Public Affairs: Soap Box - James Gurling, director, Hanover Communications

Just as Harriet Harman, deputy leader of the Labour Party, was right to swiftly distance her party from the campaign activities of Phil Woolas, so the National Union of Students president was right to establish clear water between the legitimate and popular actions of the vast majority of protesting students and the acts of violence perpetrated by a minority.

Unpopular though their actions might have been with vocal sections within their own organisations, the NUS and Labour each have at least limited the ground on which their corporate reputations will be judged.

Only the NUS will ultimately have limited its reputational damage.

As long as it can protest about Government policy, the NUS can escape detailed scrutiny of the alternative it proposes and ride a wave of disillusionment with this particular outcome of coalition politics.

For the Labour Party, there is less hope of escape. Ignoring the full horror of a campaign designed to 'make the white folks angry', the claim of often unnamed Labour MPs that judges have no right to implement law MPs themselves have enacted will cut no ice with a public already sceptical of MPs generally.

Neither will the assertion that the jettisoning of Woolas was a repeat of the 'injustice' meted out to Ian Gibson, who was deselected by Labour last year following questions over his expenses.

As I write, the outcome of Woolas' application for judicial review is unknown. The NUS may yet stand a candidate in the forthcoming by-election.

What is clear is that Harman's acknowledgement of blame may well do more to protect the long-term reputation of the Labour Party than the loss of any forthcoming by-election will hurt it.

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