Let's hear it for Harriet Harman! Her instant and unequivocal renunciation of Phil Woolas, ex-MP, spoke for the decent Labour Party, one that voters might indeed trust, which I would like to see established under Ed Miliband. The protests from a gang of unreconstructed Labour MPs that she is somehow pandering to the tabloid press while Woolas deserves the party's backing is a sign that Labour has someway to go.
Labour's parliamentary party has always, in my political lifetime, included a gang of right-wing thugs who regard themselves as 'pragmatists'. they mean by this that they will pursue what they see as the party's interests and the protection of their own seats and influence, undeflected by principle. (Blair has kind words for them in his memoir.) Woolas is a bully and one such 'pragmatist'. It was not by coincidence that he was given the immigration portfolio while Labour was in power.
His sin was not that he lied about his Lib Dem rival. As Gore Vidal has observed, be prepared to lie if you go into politics. What he did was far worse. He lied to foment and exploit racial tensions to discredit his opponent. The judges who ruled against him clearly found that he was guilty of unacceptable conduct on the facts of the case. To argue that Harman should have kept quiet while his appeal was underway is worese than equivocation. The appeal can only be on the legal technicalities of their decision, not on their findings. And on that score no one who is half-way decent could stand aside.
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