Harriet Harman under fire over Phil Woolas comments

Click to follow
Indy Politics

Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman was under fire today for cutting ex-minister Phil Woolas adrift from the party after he was found guilty of lying about his election opponents.

Ms Harman was swift to say there was no way back for Mr Woolas, who was immediately suspended from the party after the election court verdict, even if he won any subsequent appeal.

She faced criticism at last night's weekly meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party for appearing to pre-judge the issue.

Graham Stringer, MP for Manchester Blackley, said: "The feelings in the Parliamentary Labour Party were very strong."

David Watts, MP for St Helens North, told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "I wouldn't use the word mutinous. There is a concern within the Parliamentary Labour Party, first of all that courts are getting involved in such practices.

"(And) If there's going to be action taken against any individual, we have a procedure in place to deal with that, and that means the member concerned will be suspended whilst an investigation takes place.

"With due respect to Harriet she isn't 'we, the Labour Party'.

"The Labour party has rules and regulations that need to be followed and they need to be followed by everyone.

"It's for the NEC (National Executive Committee) and the PLP to make decisions, not for individual members."

One MP is said to have called Ms Harman's comments "a disgrace" at the meeting.

Mr Woolas was stripped of his Oldham East and Saddleworth seat and banned from standing for election for three years by the specially-convened Election Court in the first such judgment for 99 years.

It heard he stirred up racial tensions in a desperate bid to retain his seat which he eventually won by 103 votes.

Ms Harman said after the hearing that Mr Woolas had no future as a Labour MP even if he succeeds in overturning the ruling because lies had "no place" in its campaigning.

Her husband, fellow MP Jack Dromey, supported her today. He told BBC2's Daily Politics: "I think Ed Miliband and Harriet have done absolutely the right thing. It is no part of our politics to tell lies, to fan prejudice to win votes. What happened was wrong.

"I've always believed in what I've called standing on the moral high ground. How we conduct ourselves is of the highest importance."

Mr Stringer said that Labour MPs were "unanimously" of the view that the comments made about Mr Woolas went too far.

"The statements that were made over the weekend by the leadership of the party were unbalanced and didn't recognise Phil's major contributions to the Labour Party and the Labour government over the last 13 years," he told the BBC.

"Just to write him off when it appears that he still had the right of appeal seemed unfair and unbalanced.

"I am sure Harriet said what she thought at the time. I wish she hadn't said it."

He said that there was also anger at the interference of the courts in the electoral process.

"General elections in marginal seats are not Sunday school outings. They are rough, tough places and things get said that probably in the cold light of day three months later look extreme. But that's happened in every general election since the general franchise," he said.

A Labour Party spokesman said: "The Labour Party administratively suspended Phil Woolas following the judgment of the election court. In terms of the specifics of the PLP meeting, we do not comment on private meetings."