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 Minister Gordon Brown
Preceded by Liam Byrne
Succeeded by Damian Green
Minister of State for Local Government
In office
5 May 2006 – 4 October 2008
Prime Minister Gordon Brown
Preceded by David Miliband
Succeeded by John Healey
Minister for Social Exclusion
In office
9 May 2005 – 5 May 2006
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Succeeded by Hilary Armstrong
Deputy Leader of the House of Commons
In office
13 June 2003 – 9 May 2005
Prime Minister Tony Blair
Leader Peter Hain
Geoff Hoon
Preceded by Ben Bradshaw
Succeeded by Nigel Griffiths
Member of Parliament
for Oldham East and Saddleworth
In office
1 May 1997 – 5 November 2010
Preceded by Constituency created
Succeeded by Debbie Abrahams
Personal details
Born Philip James Woolas
(1959-12-11) 11 December 1959 (age 57)
Scunthorpe, Lincolnshire, England
Nationality British
Political party Labour (Suspended)
Residence Lees, Greater Manchester
Alma mater Victoria University of Manchester
Occupation Television Producer

Philip James Woolas (born 11 December 1959)[1] is a British environmental consultant, political lobbyist 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 BBC 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]

Election leaflet used by Woolas during the 2010 general election and subsequently ruled to contain deliberate false statements attacking Elwyn Watkins' character.

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 Friday 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 him 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 on Friday 17 September 2010, with the judges reserving their judgement until 5 November 2010.[48] On that day Woolas was found to have breached section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983.[49] The judges ruled that a fresh election for the seat should 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]

Phil 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]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 Party 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, who later stood unsuccessfully in Oldham as a Council candidate for the United Kingdom Independence Party, and although as election agent he was responsible for the items deemed to have broken the law, he suffered no penalty.

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 with former MPs Paul Keetch (Lib Dem) and Sir Sydney Chapman (Cons).

See also[edit]

