Ex-minister ‘tried to stir hatred’

Press Association – September 2010

A former immigration minister stooped to foment racial and religious divisions as part of a desperate attempt to change an election result, a court heard.

A specially convened election court was told that Labour MP Phil Woolas and his campaign team set out to “galvanise the white Sun vote” against Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins.

They decided to set out to “make the white folk angry” by depicting an alleged campaign by Muslims to “take Phil out” in a high-risk strategy described in their own words as “s*** or bust”, it was alleged.

Mr Watkins has mounted a rare legal challenge to May’s General Election result in Oldham East and Saddleworth, which Mr Woolas won by just 103 votes following two recounts.

Mr Watkins aims to activate a rarely used clause in election laws to declare the result void and force a re-run.

Two High Court judges are considering the case – scheduled to last five days – sitting at Saddleworth Civic Hall in Uppermill.

Opening the case, Helen Mountfield QC said diary entries kept during the election by Mr Woolas showed he was “pretty convinced” he was going to lose.

The prosecutor said he feared a national swing away from the ruling party, the expenses scandal and decisions made by him as an immigration minister which “may not have endeared him to some members of his constituency” would contribute to his downfall.

He was also said to be worried that a Conservative Asian candidate, Kashif Ali, would mean Tory voters switching to the Lib Dems.

She said: “Mr Woolas’s team had made an overt and, some may say, shocking decision to set out to ‘make the white folk angry’ by depicting an alleged campaign by those who they described generically as Asians to ‘take Phil out’ and then present Mr Watkins as in league with them. This was intended to galvanise the white Sun (reading) vote against him.”
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