Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

Phil Woolas and Richard Hazleton

Like a lot of people who were around in British student politics in the mid-80s, I am unhealthily gleeful about the voiding of Phil Woolas' election in Oldham East and Saddleborough by an election court. (Edited to add: After starting to write this entry yesterday, I went out for dinner last night with someone who had dealt with Woolas in a different capacity many years later, and was equally delighted by the result.) I urge anyone who feels the slightest twinge of sympathy for him to read the full election judgement (BBC excerpt, official PDF). It's all very well to have robust political debate, but to win an election by telling lies about your opponent's entirely fictional links with Islamic extremism is surely a different matter. I won't blame the Labour Party as an institution for this, and applaud the suspension of Woolas' membership, though note with interest blog entries from Chris Davies, written just before the judgement, and Jonathan Fryer, immediately after, illuminating the local political style.

The full content of the offensive literature is in the judgement linked to above, but I thought some might be amused by the text that caused the last unseating of an MP on these grounds, as a result of the North Louth election petition of 1911, as dug out by David Boothroyd here. The loser in North Louth was the famously polemic and controversial T.M. Healy, who ten years later would end up as the first Governor-General of the independent Irish Free State, though of course nobody knew that then. Running as a dissident candidate against the mainstream Irish Nationalists of the day, he had had all the nastiest of campaign techniques thrown at him, and a dozen of his opponent's activists were personally deemed to have broken election rules to get him defeated. His opponent, Richard Hazleton, was unseated as a result of the court case, inter alia for publishing lies about Healy.

To quote David:
The North Louth case started with a letter, published in the Freeman on 2 December 1910, written by George McSweeny. Part of it ran:

"Now, let me come to Mr. Healy, pure, great, and impeccable. Even the great Tim was absolutely pap fed with British gold. For years he nourished his hatred of a member of the Irish party by suggesting that he had procured some relative to be appointed a postmaster. Yet all the time Mr. Healy, senior, was secure in the possession of the snug postmastership of Lismore, and rumour has it indeed that the great Tim began his career in the Queen's uniform, delivering letters, with the familiar rat-tat."

"Then there is the case of Mr. Anthony Carroll, Crown Solicitor of Cork. He was the hero of the Tallow Conspiracy Case and got his job immediately afterwards, yet he incurred no denunciation from Mr. Healy. People will say that had he been the cousin say of Mr. Devlin instead of being the cousin of Mr. Healy he might have fared worse."

"Then there was the case of Mr. Heskin, one of the defendants in the same Tallow Case. Mr. Heskin stood against the brother of Mr. Healy for the clerkship of the Lismore Union. Mr. Healy's brother was beaten by the test of popular election. But he was not doomed to be long disappointed, for shortly afterwards he was appointed a Local Government Inspector at £500 a year. The recent family history does not even stop here. For it was only the other day that Mr. Joseph Sullivan, another member of the family, received an appointment of £800 a year in the Irish Land Commission. And all this under the corrupt Liberals. So far have matters gone up to the present. But from the number of Mr. Healy's relations who are already or about to become barristers, doctors, engineers, attorneys, and politicians, I have no doubt that the list will soon be extended. Meanwhile when Mr. Healy next talks of 'place-hunters' let him chew these facts."

The letter was reprinted in the Dundalk Democrat on 3 December by suggestion of the agent of Richard Hazleton, the successful candidate in North Louth. Meanwhile on 2 December an order was placed for 20,000 leaflets in the following terms:

"Place-Hunting at Home. Tim Healy's Family List. Mr. Carthage Healy, Brother, appointed Local Government Inspector, 1907, by the Corrupt Liberals!! 500l. a year. Mr. Joseph Sullivan, Cousin, Examiner of Titles, Irish Land Commission, 800l. a year. Anthony Carroll, Cousin, Crown Solicitor of Cork, 500l. a year! Arthur O'Connor, Ex-M.P., for years Healy's fellow-wrecker in the Irish Party. An English Judge! 1,700l. a year. M. Healy, Senior, Father, Postmaster, Lismore, Co. Waterford. A. N. Sheridan, Election Agent of Mr. Healy, Dundalk, Clerk of the Crown and Peace, Louth, 600l. a year. The Corrupt Liberals again!! Jeremiah Howard, Henchman of William O'Brien, Director U.I.L., and Wrecker, 1907. Land Commission, 800l. a year. The Corrupt Liberals again!! Joseph Mooney, another Henchman and fellow-wrecker of Healy's. Director Irish Independent, Labourers' Cottage Arbitrator, Local Government Board, paid by the job. The Corrupt Liberals Again!!!! William M. Murphy, Railway Director, Contractor, Director Irish Independent, etc.., etc., recommended by Lord Aberdeen to build Government Railways in Africa; estimate, 100,000l. Maurice Healy, M.P., Brother, Postman at Lismore."
Unlike in Oldham East and Saddleborough, however, Hazleton's campaign was also found to have been guilty of bribery, intimidation, and treating; also unlike Phil Woolas, the winning candidate was not found to be personally guilty, and so wasn't barred from standing for office for three years (and in any case had also been elected for Galway so stayed in the House of Commons). It is slightly amusing that the accusation that Healy was on the British government's payroll, probably not in itself a defamatory statement but obviously relevant in an election between two candidates trying to out-Green each other, was found by the judges to be sufficiently offensive to merit the rerunning of the election.

Woolas will probably appeal, but I do not wish him well. Judging by the statements he made yesterday he has learned nothing and forgotten nothing. He said that:
"It is vital to our democracy that those who make statements about the political character and conduct of election candidates are not deterred from speaking freely for fear that they may be found in breach of election laws."
It is also vital that you don't win elections by smearing the other guy as a fellow-traveller of terrorists.
Tags: uk politics, uk: election: 2010

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