oldham east and saddleworth

Jim Pickard

Phil Woolas has just lost an historic court case in which he was accused of making false claims before the general election. There will now be a re-election for his seat, which he won in May with a majority of just 103 votes.

The case was the first of its kind for a century.

As the FT reported last month:

Phil Woolas was re-elected by a slim majority in Oldham east and Saddleworth, beating the Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins. Mr Watkins claims Mr Woolas made false statements about him in an attempt to influence the result.

The court heard that Mr Woolas’s campaign team aimed to “galvanise the white Sun vote” against Mr Watkins, claiming Mr Watkins had tried to “woo” and “pander” to Muslim fanatics and militants, the court was told.

Now the Labour MP has lost the case it will set a curious precedent for British elections, where mud-slinging is widespread and many candidates are thrifty with the actualité.

Without wanting to trivialise a no doubt serious case, where does Woolas’s defeat leave Britain’s political parties in future elections? Will their leaders have to muzzle all candidates for fear of twisting the truth?

Take this general election, where the Lib Dems made a fervent promise to protect tuition fees and prevent them from rising higher. It was a promise worth its weight in hot air. Should some of their MPs face fresh elections? Read more