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Friday, November 26, 2010 

In which I admit getting it wrong twice in two days.

Among the more puzzling seeming attacks on Elwyn Watkins featured in Phil Woolas's election literature was the one featured on the page containing his personal address to Oldham East and Saddleworth's voters. In what I foolishly imagined to be something approaching a joke, Woolas's pseudo newspaper promised that next week they could read Watkins' plans "to scrap the Geneva convention".

It says something about the battle being joined in the constituency that rather than being an attempt at a light-hearted jibe at their opponent, Watkins in fact did respond when asked that he'd rip up not only the Geneva convention, but also the European Convention on Human Rights if it would mean that he'd be able to deport asylum seekers back to "their oppressive country" if they'd broken the law here. Asked by members of his own party to clarify his views, he finally got around to responding to them today:

Clearly there are other considerations in the case of people who have been granted asylum because it is likely their lives would be seriously endangered if they return to their home country.

Nonetheless, the position of the minority who abuse asylum is a genuine concern for local people, many of whom have raised it repeatedly with politicians of all parties.

It is not good enough to sweep these concerns under the carpet as Labour have done for 13 years. To not discuss these issues openly when they are of genuine concern to many local people allows extremist parties to get a foot in the door, and that’s something none of us want.

I welcome the coalition government’s commitment to a Commission to investigate a British Bill of Rights, with the express intention of clarifying how our commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights, the Geneva Convention and other international agreements best operate within British law and to ‘promote a better understanding of the scope of these obligations and liberties’.

Which, as many will note, is almost exactly what Woolas himself has argued. By not saying that we'll deport asylum seekers back to their home country if they break the law, regardless of concerns for their safety, we'll allow the British National Party to take advantage. Or put another way: unless we adopt the British National Party's policies, we'll lose votes to them.

Watkins' attempt at outdoing Woolas from the right seems sadly to have been unsuccessful first time round, as the Liberal Democrat vote in the constituency fell by almost 300 ballots on their 2005 performance (doubtless they would claim as a result of Labour's dirty tricks), with the Tories and UKIP the main beneficiaries. The BNP share of the vote increased by 0.8%, but it was still way down on what they achieved in 2001, the year of the riots. Quite whether Liberal Democrats will come out and support someone who hasn't retracted his views when (or if) the by-election eventually takes place should be fascinating.

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