UK Politician Tossed Out Of Parliament For Lying About Opponent During Election

from the wouldn't-that-be-nice... dept

Having just gone through election season here in the US, with all sorts of crazy political claims made in political commercials, it's interesting to see that, over in the UK, one elected member of Parliament, Phil Woolas, recently lost his seat after a court threw out the results of the election because Woolas went "too far in distorting his opponent's positions" (found via Dave Farber). Not only was the election thrown out, and Woolas removed from office, but he's prohibited from serving in Parliament for three years. Harsh.

Of course, while this might seem appealing for folks who are fed up with insane and misleading political advertising, as FactCheck.org notes in the link above, thanks to the First Amendment, we actually say it's legal for a politician to lie in that way (though, I would imagine that a defamation lawsuit might be possible). And while that might not seem fair, as FactCheck points out, the idea behind this is that we actually trust the voters to figure things out:
We certainly don't approve of false or misleading political claims, by any candidate or party. But the founders of our democracy left it to the voters, not the courts, to sort fact from fiction.


Reader Comments (rss)

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Nov 17th, 2010 @ 7:13am

    But....

    "But the founders of our democracy left it to the voters, not the courts, to sort fact from fiction."

    An honorable, laudible premise, to be sure. Here's the question pertinent in today's political landscape:

    What do you do when it's all lies, with little or no fact to be found?

     

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      :Lobo Santo (profile), Nov 17th, 2010 @ 7:21am

      Re: But....

      Things I learned from Southpark:

      No matter what, in todays world, when voting your choice always comes down to either voting for a giant douche, or a shit sandwich.

      Truth is barely relevant to the discussion. Just pick either the shit sandwich or the giant douche and then get on with your life.

      ; P

       

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        Dark Helmet (profile), Nov 17th, 2010 @ 7:23am

        Re: Re: But....

        "Truth is barely relevant to the discussion. Just pick either the shit sandwich or the giant douche and then get on with your life."

        ....no, I'm not going to do that. I'd rather come up with ways to make things better, even if that means basic discussions with others on the things that need to be corrected....

         

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          :Lobo Santo (profile), Nov 17th, 2010 @ 7:28am

          Re: Re: Re: But....

          There is nothing wrong with our system that cannot be corrected with a change of government.

           

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          Berenerd (profile), Nov 17th, 2010 @ 7:30am

          Re: Re: Re: But....

          as the majority of the FoxNews commentators will say "YOU ARE UNAMERICAN!"

           

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          Anonymous Coward, Nov 17th, 2010 @ 7:31am

          Re: Re: Re: But....

          Do what Koizumi did in Japan.

          Put a plan forth and tell people I need those people over here to be elected to do this thing I'm planning to do.

          It is not about politics after that point it is about plans, the beauty of it is that 90% of people elected don't get reelected and thus don't have the means to create corrupting roots and it makes it more risky to buy people since you don't know the guy really that well or what he would do.

          What people should do, is draft legislation they want and agree on it and vote to a bunch of strangers anyone with a clean background to make that happen, people need to vote on the two houses and the president, there are some things that everyone can agree, leave the controversial stuff out until everyone can agree and elect people to vote on those things then.

           

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            Liquid (profile), Nov 17th, 2010 @ 11:06am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: But....

            @AC: The problem with that entire logic is that countries are run by CEO's, and Corporate Investors.

            @Lobo Santo: A change of government would be great, but that wont happen until the people become so fed up with everything that either another revolutionary, or civil war comes about.

             

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        Whatis42? (profile), Nov 17th, 2010 @ 7:44am

        Re: Re: But....

        *Turd Sandwich

         

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      ethorad (profile), Nov 18th, 2010 @ 4:52am

      Re: But....

      Plus, while you can't fool all of the people all of the time, you can fool enough of the people for the couple of weeks up to an election to get elected. I think having some method to revisit the result where a position was fraudulently misrepresented is a good thing. Either courts, some sort of cooling off period, vote of confidence, etc?

