Whatever the outcome of the election court hearing that's going on right now (you can read Lib Dem blogger Nick Thornsby's account of it on his site), Phil Woolas should be doomed. He should be doomed, for the dog-whistles in his election leaflets, for conflating one group of Muslims with an extreme group of Muslims (deliberately or otherwise), and all of the grubby electioneering that led to the hearing taking place.
But the trouble is, they don't represent much of a departure for Woolas from what he was happy to do as minister for immigration in the Labour Government. The Labour Government that was happy to bundle crime and immigration together in its election manifesto. As Justin put it:
Because New Labour never, ever used political populism over the issue of immigration did it? Never suggested a ‘white list‘. Never talked about asylum seekers ‘swamping‘ Britain. John Reid, when he replaced Charles Clarke as Home Secretary, never appeared on the front of the Daily Mirror with his sleeves rolled up and his fists clenched vowing ‘I’ll f****** well work 18 hours a day to sort this out’ before promptly ‘f******’ off on holiday. Woolas never let himself be photographed looking like a nightclub bouncer while barking ‘you can’t come in‘, did he? Woolas has never made political populist points linking immigration to unemployment. Woolas has never appended the word ‘industry’ to the word ‘immigration’ in an attempt to smear those with the brass neck to wish New Labour would carry out its immigration policies with a modicum of humanity. Woolas never called previous Conservative governments ‘soft’ on immigration for admitting the Ugandan Asians when they were expelled by Idi Amin.
No, New Labour would never sink to such revolting ‘political populism’ on an issue as sensitive and complex as immigration.
To assume that New Labour will boot out Woolas is to assume that they thought he was doing anything wrong in the first place. It is to assume that Labour didn't blame being seen as being soft on immigration as a reason why they got dumped by the electorate. It is to assume that Labour doesn't believe that they were right to introduce the points-based immigration system, so trumpeted by Woolas. There was a whole cabinet of ministers there who didn't seem to be horrified by that kind of approach to immigration then - why is it going to change now?
Sure, Woolas's team wanted to go strong on 'the militant Muslim angle'. They wanted to 'get the white vote angry'. Woolas asked if they could 'get away with "Muslim extremists"'. But is this so different to the dog-whistles Woolas and Labour were happy to use in the run-up to the election, and beforehand?
There was a time when I thought that Labour indulged in the tabloid-style rhetoric on immigration because they were scared of the tabloids and wanted to look tougher, fearing they were seen as a 'soft touch' even when they weren't. Now I'm not so sure whether that was the reason behind it. There is, of course, another alternative - that 'getting the white vote angry' wasn't just going on in Saddleworth, but all over the country; that Labour really believed in 'crime and immigration' as something that could be lumped together; that they weren't a soft touch on immigration at all, no matter how they were portrayed in the papers, and they wanted to be even harder.
Will a new leader make a difference? Or will they be happy to rehabilitate Woolas if he's found to have done nothing improper by the election court, to keep him on as shadow immigration minister perhaps? Was it a dog-whistle too far from Woolas, or was it really so different from the rest of New Labour?