Woolas facing new vote for Islamic extremism smears

Phil Woolas

Phil Woolas

A Labour MP who claimed his Liberal Democrat opponent was involved with Islamic extremists is facing a by-election after a judge found that he knowingly made false accusations.

During the 2010 campaign, shadow immigration minister Phil Woolas, fighting for reelection to his Oldham East seat, accused his opponent of wooing extremist Muslims.

Mr Woolas won the seat with 103 more votes than Elwyn Watkins for the Liberal Democrats.

But a special election court has now ruled that the MP breached election regulations by making false claims and there must now be another poll.

Mr Woolas said he will now seek a judicial review, but if he is unsuccessful he will be barred from parliament for three years.

He will also have to step down from the Labour frontbench while the matter is settled.

One email sent around Mr Woolas’ campaign staff before the election contained a comment about getting “the white folk angry” in order to secure a victory.

An election result has not been challenged in this way for 99 years.

Ahead of May’s election, the candidates clashed over arms sales to Israel. Mr Woolas wrote to Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg questioning his party’s views on the matter after Mr Watkins wrote to Muslim supporters condemning Israel’s “disproportionate use of force” during the Gaza conflict.

Mr Woolas noted that his opponent worked as an adviser to Sheikh Abdullah Alhamrani, co-owner of one of Saudi Arabia's largest companies.

At the time, Mr Watkins told the JC: "Woolas is trying to portray this as me being antisemitic. I'm not antisemitic at all. He has taken something and tried to make it something it's not."

He said his comments were "supported by quite a few million people. It's not an anti-Israel thing. I would not sell rockets to Hamas either. I was following the party line. I would equally condemn Hamas, Hizbollah or whoever targets civilians."

Last updated: 12:48pm, November 8 2010