Barred former Minister 'has no Labour future'

Former Immigration Minister Phil Woolas has no future as a Labour MP even if he succeeds in overturning a court ruling which stripped him of his seat and barred him from politics for three years, deputy leader Harriet Harman suggested yesterday.

While a disciplinary process would follow the separate decision to suspend Mr Woolas from the Labour Party, Ms Harman said the fact he had made false statements about his opponent in May's General Election would not change "and that is what we are taking action on".

"It is not part of Labour's politics for somebody to be telling lies to get themselves elected," Ms Harman added.

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Mr Woolas was suspended from Labour after the judgment from a specially convened election court on Friday – the first of its kind for 99 years.

The court had heard Mr Woolas stirred up racial tensions in a desperate bid to retain his seat in Oldham East and Saddleworth, which he eventually won by 103 votes ahead of Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins, who brought the legal challenge.

His campaign team was said to have set out to "make the white folk angry" by depicting an alleged campaign by Muslims to "take Phil out".

Mr Woolas announced after the verdict that he would seek judicial review of the decision, which Labour is not supporting.

Asked on BBC1's Andrew Marr Show whether Mr Woolas would be reinstated to the party if the appeal was successful, Ms Harman said: "Well no, because whatever happens in an appeal – what might happen in an appeal, if he does appeal, it could be that they could say on the basis of the facts that the election court found it was not warranted for them to strike down the election result and disqualify him, so he might win on a legal basis.

"But it won't change the facts that were found by the election court, which was that he said things that were untrue knowing it, and that is what we are taking action on – because it is not part of Labour's politics for somebody to be telling lies to get themselves elected."

She went on: "That's not going to change, and that's what we regard as very serious and that's why we have suspended him."

Ms Harman also defended the decision to appoint Mr Woolas as immigration spokesman in opposition, despite the court proceedings hanging over him.

"He was an existing member of the frontbench team in his role as Immigration Minister, the court hadn't yet made its findings, so he was reappointed when we came into opposition in his existing position," she said.

"But once the court finding came through – well, he is no longer an MP so there is no question of him being a frontbench spokesperson and indeed he has been suspended from the Labour Party – although there will be a process after that in which obviously he will be able to put forward his views."

Ms Harman also vowed Labour would fight a "vigorous campaign" in the byelection which is expected to follow the verdict.

"What they (the Government) are doing on housing benefit, penalising the unemployed, putting up tuition fees – all of those issues will be very much at stake in the byelection," Ms Harman said.

Treasury Chief Secretary Danny Alexander confirmed that the Liberal Democrats too will field a candidate for the byelection.

"We remain independent parties," he told BBC1's The Politics Show. "We have formed a coalition for these five years to govern this country through very, very difficult times.

"But it is right that as independent parties, we will field candidates."

Despite the Liberal Democrats' poor showing in recent polls, which have seen the third party drop to as little as nine per cent support, Mr Alexander insisted he was hopeful of a good result in a constituency which Labour secured by only 103 votes in May.

"I think we are going to have a very robust campaign.

"We have got a very strong candidate and a very strong case for the people of Oldham East and Saddleworth."

Mr Alexander gave short shrift to Labour's call for the Electoral Commission to review the law relating to disputed elections: "I think that the courts have made the right decision and rather than questioning the law I think we should get on with seeing the consequences of that case and seeing the byelection campaign through to its conclusion."

Foreign Secretary William Hague confirmed that the Tories will put up a candidate for the Oldham East and Saddleworth byelection against their Liberal Democrat coalition partners.