The Twitter account Woolasfightback says it all really about the mess that Labour are in. Oh, Labour. Oh, Labour, Labour, Labour. I remember voting for you. I remember thinking it was a good idea. I remember thinking that my experience of anything vaguely left-liberal was of people endlessly resorting to infighting and petty squabbles, but that Labour would be different, because they were a national political party, and they'd be clued up, and they'd know what they were doing. Wrong. Oh, I was wrong. Oh, so wrong.
Phil Woolas was responsible for misleading and highly unpleasant tactics against his opponent which used borderline racism to 'get the white vote angry'. He also authorised the use of force against children in detention. So why are Labour still wringing their hands over this poisonous little man? That's the bit that's hard to understand. Why are they so loyal to this idiot who has cost them votes? Why are they trying to reinstate someone who is a massive turnoff for all of us who believe that Labour went too far on immigration by turning a fair policy into a Daily Mail wet dream of 'you can't come in'?
I know it's not all of Labour who are backing Woolas. And thank goodness. But there's enough of a split, and enough rumblings from behind the scenes, to give an impression that, as the cliche goes, lefties are never happier than when they're fighting themselves. Why do the names of Cherie Blair and David Miliband turn up? Don't these people realise what kind of damage they'd do by backing this discredited oaf? And then you have to wonder if they know exactly what they're doing - rocking the boat.
It was Labour's fault in the first place, for not booting Woolas out sooner. Those leaflets were evidence enough to see him off. The claim that the party didn't want to prejudice the court case and so waited for the verdict is simply not good enough. You either think that publishing such leaflets is appalling, in which case you take action, or you don't; you don't wait for someone else to tell you what to do. That kind of wobbling leaves Woolas and his chums with the defence that Labour didn't kick him out until the court ruled, so if the ruling can be overturned, then everything will be rosy again.
It may be disappointing to see a democratically elected person be kicked out of office by the courts, but it's more disappointing to see someone resort to dog-whistle racism and lies to try and win a tight election. Woolas knew the law (or at least he should have been aware of it) when he started his campaign, and - at the risk of using a fairly standard phrase you see everywhere at the moment - he had 13 years in government to change that law, should he have thought it was unfair. He didn't, and neither did anyone else who is suddenly getting heated about the decision.
There is no absolute right to tell a lie, and get away with it, just because it's politics and electioneering. It doesn't chill political debate to call someone out for lying; it simply makes people less likely to lie in the future. We can wring your hands if we like, but I don't find that tremendously worrying, in the cold light of day. And yes, Liberal Democrats and Tories do leaflets of their own that aren't very pleasant. If you don't like them, call them out. Whataboutery doesn't work in this instance because everyone has the opportunity to complain about election communications. And there's a world of difference between a dodgy bar chart and the kind of awfulness found in Woolas's material.
But so it goes on. Woolas is looking for help, and he's getting it. At a time when Labour is riding high in the polls, when its stance against cuts is popular. Its tendency for self-destruction always pops up at the exact moment it is needed least. Labour have a chance to seize the moral high ground over cuts; to offer an alternative; to be the best opposition they can be. If they blow it by getting distracted over defending some fool and his deeply unpleasant leaflets then they deserve all the failure they're going to get.