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Harman, Woolas and Labour's north-south divide

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by Paul Goodman

Bad news day for Labour, with this morning's MP expenses fraud court judgement, and earlier detailed accounts of Harman's mauling at yesterday's Labour Parliamentary Party meeting.  A lot's been written about why Woolas has so many Labour backers.  He's a long-standing trade union operator with GMB connections.  He's part of the big north-west group of Labour MPs.  The Liberal Democrats have a record of making tackles from behind during election campaigns, and Labour MPs in general are raging at the court decision.  Cherie Blair's a friend of the Woolases, and so on.

But one point doesn't seem to have been made.

Namely, that Labour's internal row over the Woolas affair is part of a north-south divide.  In the south, Labour's few seats - such as Slough (which is worth an article in itself, and a matter I should return to), and the inner London constituencies that they hold - aren't kept red by the votes of the white working class and the public sector interest alone.  The votes of recent immigrants and ethnic minorities can be decisive.  In the north, the white working class is a bigger factor in the mix.  Woolas was feeling the effect in his seat of its alienation from Labour over the immigration issue - hence his maniacal leaflets.

Harman encapsulates perfectly the self-righteous, boosy-boots, knows-what's-best-for-you nature of Labour's Londoncentric network - greatly influenced by lawyers, of which she's one.  Woolas is a good illustration of the kind of north-based Labour MP who'd nothing much to say about immigration until the problems driven by Labour's lack of control of it turned up knocking at his front door.  Harman faces Clegg at Prime Minister's Questions later this morning.  It'll be interesting to see if he tries to exploit Labour's divisions on the issue.  And, if so, whether Harman's response helps to make relations between the two parties even less of a love-in.