Woolas beat Liberal Democrat Elwyn Watkins in Oldham East and Saddleworth in May by just 103 votes. But Watkins challenged the result, claiming the Labour incumbent had lied about him in campaign literature. Most candidates would perhaps make such a claim after a defeat but Woolas' campaign literature was particularly offensive. One of which I've reproduced right. Other you can see here.
If the BNP had produced a similar leaflet . I would not have been surprised, and simarly disgusted and I'm sure Labour would have condemned it outright.
Of course I have not seen the leaflets produced by the Liberal Democrats in Oldham East and Saddleworth so we are tending to see only one side of the story and there may have been some very unpleasant literature from them during this campaign, and for the Lib-Dems to complain about unfair tactics is akin to a Wasp moaning that it had been stung by a Bee. Netherless this looks exceptionally bad and a rerun of the election is the right verdict.
Of course Phil Woolas is not the only guilty one the role of his election agent should be investigated and it would be wrong to fight any Byelection with a different candidate but the same agent.
But what does this mean for the future of elections? Does it mean that prospective candidates will be reluctant to attack opponents who are engaging in dubious activities? I hope not but it does mean that we should look at the way elections are conducted.
I believe the returning officer should have a roll in vetting campaign literature and should have the power to suspend a leaflet from being distributed or force parties to rebut and produce corrections at they own expense.
For the Lib-Dems however this victory may well be a pyrrhic one as in theory they should romp home in any By-election irrespective of who the Labour candidate would be. But if they fail then It will confirm their unpopularity in the UK following their betrayer of principles in the joining the coalition government So far the wind is with them in this constituency but I suspect they too might come under investigation and one wonders if we have not seen the whole nasty business of the 2010 election in Oldham East and Saddleworth totally exposed.