by RAY FLEMING

PHIL Woolas, the Labour MP and former Immigration Minister has had an accident and gaffe prone political career, which memorably included an unwanted and impromptu press conference with Joanna Lumley on the subject of Gurkhas' right to settle in Britain. Yesterday he was suspended from Parliament for three years and shown the door by the Labour Party following an electoral court decision that he had used corrupt and illegal practices to prevent Elwyn Watkins, his Liberal Democrat opponent at the general election, from being elected. In the campaign Woolas made a variety of accusations against Watkins of which the most serious was that he had met with Muslim extremists in the constituency. Woolas beat Watkins by 103 votes. The judgement is the first of its kind under legislation that is almost 100 years old.

The election in the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency has to be re-run and it is likely to attract keen interest since if Mr Watkins or any other Liberal Democrat stands the result will show what effect the party's alliance with the Conservatives has had on their support in a constituency where it has been strong in the past. At the general election the Conservative candidate finished just two thousand votes short of the two front runners; will Labour win again despite the circumstances of Mr Woolas' departure or will the Conservatives get a vote of confidence by defeating their coalition partner as well as Labour? A fascinating prospect.

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