The frantic last days in power of Labour's immigration minister
Phil Woolas kept a diary of his final months in office. Read it and weep...
Friday 09 July 2010
2 January 2010
The Tories know that immigration is our weak spot and they cannot afford to let us get any credit for our border controls. Immigration is the second biggest issue [after the economy] and so they have to attack our credibility and try to slaughter me. My biggest fear, the looming shadow, is that I sacrifice myself. Being Minister for Immigration in a Labour Government is to be a lightning conductor. The drip, drip attacks on "hapless Woolas" do have a very damaging effect and it's a constant effort to protect myself.
Have told North West Labour Party that my chances [in Oldham East & Saddleworth] are slim. The Tories [third, behind Labour and the Liberal Democrats] have selected an Asian. The white Tory vote will go for the Lib Dem because they'd sooner have a Lib Dem whose views they oppose!
The bombshell was the request to publish the responses [by MPs] to Sir Thomas Legg [the former Whitehall mandarin conducting an audit of MPs' expenses claims]. As nobody knows I am having a row with him, that would be the equivalent of putting a bullet in my head.
Once again, the [media] coverage [on immigration] is either from the authoritarian right or the naïve liberal left. The voice of the elected government is simply not being reported. We will lose the election because we are not able to get our message over.
For all I know I am £3,500 worse off [after the Legg review of expenses] and facing a press barrage. The truth is, I am so weary and sickened by the Kafkaesque powers that if they say I've done wrong, they will have to find some other mug to do the job... we will end up with no ordinary people as MPs. If it's bad I don't know what to do as I haven't got £3,500 and the political damage would be overwhelming if I were to fight it. Most people, if they followed it, would say I was in the right but most people don't, and the headlines and Lib Dem leaflets would not only kill me off but ruin my reputation and with it job prospects.
Well it's not as bad as it could have been but it is Kafkaesque. They have conceded I didn't overclaim because it was retrospective but they say I owe £720 for 2003 ... I am going to have to pay it and then pursue it. The main priority is, I have been cleared of the Daily Telegraph allegation. I have been very down today as the whole thing just piles up – hundreds of emails, text messages; anxiety; I'm pretty convinced I am going to lose.
Have been very shaky all week and not slept well. Woke up with heartburn – not had anything to eat since yesterday morning. The expenses crap is taking its toll... The blogs are awful and it looks like I fiddled £706 even though it's just the retrospective. Who the fuck wants to be an MP?
All over the news for my attack on Mrs [Christine] Pratt [who claimed her anti-bullying charity had been contacted by Downing Street staff and she was called a "prat" by Mr Woolas]. On the one hand they say I am gaffe-prone and on the other that it's a Labour Party trick. I didn't talk to anyone about the interview and most people agree that she is a prat!
One of my hairiest media weeks in my life with the immigration statistics yesterday and Newsnight earlier in the week. The Daily Hate Mail is really going for me today... I think I've come to the conclusion that I don't want to do this any more... it is physically exhausting, the abuse and hassle is awful, the volume of work is simply so much that you can't do it all or even half of it. On top of which, the media are just ridiculous.
Perhaps more important is that we are permanently exhausted by the task and depressed by the fact that you can only do a fraction of what's required and demanded.
So what's the positive side? It's interesting, though once you've done it for so long that wears off. You can do some good (although most of it would happen anyway). It's better than stacking shelves. Some of the colleagues are superb.
Do I like what I'm doing? In truth, it's tempered by the calling, the addiction, the fear that the Tories would wreck it for everyone.
Woke up to the news that a five-year-old boy [Sahil Saeed] has been kidnapped in Pakistan; of course he is from Oldham. Without being too arrogant, I knew what to do. Objective number one – to get the Pakistan police focused on his release. To do this the best way is to big them up on [the BBC] World Service.
The Saeed saga goes on. Am waiting for a call from Greater Manchester Police to say: a) he's dead b) they haven't got a clue or c) it's confused. Just put the phone down. It's a horrible international mess which would fill a book. I'm shitting myself because I know what's going on and wish I didn't.
You meet fascinating people from all walks of life in this job and pick up information and contacts. Of course, you haven't got the time to process most of them and they go by in a flash. The experience and knowledge is awesome and makes you feel like a superman. The shame is that you can't bottle it and pass it on. I do notice though that a little bit of fame (in political circles, I am well known) carries huge authority.
