Friday, 5 November 2010
What does this mean for the future of UK politics?
It's not uncommon in the United States for the results of close elections to be determined in court. Who could forget the 2000 presidential election, which in the end was resolved by the Supreme Court - not the voters. But things are different in the UK, or so I thought.
I hadn't bothered to blog about the election court, convened to decide whether Phil Woolas' election literature was lawful or not, because I had thought the result was a foregone conclusion as no UK court would overturn the decision of the British voters. Clearly Ed Miliband had come to the same conclusion as me, otherwise he wouldn't have recently made Mr. Woolas the Shadow immigration minister. However, Mr. Miliband and I were completely wrong.
Today the election court found Phil Woolas guilty of deliberately making false statements in his constituency of Oldham East and Saddleworth during this year's general election campaign. As a result, Mr. Woolas has been banned from standing for Parliament for three years and the election result in his constituency has been overturned – meaning there will now be a by-election to fill the seat.
The Labour party quickly suspended Mr. Woolas, and Harriet Harman forcefully condemned his actions, even though they had been serving together in the same Shadow Government just yesterday. It all felt a bit like Labour was over compensating. Of course, as a result of the verdict, Labour (along with the other parties) is now in election mode.
It is easy to forget that, even though the government has a comfortable majority, there is still technically a hung parliament, and every seat counts. The by-election will also be the first real chance to gauge the public's opinion of the new politics and to see how the coalition parties cope with fighting against each other in an election campaign.
One thing that worries me about this case is the precedent it sets. In years to come, as a result of today's decision, will close elections be determined by the courts instead of the people?