Good riddance to Phil Woolas
Good riddance to Phil Woolas. That seems to be the message of most of the political classes, and it is delivered with considerable glee. It could, of course, be personal. Some may have objected to his bullying and hectoring style. Others may not have liked his arrogance, remembering the way – launching, ironically enough, the Government’s “tackling extremism” roadshow – he publicly dismissed the views of a young Muslim woman as “a load of crap” when she suggested that our foreign policy might have contributed to the radicalisation of young British Asians. Or they may well have been shocked at some of the carryings-on in his election campaign in his Saddleworth constituency earlier this year.
Certainly the two high court judges seemed to be when they sat in an election court which found that Mr Woolas had knowingly lied about his Liberal Democrat opponent, falsely accusing him of having the backing of an illegal terrorist organisation. “If we don’t get the white vote angry he’s gone,” the court was told one Woolas activist had written to another in an election strategy they described, provoking arched legal eyebrows, as “shit or bust” – in a town which in 2001 experienced serious race riots. The judges decreed, contrary perhaps to popular opinion, that it is not acceptable for politicians to tell deliberate lies about one another, and declared his election as an MP void. Mr Woolas can appeal on procedural grounds but he is damaged politically beyond repair.
The trade union of Labour backbenchers has rallied to his aid but no-one has defended the stance he took through the latter years of the last government when Phil Woolas was the personification of New Labour’s hard line on immigration, which was far more draconian than was generally understood.Those who came up against it, as I did when campaigning for a family of asylumseekers from my old parish not to be deported – or as Joannna Lumley did in her fight for justice for the Gurkhas – found it to be intransigent, callous and rather self-righteous. Phil Woolas was its public face.
Yet if that brought him opprobrium from campaigners it might have been thought it would win him popularity among a general electorate which, on the doorstep, repeatedly told politicians of all parties that immigrants stealing our jobs, and sponging on our benefits, was their top anxiety. Mr Woolas was the one constantly turning down asylum appeals, presiding over police state-style 5am knocks on the door, and even suggesting that would-be immigrants should refrain from publicly protesting against British government policies.
So while I shed no tears over the departure on Mr Woolas my greater concern is over why no politicians seem prepared to make the case for immigration, which all the figures show is good for the taxpayer, interest rates, inflation, shoppers, the NHS, and low-wage industries like fruit-picking and food packing. Immigrants do jobs that native Britons turn their noses up at. Some 97 per cent of them don’t claim benefits. And though 5.6m people have come into the UK since 1997 that balances the 5.5m Britons who have gone abroad.
Yet the Conservatives have insisted on a preposterous immigration cap, which can’t stop Romanian beggars because of EU law, but shuts out entrepreneurs, students and the academics who win us so many Nobel prizes. The Liberals, who once had a sensible approach, have shamefully acquiesced in that. And even the supposedly Red Ed Miliband in his first speech as Labour leader announced that the party hadn’t listened enough to the public on immigration and allocated the immigration brief on his frontbench to the notorious Mr Woolas.
Good riddance to Phil Woolas? Don’t imagine that once we have seen the last of him the problem has gone away.