An election court has ruled - and the Labour party seemingly agrees - that Phil Woolas included in election material which breached the Representation of the People Act on two counts of making false statements about his Lib Dem rival.
The speed with which Woolas went from being a valued (and elected) member of Ed Miliband’s shadow cabinet to enemy of the party Number 1 was quite remarkable. Even before a single appeal had been heard (and I expect several) Harriet Harman was desperate to make clear he had nothing to do with Labour.
Then something struck me that nobody seems to have reported yet - who else saw the leaflet? I doubt very much it was a one-man operation.
Here’s one option. Woolas’ local campaign manager drafts the copy, which is then read by Woolas and his agent (at a minimum). So there’s two more people, both party members, who also approved of the copy. The agent uses a design template and sends it to the printers, and it’s distributed by volunteers.
Alternatively, the copy could have been sent to Labour HQ, who then produce the graphics and send back a PDF to be printed as needed.
However, there is one wider possibility.
As a senior party MP and then Minister, I find it hard to think there was zero input from Labour HQ. I would expect someone took a look at his leaflet as part of a sign-off process, even if it was just a proofing exercise. Given Woolas’ leaflet essentially suggested a Lib Dem win in the seat was a victory for Muslim extremists, I would have thought even a lowly intern on proofing duties might have mentioned it to someone to check if that was the kind of thing that should be going out.
So, whereas in the Coulson affair, the ‘rogue’ explanation is entirely unacceptable, here it is absolutely the only option on offer.
Who else at Labour HQ knew about the leaflet, or indeed approved it?
When are we to expect they will be shown the door in the same ungracious manner as Woolas?
Or, as we’ve already seen with the Ken Livingstone/Tower Hamlets affair, is it a case of one rule for some, another rule for friends of Labour HQ?