Phil Woolas

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Phil Woolas
Phil Woolas MP.jpg
Minister of State for the Treasury
Minister of State for Borders and Immigration
In office
4 October 2008 – 11 May 2010
Prime MinisterGordon Brown
ChancellorAlistair Darling
Sec. of StateJacqui Smith
Alan Johnson
Preceded byLiam Byrne
Succeeded byDamian Green
Minister of State for Local Government
In office
5 May 2006 – 4 October 2008
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Gordon Brown
Sec. of StateRuth Kelly
Hazel Blears
Preceded byDavid Miliband
Succeeded byJohn Healey
Minister for Social Exclusion
In office
9 May 2005 – 5 May 2006
Prime MinisterTony Blair
Preceded byBarbara Roche
Succeeded byHilary Armstrong
Deputy Leader of the House of Commons
In office
13 June 2003 – 9 May 2005
Prime MinisterTony Blair
LeaderPeter Hain
Geoff Hoon
Preceded byBen Bradshaw
Succeeded byNigel Griffiths
Lord Commissioner of the Treasury
In office
29 May 2002 – 13 June 2003
Prime MinisterTony Blair
ChancellorGordon Brown
Preceded byTony McNulty
Succeeded byDerek Twigg
Member of Parliament
for Oldham East and Saddleworth
In office
1 May 1997 – 5 November 2010
Preceded byConstituency created
Succeeded byDebbie Abrahams
Personal details
Born
Philip James Woolas

(1959-12-11) 11 December 1959 (age 59)
Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England
NationalityBritish
Political partyLabour (Suspended)
Spouse(s)Tracey Allen
ResidenceLees, Greater Manchester
Alma materVictoria University of Manchester
OccupationTelevision Producer

Philip James Woolas (born 11 December 1959)[1] is a British environmental consultant, political lobbyist, former television producer and former politician.[2][3][4] He was the Labour Member of Parliament (MP) for Oldham East and Saddleworth from his election in 1997 to 2010. He was the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration in the Home Office, as well as being the Minister of State for the Treasury. On 5 November 2010, he was found to have breached the Representation of the People Act 1983 in the course of the 2010 general election. As a result, his victory at the 2010 general election campaign was declared void, he lost his seat in the House of Commons,[5] and was barred from standing again for three years.[6] Woolas was also suspended from the Labour Party.[6]

Woolas' previous positions include heading the National Union of Students, working as a producer for the BBC's programme Newsnight and a role at the GMB trade union.

Early life[edit]

Woolas was born in Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, on 11 December 1959.[7] He went to Nelson Grammar School and, after O levels, Nelson and Colne College. He received a BA in Philosophy from the Victoria University of Manchester.

Woolas joined the Labour Party at the age of 16 and became involved in student politics through the Anti-Nazi League.[8] Before becoming an MP, he was president of the National Union of Students from 1984 to 1986,[7][9] a television producer for the BBC on Newsnight from 1988 to 1990 (where he became firm friends with fellow Manchester United supporter Michael Crick), producer at ITN's Channel 4 News from 1990 to 1991[9] and head of communications at the GMB trade union from 1991 to 1997.

Parliamentary career[edit]

He first won his seat for Labour in the 1997 general election, having contested the predecessor Littleborough and Saddleworth seat at a by-election in 1995,[7] which was marked by Labour's particularly vicious and personal campaign, attacking the Liberal Democrat candidate, Chris Davies, as "high on tax and soft on drugs".[10] Lord Mandelson admitted in his autobiography that they had gone “on the attack”, writing “After the campaign was over, not only our opponents but some in Labour would denounce our ‘negative’ tactics in highlighting Lib Dem front-runner Chris Davies’ support for higher taxes and a Royal Commission to liberalise drugs laws. For tactical reasons, I felt we had had little choice.”[11]

In 1999 Woolas became parliamentary private secretary to Lord Macdonald of Tradeston, a Transport Minister, and became a whip in 2001.

