Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Woolas - chapter two

I wrote about this business on Saturday, and am grateful to The Coventrian for his/her comment that clarified the Ken Livingstone aspect (though the video clip here shows that it isn't quite as clear-cut as that comment suggests)..

That comment is also consistent with public opinion in saying that Woolas should indeed have been ejected from his parliamentary seat (though preferably a lot sooner!) as an opinion poll has today shown. As UK Polling Report details, summarised in brief:
  • The Court was right to expel Woolas - 71%
  • The Court was wrong to expel Woolas - 7%
    • The law is right - 74%
    • The law is wrong - 9% 
    These are rather conclusive public opinions - there's really no scope for interpreting them any other way, or in saying "it's only one poll and doesn't mean anything" as can (and does) occur with the currently much closer voting intention poll results. The so-called margin of error is only plus-or-minus 3% anyway.

    Meanwhile, since I first wrote on this issue, Mr Woolas has failed to get his initial attempt at an appeal allowed but has further options open to him. As a consequence, the Speaker of the House of Commons, one John Bercow, has (presumably on legal advice from Speaker's Counsel) decided to defer the parliamentary writ that would trigger a by-election for the now-vacant Oldham East and Saddleworth seat.

    This has met with mixed reactions, and is certainly far from ideal as it leaves constituents there without an MP, but there was no "correct" decision on the writ question and this is probably the better option than going for the writ before the appeal process has been fully explored. One can only hope that, if any kind of appeal (Judicial Review or whatever) is allowed, it doesn't end up taking months, thus leaving the people of Oldham East and Saddleworth without parliamentary representation for a protracted period. That would be wrong!

    Therefore any such appeal would need to be handled swiftly.

    We are also informed that Labour won't put forward a candidate for such a by-election until the legal processes have been completed.

    There is something of a split within the Parliamentary Labour Party (i.e. Labour MPs) as the party leadership's handling of the affair, as Woolas is apparently very popular with backbenchers who don't like the way Harriet Harman (in particular) has effectively dumped their good buddy, as Paul Waugh explains. Their support of Mr Woolas, though, could be read by the public as those MPs' support of the very nasty campaigning that got him ejected from his seat. That will go down like a lead balloon!

    Looking forward, there are a number of possible scenarios that could develop on the legal front (an appeal might be permitted to go ahead in one or another form - or not); he could win such an appeal or lose it; on the parliamentary Labour front (what springs from this backbench near-revolt); and within his constituency (sooner or later a by-election will need to be held, and that could now probably go almost any way).

    Whichever way it all goes, this is likely to be judged by historians to have been one of the biggest political stories of 2010 - and, if it drags on, possibly of 2011 as well!

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