Friday, 5 November 2010

A bad day for democracy

Today's High Court judgement that the election has to be rerun in the Oldham and Saddleworth seat won for Labour by Phil Woolas in the general election has wider implications than the need for a by-election in that seat. I have no wish to defend Phil Woolas's leaflets, especially given the judgement. But there have been plenty of other election leaflets produced over the years by all parties - especially by Liberal Democrats - that owe more to the Fox News interpretation of 'fair and balanced' coverage of opponents' views than the dictionary definition.

Now, many candidates who lost out narrowly in the general election or local council elections will be revisiting their opponents' leaflets to see whether they too can challenge the result. I'm no fan of robust negative campaigning, but it is a part of most healthy democracies, and the voters usually have the common sense to make up their own minds about it. If someone feels that a leaflet has libelled them, it would surely be better that they use the libel laws to seek redress rather than trying to overturn an election.

Today's judgement is worrying in that it now suggests that the judiciary can second-guess the electorate when a losing candidate doesn't like the outcome.


Anthony Zacharzewski said...

Oh come on, the judiciary are there to implement the law, and the law can be changed by Parliament.

Remember that the RotPA only prohibits false statements about a candidate's character or conduct which are made in the knowledge that they are not true. I think we should absolutely be banning that sort of election statement.

It doesn't prevent leaflets from containing spin, shades of doubt, misrepresentation of a party's policy, or dodgy interpretations of national politics.

Andrew Boff said...

Democracy is being able to make decisions based upon facts, not racist lies.

Alix said...

You're concerned about the impact of judicial decisions on public life, and yet you encourage more people to have recourse to English *libel laws*?

Conor Ryan said...

andrew, it is a long time since I saw a Lib Dem leaflet with many facts in them. Alix- so you think it is better to have judges second-guessing voters than using admittedly imperfect libel laws!