Labour 'had to act' over Phil Woolas election verdict

Image caption,
Mr Woolas is set to challenge the court ruling over his conduct during the election

Labour "had to act" in response to a court verdict banning Phil Woolas from politics for three years, shadow cabinet minister Caroline Flint says.

Ms Flint told BBC Question Time Mr Woolas was a friend and that she was "concerned" for him, but she defended the party's decision to suspend him.

Mr Woolas is seeking a judicial review of last week's election court verdict.

It ruled Mr Woolas had made false statements in his winning campaign for the Oldham East and Saddleworth seat.

The ex-immigration minister was barred from standing for elected office for three years after the specially convened court ruled he was guilty of breaching the Representation of the People Act 1983.

He won the seat by 103 votes.

Ms Flint, the shadow communities secretary, said she had known Mr Woolas for more than 20 years and believed he had been a great MP and minister.

But she added: "What the special court found was that, with regard to the literature that was put out, statements were made about the Lib Dem candidate that were not only wrong but the Oldham campaign knew them to be wrong.

"That was the judgement and therefore Harriet Harman, representing the Labour Party, confirmed that and that is why Phil Woolas was administratively suspended."

Ms Harman has come under fire from Labour MPs for appearing to cast Mr Woolas adrift when she indicated he had no future in the party even if he succeeded in overturning the verdict.

Friends in the party

At a meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) on Monday, Ms Harman was accused of pre-empting the outcome of any appeal by the former MP.

One MP present at the meeting was said to have described her comments on Mr Woolas' future as a "disgrace" while it was reported that Ms Harman had been told to consider her position by another.

Ms Flint denied anyone had said that although she said she would not comment further on the details of the meeting.

She said Mr Woolas was a popular figure in the party.

"Phil Woolas is a friend to many people in the PLP and they are concerned for him and his family at this time and I share that concern as well to be honest."

But she added: "The party has to act on the issue of the court. And the process is not over yet."

Mr Woolas is raising cash for the next stage of his legal challenge to the election ruling and has reportedly received the backing of a number of prominent Labour figures.

Ms Flint said she expected a hearing in the case to take place on Tuesday.

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