      Of course there has to be some line as otherwise every politician would be kicked out within weeks of each election. Bunch of lying parasites the lot of them!

       

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 17th, 2010 @ 7:41am

    It is actually illegal in the EU and the UK to lie about someone. They call ranting ministers, Hate Speech. Not in the US. We can lie about anybody and ruin their reputation and families and no one does a thing about it. Sure we have libel laws but they only benefit the rich. When was the last time you heard about a preacher being sued or even reprimanded for their hate speech against everyone who is different?

     

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    out_of_the_blue, Nov 17th, 2010 @ 7:46am

    "we actually say it's legal for a politician to lie"

    NO, POLITICIANS SAY THAT for obvious reasons, and "say" means they don't write laws against it. As for *my* part of "We The People", hanging is too good for a politician that lies.

     

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    out_of_the_blue, Nov 17th, 2010 @ 7:53am

    Oh, aren't we empowered.

    "But the founders of our democracy left it to the voters, not the courts, to sort fact from fiction." -- The founders left much to be sorted out, like that whole slavery thing. -- It's an infantile argument to say that we can't restrict those who would rule us, and as general matter, the Constitution is little *but* restrictions on those who rule us.

     

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    lux (profile), Nov 17th, 2010 @ 7:54am

    "And while that might not seem fair, as FactCheck points out, the idea behind this is that we actually trust the voters to figure things out"

    Imagine how dumb the average person is - now statistically, 50% of the people have to be dumber than that. Scary huh - kind of makes you wonder why people follow/endorse the garbage quoted above. Our political climate is flooded with innuendo and meaningless posturing, all fueled by 24/7 "gotcha" media coverage. It's out of control, and no amount of normal-people-figuring-things-out is going to stop it.

     

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      Hulser (profile), Nov 17th, 2010 @ 8:21am

      Re:

      no amount of normal-people-figuring-things-out is going to stop it.

      It sounds like you think the US too should have the government involved in determining truth versus falsehood. This is the same kind of misguided attitude that newspapers give when bashing bloggers -- "Only we should have the privilege to tell the public what the truth is." -- and when people sue Google because they don't like what people are saying on the pages returned in a search -- "But but but...Google should know that this web page is saying bad things about me and remove it from its results!"

      In both scenarios, the responsibility of determining what is truth and falsehood is being shifted from the individual to some responsible authority. I don't know about you, but I don't want a Ministry of Truth deciding these kinds of things for me. If that means that many people believe the lies of a politician, then so be it. That's just one of the prices of freedom.

      As Thomas Jefferson said, "I know of no safe repository of the ultimate power of society but people. And if we think them not enlightened enough, the remedy is not to take the power from them, but to inform them by education."

       

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        Jake, Nov 18th, 2010 @ 6:24am

        Re: Re:

        There is a significant difference, I feel, between "telling the people what the truth is" and calling someone out on a lie.

         

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      interval (profile), Nov 17th, 2010 @ 8:48am

      Re:

      "Imagine how dumb the average person is..." Yeah, its popular to say things like that, but how accurate are these numbers? Do you know anyone who is actually stupid, and is of voting age? I can tell you I don't actually know very many. Most of the people I choose to associate with are intelligent, thinking adults. Its easy to point at the unwashed masses and say "50% of those people are stupid", its another matter to actually decide who is in fact stupid and who isn't.

       

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        Punmaster (profile), Nov 17th, 2010 @ 8:53am

        Re: Re:

        Oh - there's got to be lots of dumb people - of voting age - out there. Statistically, half of the people out there have IQ's below 100 after all...

        And someone has to be watching all that reality TV.

        But I agree with Hulser's comment - we really REALLY need to improve education, and encourage our children to think critically if we want our society to improve.

         

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        Anonymous Coward, Nov 17th, 2010 @ 9:01am

        Re: Re:

        It's a George Carlin quote, so simmer down.

