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Woolas says Lib Dem opponent 'pandered to extremists'

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The former immigration minister Phil Woolas yesterday said it would have been "political suicide" to risk breaking electoral law to win the parliamentary seat of Oldham East and Saddleworth.

Giving testimony on day three of the special 'Election Court' into his conduct during the 2010 general election campaign, Mr Woolas said his opponent, Lib Dem Elwyn Watkins, "pandered" to extremists by not condemning a controversial group -- the Muslim Public Affairs Committee -- which apparently endorsed him.

Mr Woolas beat Mr Watkins by 103 votes, but the Liberal Democrat says the vote was swayed by 'dirty tricks' after the Labour campaign team made an overt decision "to make the white folk angry" to vote against him.

Under section 106 of the Representation of the People Act 1983, making or publishing a false statement of fact in relation to a candidate's personal character or conduct is illegal unless you have 'reasonable grounds' for believing the statement to be true.

Mr Woolas has denied making false statements about Mr Watkins. "My view was that the local Lib Dem party was trying to get support from the side of the spectrum which was being persuaded by [extremist] views," he explained.

"By their wooliness on the issue they were giving succour to that vote.

"My strategy was to mobilise mainstream Muslims and the white community against the extremists.

"If you do not state your view very clearly the extremist view gets more kudos in the community. If you pander to these it is the road to hell."

"It was not an attack on Mr Watkins, it was an attack on Mr Watkins's political strategy," he continued.

"I do not think he should have needed an invitation [to condemn the Muslim Public Affairs Committee]. I think it was politically naive of him. If there were leaflets going round saying 'BNP support Phil Woolas', I would say: I do not want this support."

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