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


  1. ^ "Phil Woolas". London: BBC News. 30 March 2006. Archived from the original on 24 May 2006. Retrieved 28 July 2007. 
  2. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  5. ^ Department of the Official Report (Hansard), House of Commons, Westminster. "House of Commons Hansard, 8 November 2010 : Column 1". Retrieved 30 November 2010. 
  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". 2007. Retrieved 28 July 2007. 
  8. ^ "Phil Woolas – Labour". Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 28 July 2007. 
  9. ^ a b c "Phil Woolas: Minister for the Environment". 4 July 2007. Retrieved 28 July 2007. 
  10. ^ Barkham, Patrick (18 November 2008). "You can't come in". The Guardian. London. 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
  13. ^ "Deputy Prime Minister – Local Government Ombudsman Written answers from Phil Woolas". 19 October 2005. Retrieved 12 September 2008. 
  14. ^ "Veil teacher 'should be sacked'". London: 15 October 2006. Retrieved 12 September 2008. 
  15. ^ "Birth defects warning sparks row". BBC News. 10 February 2008. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  16. ^ [1] Archived 28 May 2010 on Wayback Machine.
  17. ^ The Daily Telegraph 29. May 2011: Hay Festival 2011: Professor risks political storm over Muslim 'inbreeding’
  18. ^ "Brown's government". The Guardian. London. 20 May 2010. Archived from the original on 18 June 2008. Retrieved 13 August 2010. 
  19. ^ "MPs' expenses claims – key details". London: BBC News. 19 June 2009. Retrieved 13 May 2009. 
  20. ^ Beckford, Martin (9 May 2009). "Daily Telegraph: Phil Woolas". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 13 May 2009. 
  21. ^ Barkham, Patrick (18 November 2008). "Asylum-seeker charities are just playing the system, says Woolas". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 22 May 2010. 
  22. ^ Chris Irvine "Downing Street bullying allegations: as it happened", Daily Telegraph, 22 February 2010
  23. ^ Nico Hines "Minister Phil Woolas launches personal attack on Christine Pratt", The Times, 23 February 2010
  24. ^ "Settlement rights for soldiers: Gurkhas v government". The Economist. 30 April 2009. Retrieved 13 August 2010. 
  25. ^ "Lumley in public clash on Gurkhas". London: BBC News. 7 May 2009. Retrieved 24 May 2009. 
  26. ^ "Gurkhas win right to settle in UK". London: BBC News. 21 May 2009. Retrieved 24 May 2009. 
  27. ^ "I am grateful to my right hon : 29 Apr 2009: House of Commons debates". 29 April 2009. Retrieved 14 September 2010. 
  28. ^ Raven, Matt (5 August 2010). "Matt Raven: I expect Mr Woolas misspoke". Retrieved 14 September 2010. 
  29. ^ a b Baldwin, Tom (10 June 2010). "Diane Abbott gets to leadership starting line (with a little push from David Miliband)". The Times. London. Retrieved 9 November 2010. 
  30. ^ "Phil Woolas Nominates Diane Abbott «Saddleworth News". 9 June 2010. Retrieved 14 September 2010. 
  31. ^ "David Miliband's support: 104 MPs, 6 MEPs, 165 CLPs, 2 TUs, 1 SSoc | 2.0.2". 17 May 2010. Retrieved 14 September 2010. 
  32. ^ — Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860). "Disgusting Islamophobia: Woolas Smears MPACUK with Fake 'Death Threat' Leaflet | MPACUK – Empowerment through political participation". Retrieved 30 November 2010. 
  33. ^ Hope, Christopher (5 May 2010). "General Election 2010: Immigration minister Phil Woolas accused of inflaming racial tensions in seat". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 13 August 2010. 
  34. ^ Equality Commission Chief Criticises Woolas Leaflets
  35. ^ "Election leaflets delivered in Oldham East and Saddleworth". The Straight Choice. Retrieved 13 August 2010. 
  36. ^ Rayner, Gordon (13 September 2010). "Phil Woolas: the 'toxic' claims that turned tide for former minister". The Daily Telegraph. London. 
  37. ^ "Woolas Examiner p1 ( election leaflet published by The Labour Party)". Retrieved 14 September 2010. 
  38. ^ "Drama as Woolas vote goes to wire – Oldham Advertiser". 12 May 2010. Retrieved 13 August 2010. 
  39. ^ Eaton, George (11 October 2010). "Why is Phil Woolas back on Labour's frontbench?". New Statesman. Retrieved 5 November 2010. 
  40. ^ "Lib Dem to issue legal challenge over Parliamentary election result (Elwyn Watkins and Oldham East & Saddleworth Liberal Democrats)". 7 May 2010. Retrieved 13 August 2010. 
  41. ^ "Candidate challenges Woolas win". BBC News. 28 May 2010. 
  42. ^
  43. ^
  44. ^
  45. ^ "Court examines Labour Muslim slur election leaflet". BBC News. 30 June 2010. Retrieved 13 August 2010. 
  46. ^ Rayner, Gordon (13 September 2010). "Phil Woolas: the 'toxic' claims that turned tide for former minister". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 5 November 2010. 
  47. ^ Rebecca Camber (14 September 2010). "Labour MP Phil Woolas accused of stirring up race hate to win white vote". Daily Mail. London. Retrieved 5 November 2010. 
  48. ^ "Court reserves judgement over Phil Woolas re-election". BBC News. 17 September 2010. 
  49. ^ "Watkins v Woolas 2010 EWHC 2702 (QB)". British and Irish Legal Information Institute. 5 November 2010. Retrieved 5 November 2010. 
  50. ^ "Judges order election re-run". BBC News. 5 November 2010. 
  51. ^ Polly Curtis, Whitehall correspondent (5 November 2010). "Phil Woolas immigration leaflets case: high court orders election rerun in Oldham East | Politics |". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 5 November 2010. 
  52. ^ "BBC News – Judges order election rerun in ex-minister's seat". BBC. 14 September 2010. Retrieved 5 November 2010. 
  53. ^ "RACE ROW MP WOOLAS SEEKS £200K FIGHT FUND". Daily Mirror. 7 November 2010. Retrieved 30 November 2010. 
  54. ^ "Elwyn Watkins 'risked all' to challenge Woolas". BBC. 9 November 2010. Retrieved 30 November 2010. 
  55. ^ Phil Woolas: I’ve been humbled by support, Manchester Evening News, 15 November 2010
  56. ^ Joshua Rozenberg (16 November 2010). "Phil Woolas faces tough task in latest legal challenge', ''The Guardian'', 16 November 2010". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 30 November 2010. 
  57. ^ "Judgement reserved in Phil Woolas election case". BBC. 17 November 2010. Retrieved 30 November 2010. 
  58. ^ Gordon Brown and Cherie Blair back Phil Woolas over election fight, Manchester Evening News, 9 November 2010
  59. ^ a b "R on the application of Woolas v The Parliamentary Election Court and others (2010) EWHC 3169 (Admin)". British and Irish Legal Information Institute. 3 December 2010. Retrieved 3 December 2010. 
  60. ^ Woolas loses his appeal
  61. ^ Phil Woolas loses bid to overturn election court ban
  62. ^ Oldham East by-election to be held on 13 January
  63. ^ Phil Woolas loses bid to overturn court decision removing him from parliament, by Andrew Sparrow, The Guardian, 3 December 2010
  64. ^ "Phil Woolas prosecution ruled out by CPS". BBC News. 21 March 2011. 
  65. ^ "Phil Woolas". Retrieved 5 February 2010. 
  66. ^ "Sleazy Lobbyists Morgan Allen Moore Suspended from Political Lobbyist's Standards Body – Guy Fawkes' blog". 6 November 2008. Retrieved 14 September 2010. 
  67. ^ SOPHIE BARKER, PR Week UK, 4 June 1999, 00:00 am (4 June 1999). "STOP PRESS: Morgan Allen Moore promotes two to board – PR and Public Relations news". PR Week. Retrieved 14 September 2010. 
  68. ^ Sophie Barker (4 June 1999). "STOP PRESS: Morgan Allen Moore promotes two to board – advertising news – Campaign". Archived from the original on 5 April 2012. Retrieved 14 September 2010. 
  69. ^ "Boothwood Partners Website". Retrieved 19 August 2012. 
  70. ^ "Wellington Street Partners". Retrieved 19 August 2012. 

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Oldham East and Saddleworth
19975 November 2010
Succeeded by
Debbie Abrahams
Political offices
Preceded by
Neil Stewart
President of the National Union of Students
Succeeded by
Vicky Phillips
Preceded by
Liam Byrne
Minister of State for Borders and Immigration
and Minister of State for the Treasury

Succeeded by
Damian Green