Saturday, 4 December 2010

Tip of the iceberg

I welcome the news that Phil Woolas has given up the fight to hold on to his seat. He has been found guilty of lying about an opponent, fined £5,000, and banned from standing for election for three years. Woolas has been kicked out of the Labour party and his career in politics is almost certainly finished.

Phil Woolas's crime was a serious one. But bad as lying about an opponent is, his is culpable of something much worse in my view; deliberately inflaming racial and religious tensions for political gain.

For anybody aware of Woolas's history, it was no great surprise that he produced lying and racially loaded leaflets during his campaign.  He had form in this regard. And he was promoted inside Labour for exactly this reason. Woolas was Labour's hard man on immigration. The Labour hierarchy was well aware of his general election campaign. Ed Miliband had seen the leaflets. His response was to appoint Woolas shadow immigration minister.

Woolas's case highlights the dirty reality of Labour's politics on race. When in power they concocted a lethal cocktail of pandering to anti-Muslim and asylum seeker prejudice with failure to meet the aspirations of its poorer, working class supporters. The consequence, stoked daily by blatantly racist sections of the media, has been to make more fertile the ground from which the violent extremists of the BNP and the EDL can grow.

Good riddance to Phil Woolas. But if we want cleaner political air, decontaminated of the stench of racism that so pervades it, Labour needs to face up to its culpability. The case of Phil Woolas should provide pause for self-reflection. Unfortunately, I fear it won't.