In June 2003 he was appointed Deputy Leader of the House of Commons under the Government's newly appointed Leader of the Commons, Peter Hain. During the May 2005 ministerial reshuffle, he also served briefly under Hain's successor, Geoff Hoon.[12]

Between the same reshuffle and June 2007, Woolas was Minister of State for Local Government at the Deputy Prime Minister's Office and then the Department for Communities and Local Government, the 2006 successor to the DPMO. During 2005, Woolas was accused of evading parliamentary questions with regard to public calls for reform of the Local Government Ombudsman in 2005.[13]

On 28 June 2007 he became Minister for the Environment at the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (in the Brown ministry). He had responsibility for climate change, energy and sustainable development.[9]

In October 2006, Woolas was involved in the United Kingdom debate over veils, particularly the case of Aishah Azmi, a Muslim teaching assistant who wore an Islamic veil in class.[14]

In February 2008, he raised the question of inter-cousin marriage as a cause of the high incidence of disability within predominantly Pakistani culture. The debate was welcomed by Ann Cryer MP who cited incidences in her own constituency.[15] This debate is (2011) still continuing.[16][17]

Following the cabinet re-shuffle of 3 October 2008, he was made Minister of State for Borders and Immigration at the Home Office and Minister of State for the Treasury.[18]

In the United Kingdom Parliamentary expenses scandal of 2009, Phil Woolas reportedly claimed expenses for items not allowed under the rules. Woolas said the items were on a receipt he submitted under food claims, but were not claimed themselves, and threatened a newspaper with legal action.[19][20] The Legge enquiry into MPs' expenses cleared Woolas.

In November 2008, Woolas attacked lawyers and charities working on behalf of asylum seekers, accusing them of undermining the law and "playing the system" by taking legal action.[21]

In February 2010, following the accusations of bullying[22] made against Gordon Brown and other members of the UK cabinet, Woolas was quoted as referring to the head of the National Bullying Helpline, Christine Pratt, as "this prat of a woman" in a radio interview.[23]

Gurkha veterans' resettlement rights[edit]

In spring 2009, Woolas was involved in a controversy regarding the rights for Gurkhas to settle in the United Kingdom. On 24 April 2009, Woolas proposed a new settlement for Gurkhas who were discharged before 1997. According to The Economist:

Veterans would be allowed to settle only if they met one or more conditions based on length of service, gallantry or related illness. Many of the requirements seemed designed to frustrate: for example, one way to qualify automatically was by soldiering for at least 20 years, though most rank-and-file Gurkhas serve for only 15. Another was to prove that a long-term medical condition was caused or worsened by active service; a tall order for those whose injuries were sustained decades ago.

These proposals later were denounced in a vote at the House of Commons, with many Labour MPs voting across party lines.[24] Woolas was later confronted at the BBC Westminster studios by the actress Joanna Lumley, the face of the Gurkha Justice Campaign. After Ms Lumley pursued him around the studio, the pair held an impromptu press conference in which she pressured him into agreeing to further talks over the settlement rights of Gurkhas.[25] On 21 May, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith announced that all Gurkha veterans who had served four years or more in the British Army before 1997 would be allowed to settle in Britain.[26] Gurkhas serving after 1997 had been given UK settlement rights in 2004.

Woolas stated that cost was a prime consideration: "Our estimate is £1.4 billion, and I remind the House that that would come from the defence budget."[27] However, according to a Freedom of Information request, the only impact on the Defence budget has been £20,000 per year to set up and run the settlement office in Kathmandu.[28]

Labour leadership election 2010[edit]

Woolas was re-elected in the 2010 General Election, although the result would later be overturned by an election court. Woolas gave his backing to close political ally David Miliband and represented him at events throughout the country. The Times described Woolas as "a campaign fixer for Mr Miliband".[29] However, Woolas officially nominated Diane Abbott, at the request of David Miliband. Woolas said "I nominated her as an act of pluralism. We thought it would send a strong signal that David will be an inclusive leader."[29][30][31]