Woken yesterday morning at 6.20am by BBC Manchester with the news that Sahil has been released. Obviously very good news but the confusion and murkiness is confirming the voters' view that Pakistan is a basket case. The Greater Manchester Police have done a Boy's Own wonder job but I was asked the question by the Manchester Evening News – aren't the police going against government policy in paying or helping to pay a ransom? I didn't answer but the answer is Yes. [Arrests were made after £110,000 was handed over in Paris. Mr Woolas saw it as a sting, not a ransom payment. He was acting as a constituency MP rather than a minister but was worried he would have been seen as giving ministerial authority to the payment if the operation had gone wrong].
Went on 8am train with Gordon Brown [en route to The Christie at the Royal Oldham Hospital] and had half an hour together on immigration policy. He's wanting to do a speech but also wants to do more on how we can fill the skill shortages – British jobs etc! He very clearly gets the importance of the issue. GB is more relaxed and confident than I've seen him – probably ever. It's a great boost to my campaign to be seen with him – the reception from the nurses and patients was fantastic and really buoyed me. My own chances are unknown but with the polls nearer together it is not impossible.
Most MPs are sick of it – Sir Paul Kennedy [who was considering appeals by MPs ordered to repay expenses claims] is a reactionary, arrogant bully boy who, far from cleaning up Parliament is making it look worse. The power of Parliament and MPs is hugely diminished, not by an overbearing government but by its neutering by Kennedy ... We are all tarred with the same brush and, more importantly, the pride in being an MP is gone.
My feelings are completely mixed. I am enormously proud of the UK Border Agency and have built a good reputation. I love the variety of political life and the people who have become dear to me. On the other hand, it has been poisoned by a 24-hour, one-source story media which traduces everything to the point you don't want to be part of it.
The feeling of not knowing is weird. On the one hand I want to be free of all the crap and nastiness. Other the other, I am addicted to politics.
The money problems stack up. We are now £6,500 in the red. The Fees Office haven't paid our second homes allowance for four months. The IPSA report is out today. The fact is I will lose loads of money if I win the election and will end up renting (and costing the taxpayer more!) Some MPs just won't turn up as they won't be able to afford it. Kennedy has no idea what an MP does.
Yesterday was another day from media hell. GB made another speech on immigration and it all went tits up because of Michael Scholar's [head of the UK Statistics Authority] letter [questioning the Government's use of immigration statistics].
I feel sympathy and pride in Gordon Brown – especially for the way he handles the lies told against him. God knows I get very grumpy so how he copes I can only imagine. On the other hand, he wanted the job so much... If Tony Blair was still in and if there were no Brownites, Labour with TB would be on course for a fourth term!
Have just left office in the Commons for what may be the last time, 13 years after I arrived. I am very emotional. I fear our campaign is not strong, there is a sense that we will do what we have to do but I suspect most people, like me, are worried about their financial future.
The harsh truth is that Charles Clarke was right. GB is not going to win it for us. David Miliband would have trumped Cameron and Clegg and we would be home now. I swing from loving admiration for GB to furious contempt for his machine political attitude.
Campaign is in full flow but it's very, very flat... I am not enjoying this and there is a collective angst that our national campaign is uninspiring.
[In the neighbouring seat, Rochdale, Gordon Brown has described Labour voter Gillian Duffy as a "bigoted woman"after she raised the immigration issue with him]. Why fucking me? Completely wiped out our event and I ended up on Newsnight defending the Great Leader. I can't see Labour recovering from this nationally: we may come third. Locally we will be very lucky to hang on.
It's moving our way here but nationally it's a car crash.
I am still an MP. I was just going to write "just" but being an MP is not a relative thing. 103 [his majority over the Liberal Democrats] is enough.
On the day I thought we were in by between 2,000 and 4,000, I even fantasised about an increased majority. There were two groups: "we'll vote for you but you've got to get rid of Brown" and "get rid of Brown and then we'll vote for you". If we do get rid of him, then we can win again.
It will get very bloody, very soon. Ed Miliband is making it known he will challenge [for the leadership]. It will be very difficult for me if Ed Balls stands as he is a very close friend but I do think David Miliband would make the best leader.
As for the Thursday night and Friday morning, well, I wouldn't want to go through that again and the experience has left me ill. I managed to keep going until a teatime Friday appearance on Granada and 1-2-1 on the BBC. I wanted the world to know I was still standing and up for it.
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