Did Labour stoke up Unite row to force changes in candidate selections?


2:55 pm - July 8th 2013

by Sunny Hundal    


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There’s something I don’t quite understand about the Labour leadership’s row with Unite last week.

Tom Watson’s resignation had ensured that the controversy would become headline news. So if the Labour leadership really wanted to play it down, why make a big show of referring the Falkirk file to the police the next day? Why also spend all of Friday attacking Unite, saying McCluskey should “face up to his responsibilities” and accusing Unite of “corruption”? All of this only inflamed the situation.

Why were Labour MPs allowed to publish conciliatory and calming articles only from late on Friday evening (see Owen Smith and Ian Lavery MPs). Of course, some in the media will argue that this was a communications cock-up rather than conspiracy. But given that Ed Miliband himself went out there and gave interviews using language that he knew would keep the media interest growing – it seems quite plausible they saw it coming.

I said on Friday that this would blow up in Ed Miliband’s face if the Tories used the row to attack union funding of Labour.

But by Sunday this eventuality was pre-empted by the Labour leader himself.

On party funding, I have also said that as a part of a comprehensive reform we should put a cap on the large donations that any individual, business or trade union can give to a political party. Labour sought to make reform happen in the party funding talks. We continue to want change.

Ed Miliband’s article said Labour ‘must mend, not end, union links’. Guess who is among the biggest barriers to changing the candidate selection process? Union leaders – who worry it would reduce the little power they have to push union-leaning candidates.

By Sunday afternoon the Guardian was getting briefed that the Labour leadership was looking at ‘reducing the power of union bosses’.

Today the newspaper goes further and quotes Harriet Harman saying there will be changes to how Labour selects candidates. “Things like a cap on spending will be a significant change for the right reasons. It is very important that people cannot be ruled out of a contest because they can’t get the backing of a union or have their own independent funds.”

And earlier this afternoon we got emails saying the Labour leader is due to make a speech tomorrow morning on ‘One Nation Politics’.

It increasingly looks like the Labour leadership stoked up this row to finally push for internal changes they had promised years ago.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Trade Unions ,Westminster

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Reader comments


Totes.

“…why make a big show of referring the Falkirk file to the police the next day?”

Probably because the Party’s lawyers advised there was potential criminal offence / offences and a cover up would be even worse.

You may be right but it’s pretty bloody high stakes and hardly a strategic movement. As a dirty rotten Tory bastard (which I am) it seems that the substance of this whole thing may be lost on Joe Public yet the ‘mes en scene’, the impression given, will be that Labour are getting screwed by UNITE and for this to get thrust into the public eye just stinks.

Ofcourse all parties rig their selection process, ofcourse they do – geez, what’s the point in running an Assoc if you can’t get the PPCs you want but the general way of doing things is to nip down the Town Hall beforehand and throw the Chairman against the wall.

If this has been planned, it was shite. That’s my twopenneth worth, anywho.

4. Planeshift

“There’s something I don’t quite understand about the Labour leadership’s row with Unite last week”

Simple. Over the past 6 weeks they have decided to pick a fight with every cause remotely associated with the left in an effort to demonstrate to middle england voters that Ed Milliband has a large penis.

I’m sure there’s an element of ‘not letting a good crisis go to waste’ – i.e. seizing the opportunity to push a wider agenda on the funding of parties and candidates, and the relationship with the unions. And note that while this agenda might have something to do with limiting the power of union leaders, it probably also has to do with limiting the power of groups like Progress, and with making it harder for the Tories to defend/maintain their reliance on wealthy individual and corporate donors.

But I suspect Bitethehand @ 2 is right: the Labour leadership know what has gone on behind the scenes in Falkirk, expect this to come into the public domain (and perhaps end up in court), and have made a judgement that they cannot afford to be seen to be cosying up to Unite or engaging in any kind of hushing-up exercise. Miliband can’t afford to let Len McCluskey become his Andy Coulson, taking a line – ‘he’s a friend of mine, and if he says he’s done nothing wrong I believe him’ – that could leave him looking naive at best and crooked at worst.

So is the plan intended to remove the last barriers to Miliband & co parachuting in whomever they like to safe seats? Labour needs more of such insiders like it needs a hole in the head.

I’m a trade unionist and a party member. I want the link to remain.

But from w. Some of which were done withoutt I hear from people in my own union and the party Unite have royally screwed up.

They tried to get Len McClusky’s partner selected by buying up party membership without some people knowing they had become party members. That’s fraud.

Then instead of keeping his mouth shut McClusky has come out swinging. He is in a hole and should stop digging. His cack handed attempt to fix things failed and now he’s making it worse.

People in my union are angry that McClusky has now made it difficult for all the affiliated unions. I don’t think Unite has any support from the other affiliated unions, who have been pretty silent on all of this.

@ Cherub

It’s not as if Unite are in the business of opening up the selection process to the man and woman on the street. Their preferred candidate in Falkirk was herself an ‘insider’ – a friend of McCluskey and Tom Watson’s office manager. So the problem is not just with ‘Miliband & co.’ Something needs to be done to open things up to ordinary individual members.

Erm, no. Didn’t know you were into conspiracy theories!

So Ed “decisive leader” Milliband rejected Watson’s resignation at first because political strategy? HAHAHAHA!

No actually gives a shit because Andy Murray’s definitely British.

For now.

11. Charlieman

@4. Planeshift: “Over the past 6 weeks they have decided to pick a fight with every cause remotely associated with the left in an effort to demonstrate to middle england voters that Ed Milliband has a large penis.”

A demonstration to the electorate that Miliband is not a union man is part of the game. But what we see is a classic conflict between political machines: the union machine and party HQ machine. And Tom Watson, a political machine manager, got caught in the middle.

“It increasingly looks like the Labour leadership stoked up this row to finally push for internal changes they had promised years ago.”

My word. You mean that politicians posture rather than actually ever do anything?

Well I never.

No one seems to have noticed that the many other affiliated unions, including Unison and GMB have been strangely silent over this affair.

It’s pretty clear why this is. All of them are hacked off at United’s behaviour and that it now calls the union link into disrepute. I know the last and paid leadership of my own union are fuming. But Unite continue to whine about being the wronged party when there were people who were being bought party membership without their knowledge.

14. john reid

Eric Joycve probably hit that bloke to lose his job, so this whole thing could happen for the leadership, cetrainly Joyce has been atalking aobut it enough,

Ofcourse all parties rig their selection process, ofcourse they do…

Well, yes – but the idea is generally not to let somebody else rig their selection process.


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