Re-election 2010 and election court case[edit]

In his 2010 re-election campaign, Woolas's campaigning methods were heavily criticised by his Liberal Democrat opponents and the Muslim Public Affairs Committee UK (MPACUK).[32] Critics accused him, among other things, of "inflaming racial tensions" in an area that has already known race riots.[33] Trevor Phillips, head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and former Labour politician, described some of the language used in the party’s leaflets as "not helpful."[34][35]

Woolas and his agent, Joe Fitzpatrick, were also responsible for photo manipulation of images in his election addresses. In one case they manipulated an image to show his Liberal Democrat opponent Elwyn Watkins in front of armed police, allegedly to imply Watkins had been arrested.[36][37] This was a composite image, consisting of a portrait of Watkins and a photograph of armed police patrolling London. The Metropolitan Police insignia was also airbrushed from a female officer's jacket.

Woolas won the election and was returned to Parliament with a majority of 103 votes – down from 3,590.[38]

Following the election of Ed Miliband as the Labour Party Leader, Woolas was reappointed to the immigration brief on the shadow front bench team. The New Statesman said it was a "bizarre decision" as Woolas had "run one of the most disgraceful election campaigns in recent history".[39]

Election court case[edit]

On 28 May 2010, Woolas's Liberal Democrat opponent, Elwyn Watkins, issued an election petition against the result[40][41] under section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983,[42][43][44] which makes it illegal to make false statements of fact about a candidate. Watkins claimed that leaflets issued by Woolas falsely portrayed Watkins as taking unlawful foreign donations, and linked him to Muslim extremists.[45]

During the court case, held in public at Saddleworth Civic Hall, a number of emails between Woolas and his campaign team emerged. In one, Woolas's agent and former Labour councillor, Joseph Fitzpatrick emailed Woolas and Steven Green, the MP’s campaign adviser, to say: "Things are not going as well as I had hoped ... we need to think about our first attack leaflet."[46] A reply from Fitzpatrick said: "If we don’t get the white vote angry he’s gone." Some have criticised these tactics in light of significant existing racial tensions in the area.[47]

During the course of the court case, both Woolas and Fitzpatrick were cautioned by the presiding judge in respect of possible criminal charges relating to election offences. The court hearing finished in September 2010.[48] In November 2010, the court ruled that Woolas breached section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983,[49] and ordered a fresh election for the seat to be held.[50] In a statement released through his lawyer, Woolas stated that "this election petition raised fundamental issues about the freedom to question and criticise politicians" and that it "will inevitably chill political speech".[51]

Woolas applied for a judicial review into the ruling,[52] but as the Labour Party withdrew its support he had to finance it himself, and he started to ask for donations.[53] The High Court rejected his request for a judicial review.[54] Woolas launched a second judicial review, technically a renewed application for permission to seek judicial review, and was heard in person at the High Court on 16 November 2010.[55][56] The judges' decision took longer than expected, with them saying that there were "difficult questions to resolve".[57]

Following the initial court result, Woolas received goodwill messages from former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown and from Cherie Blair, wife of former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair. Labour MP Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) was vocally supportive and criticised Harman and the party for suspending Woolas.[58]

A decision on this second request was published on 3 December 2010.[59] Woolas was accompanied to court by the Labour Shadow Health Secretary John Healey.[60] The court granted Woolas permission to bring judicial review and that review overturned one of the three breaches of the section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 found by the Election Court. The other two breaches stood: "this does not affect the certificate as the findings of an illegal practice in relation to the other two matters cannot be impugned".[59] On leaving court, Woolas said, "It is the end of the road – I am out."[61] A by-election to elect a new Member of Parliament for his former seat was held on 13 January 2011,[62] in which the new Labour candidate, Debbie Abrahams, defeated Elwyn Watkins.

