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The challenge ahead for Phil Woolas

Arif Ansari | 12:12 UK time, Friday, 15 October 2010

Phil Woolas

The new Labour leader, Ed Miliband, clearly has confidence in Phil Woolas. He has appointed him to the frontbench as part of the Home Affairs team.

But will Mr Woolas be an MP for much longer?

On 5 November two High Court judges return to Uppermill civic centre to pronounce on the MP's future.

Mr Woolas, the Labour MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, is being challenged by his defeated Liberal Democrat candidate Elwyn Watkins who believes he was cheated out of victory at the general election.

The hearings finished four weeks ago on 16 September and since then rumours have swirled.

I have been spending some time speaking to a few of those closely involved in the case and have a pretty good idea how they are feeling.

The Lib Dems do not want to give the impression they are about to win. Nevertheless they are quietly confident.

At the party conference in Liverpool they were handing out flyers headlined "By-Election Alert". I only know this because a colleague was handed one at a fringe event.

The inside pages were photocopies of Labour's controversial leaflets. At least the Liberal Democrats have found some use for them.

And the party has also been advertising for interns for a possible by-election campaign.

The Conservatives too are hopeful of an election. Talks have taken place between the local party and London.

The Tories believe with some justification that it would be an election fight between them and Labour. They do not think the Lib Dems would win.

As for Labour, there is a mix of emotion at the top of the local party as they wait for the judges to return.

Some are confident they are going to win the case. Others, including Phil Woolas himself I'm told, are nervous.

The party's legal team is already planning to appeal if the judgement goes against them.

It's not clear what form an appeal would take. Perhaps it could be on a strict point of law to the Appeal Court; possibly to the European Court on the right to free speech.

There have been suggestions that alternative Labour candidates are already being lined-up. I do not believe that is anything more than rumour.

Even though Labour is facing the extraordinary possibility of defeat, the party fully stands by its allegations.

Indeed it is preparing to send a dossier of evidence against the Liberal Democrats to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

All depends on the judgements being crafted in London, probably about now.


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