         

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        nasch (profile), Nov 17th, 2010 @ 9:44am

        Re: Re:

        Whether you, or most of the people reading TechDirt, personally know a lot of dumb people is not a good indicator of how many dumb people are out there.

         

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 17th, 2010 @ 7:54am

    The first amendment doesn't say anything about whether this sort of lying should be an impeachable offense for legislators...

     

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    The eejit (profile), Nov 17th, 2010 @ 8:05am

    Living close to that shitbag....

    Yeah, Woolas was a shitbag, who has done this before, on at least two occasions. He used racism against his opponents - it's just that this time, his opponent filed it with the Parliamentary Standards Commission.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 17th, 2010 @ 8:23am

    In USA it would make sense if we had instant run off elections. But we don't so there is only two choices , one filled with racists and corpratists and the other with pussies and fake liberals.

     

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      Anonymous Coward, Nov 17th, 2010 @ 9:04am

      Re:

      You seem to be some sort of bigot who can lump everybody into two categories. No doubt your definition of racism is based on playing favorites. If you treat minorities equally under the law then you are a racist. They must get special treatment to make up for the past. Since I think to hell with the past and let's just treat EVERYONE the same I am a racist. And you are a dipshit.

       

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    Pickle Monger (profile), Nov 17th, 2010 @ 8:39am

    England and democracy

    [...] the idea behind this is that we actually trust the voters to figure things out [...]

    As Winston Churchill said "The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter."

     

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      Pickle Monger (profile), Nov 17th, 2010 @ 8:39am

      Re: England and democracy

      Of course he also said that "Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time" but that is another story :)

       

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    eclecticdave (profile), Nov 17th, 2010 @ 8:39am

    Lying Politicians

    As a UK citizen with a slight interest in politics, I'd like to point out that UK politicians do still have a lot of leeway. After all it would be difficult to figure out where to draw the line between outright lying and the sort of misrepresentation, wilful misinterpretation, innuendo and selective memory that is the stock in trade of politicians the world over!

    What Woolas did, as I understand it, was to strongly suggest that his Lib-Dem opponent associated with Muslim terrorists and not just in an off-hand manner but in print in official election leaflets. The law he was convicted under is deliberately very narrow and specific and relates to attempts to skew public opinion by smearing opponent candidates' good character.

     

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    weneedhelp (profile), Nov 17th, 2010 @ 8:51am

    But the founders of our democracy?

    And to the Republic for which it stands...

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 17th, 2010 @ 9:05am

    And if lying were illegal for someone holding an office, Benjamin Franklin would have been screwed. Hell, he maliciously reported a rival's death just to mess with the guy. And kept up the charade till the man actually died years later. So much for the founding fathers idea...

     

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    Overcast (profile), Nov 17th, 2010 @ 9:16am

    Someone care to point out an honest politician?

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 17th, 2010 @ 9:30am

    I like the idea of licensed politicians. There are lots of professions that require licensure to work for the public. I don't see why policy makers are excempt from an incompetence check. Why are we expected to not have a minimum standard of ethics among politicians but we do for doctors or engineers. Without a minimum standard of some sort i don't see how we'll get past the fact that anyone smart enough to be a good politician is smart enough to get a better job so we're left with self serving turds.

     

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    Fentex, Nov 17th, 2010 @ 1:03pm

    The law is slightly more subtle than expressed here.

    The MP in question wasn't kicked out solely for lying - he was kicked out for telling demonstrable lies in the last few hours of the campaign.

    It is legal to tell lies in the UK in political campaigns and leave it to the electors to deduce intent and decide between candidates just as in the U.S with the exception that one cannot knowingly mislead people on a objective fact in the very last days when opportunities for response are lacking.

    So it isn't a situation of a complete absence of freedom of speach in the U.K compared to a presence of complete freedom of speech in the U.S.

    It's a law that establishs a few rules intended to ensure a modicrum of equal opportunity to candidates and protection from manipulation to electors in elections at a the cost of a passing interruption to absolute fredom of speech for people seeking election.

     

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