Saturday, 6 November 2010

Phil Woolas, the Daily Mail and staggering hypocrisy

I'm not going to try and defend Phil Woolas, who has been kicked out of the House of Commons after being found guilty of lying about his election opponent and trying to stir up racial hatred in order to win votes. He's always been a bit of a an arse, and it's good to see the law coming down on him like a tonne of bricks.

What I am going to complain about is, predictably, the Mail's staggering hypocrisy in its
coverage of the case. The paper describes Woolas's campaign materials thus:
Evil leaflets that set out to stir up racial tension
Rebecca Camber examines how Mr Woolas embarked on a toxic campaign of lies, smears and dirty tricks to ‘make the white folk angry’ enough to vote for him.
A toxic campaign of lies and smears designed to make white folk angry, you say? Tell me more, Rebecca.

Labour’s ... newspaper-style mailshots ... contained inflammatory headlines such as ‘Lib Dem pact with the Devil’. Other so-called ‘stories’ included ‘Lib Dems in mosque planning permission stitch-up’ and ‘Straight talking Woolas too fair for militant Muslims’.

A picture of extremists holding a sign saying ‘behead those who insult Islam’, taken in London four years earlier, was also used, even though it had nothing to do with the supposed Muslim threat in Oldham.

There was no evidence of a Muslim extremist threat in Oldham or any death threats to Mr Woolas.

So the highlights of the Mail's charge sheet against Woolas (which earns the overall package the headline "Can our MPs sink any lower?") are:

  • That he published "so-called stories" suggesting Muslims had been involved in a planning permission scam
  • That he illustrated a story with a picture that had nothing to do with the story itself.
  • That he lied about the threat Muslims posed to the area.

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this by now, so let's cut straight to the chase. Other examples of so-called newspapers publishing so-called stories along these lines include:

  • The Daily Mail falsely claiming that Muslims had stopped a cafe owner receiving planning permission for an extractor fan
  • The Daily Mail illustrating a story with a picture that had nothing to do with the story itself.

So the question the Mail's editor has to ask himself is, can you possibly sink any lower? Any lower, that is, than the new low you apparently sank to last year.

Also winning a special prize for hypocrisy today is Simon Hughes, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats. After the Woolas verdict he proudly told the media:

"Mr Woolas has come severely unstuck and I am very pleased for politics and the rule of law that the judges have said so clearly that this was unacceptable."

I'm very interested in what Simon Hughes thinks is unacceptable in an election campaign. He first entered Parliament in a 1983 by-election, where his Labour opponent in the Bermondsey constituency was Peter Tatchell, who is today better known as a human rights campaigner with particular focus on gay rights issues. 

Bermondsey was a traditionally safe Labour seat, but at at time when there were no out gay MPs and homosexuality was nowhere near as acceptable as it is today, Hughes was elected after running a viciously homophobic campaign based almost entirely on the fact that the Labour candidate was gay. Hughes infamously produced leaflets calling himself "the straight choice" for Bermondsey, while male Lib-Dem canvassers went do-to-door with lipstick smears on their faces and stickers saying "I've been kissed by Peter Tatchell".

Hughes, who himself came out as bisexual in 2006, has since apologised and Tatchell has siad he doesn't bear a grudge. But to see Hughes of all people trying to take the moral high ground over dirty tricks in an election campaign is absolutely shocking.

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