After the review ruling, a Labour spokesman said, "The Labour Party administratively suspended Phil Woolas after the original judgment of the election court. Following the conclusion of this judicial review, the Labour Party will consider this issue in detail and whether further action is appropriate."[63] Although the verdict of the election court indicated a prima facie breach of criminal law, in March 2011 the Crown Prosecution Service announced that it would not bring criminal charges against Woolas as the finding of the Election Court already disqualified him from holding elected office and they felt that this was sufficient punishment.[64] The CPS also declined to prosecute Joseph Fitzpatrick although as election agent he was responsible for the items deemed to have broken the law; he later stood unsuccessfully in Oldham as a council candidate for UKIP.

Personal life[edit]

Woolas, a Manchester United F.C. and Lancashire County Cricket Club supporter,[7] lives in Lees, Greater Manchester.[65] Woolas is married to events organiser and ex-lobbyist Tracey Allen, who was a founding partner of Morgan Allen Moore lobbyists.[66][67][68]

Current activities[edit]

Woolas is a director of two organisations – Boothwood Partners,[69] an environmental consultancy, and Wellington Street Partners,[70] a political lobbying partnership originally formed with former MPs Paul Keetch (Lib Dem) and Sir Sydney Chapman (Conservative).

See also[edit]

  • Miranda Grell, whose case fell under the same provision. Grell was prosecuted, rather than having her election petitioned against.

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Phil Woolas". London: BBC News. 30 March 2006. Archived from the original on 24 May 2006. Retrieved 28 July 2007.
  2. ^ "The Labour right strikes back". New Statesman. Archived from the original on 8 December 2015.
  3. ^ Mulholland, Hélène; Muir, Hugh (9 November 2010). "Harriet Harman faces backbench mutiny over Phil Woolas". the Guardian. Archived from the original on 17 August 2017.
  4. ^ Echo, Liverpool (8 November 2010). "Disgraced North West minister Phil Woolas vows to clear his name". Archived from the original on 8 December 2015.
  5. ^ Department of the Official Report (Hansard), House of Commons, Westminster. "House of Commons Hansard, 8 November 2010 : Column 1". Publications.parliament.uk. Archived from the original on 12 November 2010. Retrieved 30 November 2010.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ a b Curtis, Polly (5 November 2010). "Phil Woolas immigration leaflets case: high court orders election rerun in Oldham East". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 5 November 2010.
  7. ^ a b c d "Phil Woolas; Biography". epolitix.com. 2007. Archived from the original on 30 September 2007. Retrieved 28 July 2007.
  8. ^ "Phil Woolas – Labour". rochdaleonline.co.uk. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 28 July 2007.
  9. ^ a b c "Phil Woolas: Minister for the Environment". defra.gov.uk. 4 July 2007. Archived from the original on 5 July 2007. Retrieved 28 July 2007.
  10. ^ Barkham, Patrick (18 November 2008). "You can't come in". The Guardian. London. Archived from the original on 19 May 2015. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  11. ^ The Third Man: Life at the Heart of New Labour, Peter Mandelson, HarperPress (15 July 2010)
  12. ^ "Privy Council Office Resource Accounts 2005–06" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 16 September 2014.
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  42. ^ "Archived copy" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 18 January 2012. Retrieved 30 June 2010.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
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  60. ^ Woolas loses his appeal Archived 3 December 2010 at the Wayback Machine
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  63. ^ Phil Woolas loses bid to overturn court decision removing him from parliament Archived 18 September 2016 at the Wayback Machine, by Andrew Sparrow, The Guardian, 3 December 2010
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  65. ^ "Phil Woolas". labour.org.uk. Archived from the original on 25 July 2009. Retrieved 5 February 2010.
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External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Oldham East and Saddleworth
1997 – 5 November 2010
Succeeded by
Debbie Abrahams
Political offices
Preceded by
Neil Stewart
President of the National Union of Students
1984–1986
Succeeded by
Vicky Phillips
Preceded by
Liam Byrne
Minister of State for Borders and Immigration
and Minister of State for the Treasury

2008–2010
Succeeded by
Damian Green