Fall of ex-minister exposes Labour’s fascist election strategy

By Yvonne Ridley

So, former British Government minister Phil Woolas has finally been rumbled for playing the race and religion cards in a political game which has fuelled Islamaphobia in the UK.

Phil WoolasTwo high court judges have ordered that his election as MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth is “void”. Woolas was brought before the court on accusations of stirring up racial hatred and seizing on anti-Muslim sentiment in Oldham by claiming that his rival endorsed a Muslim campaign to remove him.

His campaign aimed to “make white folks angry” at his opponent, the Liberal Democrat’s Elwyn Watkins, as part of a desperate bid to retain his seat in the run up to the May 2010 general election. Whipping up hysteria and rhetoric that could make him a Tea Party candidate in America, Woolas is now barred from the House of Commons and ordered to pay £5,000 and costs to Mr Watkins.

He says he will seek a judicial review but it’s not looking good – as he stands there exposed for what he is, Labour has put a barge pole’s distance between themselves and the disgraced politician. The Westminster Village is said to be reeling in a state of shock … but why? I exposed the political scumbag way back on February 18 2008. Actually, my exact words to describe the government minister at the time were “an odious, rancid, little creep.”

This is what I wrote: “One of the biggest Islamophobes sitting in Government is Phil Woolas, who deserves further scrutiny in this column. He was the minister for race relations in the autumn of 2006 when he intervened in the row over the classroom assistant Aisha Azmi by calling for her to be fired. Aisha was the girl who work a nikab over her face whenever a male colleague entered the room, but by the time he and the media had finished you would have thought Aisha spent her entire teaching days in a full face veil. This is the MP who during the last General Election stamped the Union Jack emblem on his campaign literature and highlighted 'anti-white racism' as a vital issue in his Oldham constituency. His mates told him it was political suicide and that he would lose his marginal seat but in fact his votes increased and sent the anoraks in Labour’s spin machine into statistical overdrive. They realised then they didn’t need to try and win back the disaffected Muslims who ditched Labour over Iraq and Afghanistan. So instead of trying to bring them back into the fold, these cynical politicians opted instead to stir up racial tension as a means of appealing directly to the white working-class vote”. The full column is here

The Woolas shock election victory after the disastrous Iraq war was achieved by using the race and religion card – his politics of hate was a winning formula and Tony Blair’s backroom strategists loved it … once they’d recovered from the shock, for the truth is they had written off Woolas as a political casualty of the 2003 war since he was based in a marginal constituency with a large Muslim community.

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The actions of Woolas triggered a new New Labour strategy which sought to encourage columns and online blogs written by aggressive secularists and so-called progressives to make Islam-bashing trendy. It was a poison which began creeping in to newspaper and magazine columns as well.

Those driven by racism also joined in the fun seeing Islamophobia as the last legitimate refuge to peddle their race-fueled hate. Phil Woolas was the man responsible for making Islamaphobia a national sport and while I'm sure he will be repulsed by the activities of the British National Party and the English Defence League they thrived in this atmosphere.

There were a few notable exceptions within the party including London Mayor Ken Livingstone who refused to enter in to political Muslim-baiting and at one point some sections of the media turned on him damaging his own political campaign in the English capital.

Meanwhile in the last General Election Labour ruthlessly deployed the politics of fascism to win popular votes and approval. Using the ‘Woolas’ model they placed the politics of religious identity at the centre of public debate, in the same opportunist way that Jorg Haider's Freedom Party did in Austria and Pim Fortuyn's List Party had previously done in Holland. Geert Wilders went on to take the hate to new levels. The fire of Islamaphobia rages across Europe today. Control orders, the use of secret evidence, tougher anti-terror laws – all aimed at the Muslim communities – came to define the Labour government's role in the ill-conceived War on Terror.

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This incendiary atmosphere of growing Islamophobic intolerance continued to be ignited by the actions of the then Government minister on Race, Phil Woolas, who cynically drove the bandwagon through Muslim communities at every available opportunity.

He created hysterical headlines about "Muslim inbreeding " with his comments about the health risks of cousin marriages among Pakistanis. The way he spoke about the issue was as though some Frankenstein-like creatures were filling the baby wards in maternity hospitals around Oldham, Bradford, Burnley and Birmingham.

Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, both stirred the political pot of religion and racism, the latter wading in to Jack Straw’s nikab row with gusto. It seems every Labour minister was scrambling over the backs of others to attack islam and Muslims.

Meanwhile, the enemies of Islam are still circling in politics and the media. They are trying to force Muslims to adopt an Islam which is servile to the West, a designer Islam that can be picked up and taken off like a pair of Jimmy Choos.

What have they got to fear from Muslims in Britain who simply want to uphold family values which were once held so dear in British communities before binge drinking, promiscuity and pill-popping became so commonplace? There is no reason why Muslims can not contribute positively to Britain and elsewhere in the West without diluting their faith. It is not asked of other communities so why single Muslims out for special treatment?

The Commons Speaker, John Bercow will now have to decide whether to wait for further legal proceedings or immediately call a by-election for Oldham East and Saddleworth. The political power is now back with the people of that constituency – good people of faith and no faith.

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I would urge each and every one of them to vote, and vote for the politician who best suits their ideals … someone who is prepared to serve the people and not manipulate voters by trading on fear and hatred.

Hopefully the downfall of Woolas will serve as a salutory warning to all of those who indulged in the fascist politics of race, religion and fear.

Yvonne Ridley is the European President of the International Muslim Women’s Union who came to fame when she 

ventured into Afghanistan after 9/11 and was captured by Taliban. Later released and then she studied Islam and became a Muslim. She is an activist, present everywhere against tyranny, injustice and oppression.

She is a regular contributor to Opinion Maker