and much wealthier country homes. If Labour loses the re-run it would be a dreadful shame for the party and activists who worked so hard to keep it Labour, but not a surprise after this.

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