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Case Study - Judges overturn Oldham and Saddleworth General Election Result (2010)

It is not uncommon for politicians to wave election leaflets around during debates claiming dodgy statistics and mis-information from their opponents. They may even publicly call them liars. However, this was taken to an entirely new level in 2010.

Phil Woolas was the Labour Member of Parliament for the Oldham and Saddleworth constituency in the North-West of England. He was also appointed Minister for Immigration in 2008, famously being door-stepped by Joanna Lumley during her campaign for the Gurkhas right to settle in the UK.

In the 2010 General Election Mr Woolas won by 103 votes with the Liberal Democrats coming second.

Elwyn Watkins, the defeated Liberal Democrat candidate challenged the Labour victory. Watkins stated that during the campaign Mr Woolas had falsely claimed he was courting Islamic extremists, in a bid to dis-credit him, stirring up racial tensions.

Breaches of Representation of the People Act 1983

Mr Justice Teare and Mr Justice Griffith Williams ruled that Mr Woolas was guilty of three illegal practices. Knowing it to be untrue he falsely claimed that Watkins had:

  • “attempted to woo, that is, to seek the electoral support of Muslims who advocated violence”.
  • been “willing to condone threats of violence in pursuit of personal advantage”; and
  • was  “untrustworthy” by falsely claiming Watkins did not live in the constituency. 

The two men ruled that Mr Woolas had breached electoral law by knowingly making false statements about his opponent. They declared the result void and a by-election was held.

Mr Woolas was barred form standing for Parliament for three years and thrown-out of the Labour Party by leader Ed Miliband.

The last MP to have an election victory over-turned was in 1911. 

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