Unite found guilty of entryism in Falkirk West, but who within Labour was complicit?

by Atul Hatwal

Yesterday evening, as politicians and the media prepared for today’s debate on the spending review, Labour’s press office found the ideal time to bury some bad news.

The result of the NEC inquiry into the Falkirk West parliamentary selection was finally announced.

The party has decided that the surge in Unite members joining the local party was sufficiently suspicious to warrant action.

Falkirk West CLP has been placed in “special measures” and members who joined the party after March 12th last year (the date Eric Joyce MP announced he would be stepping down) will now not be eligible to participate in the parliamentary candidate selection, which rules out the new Unite caucus.

Effectively, the party has found Unite guilty of entryism.

It’s a major decision to accuse Labour’s biggest donor of packing a constituency with ringers and trying to subvert a parliamentary selection, but one that was inescapable given the facts.

Uncut understands that in the last three months of 2012, the membership of Falkirk West CLP increased by over half – from 200 members, it grew by 130 to 330.

These weren’t members attracted by the magic of Arnie Graf’s community organising, or an inspirational Ed Miliband speech.

They were shipped in, en masse, by Unite.

In October last year, Labour party HQ started to receive packs of membership forms accompanied by a single cheque, cut by the union, to pay for all of the members’ annual subscriptions.

As the forms piled up at head office in Brewers Green in London, party officials started to get nervous.

Normally, membership applications are processed within days and contact is quickly made by the party with the new member.

Not so for Falkirk West.

A Labour official speaking off the record to Uncut was clear about the suspicious nature of what was happening, “the only time this sort of thing has gone on has been either in places like Tower Hamlets or Birmingham, or way back in the 1980s when Militant was active”

The forms kept arriving but nothing was processed. Instead, worried officials sat on them. Experience told them that this was an attempt to rig the constituency vote in the run up to a parliamentary selection.

But Unite is a powerful presence in the Labour party.

Not only is the union Labour’s largest funder, the general secretary, Len McCluskey, is a former flatmate of Labour campaigns’ supremo, Tom Watson.  In the case of Falkirk West, the links were even stronger given Unite’s preferred candidate, Karie Murphy, is employed by Tom Watson as his office manager and is also close to Len McCluskey.

Months passed since the first of the new member applications had been submitted and still the officials prevaricated, trapped between their concerns and the wrath of Unite.

Then, mysteriously, at the start of this year, the impasse was broken: all of the memberships were approved.

Uncut understands that pressure was brought to bear on party officials from senior political figures in the national party to set aside their worries, ignore any questions and process the applications.

They were further instructed to back-date the applications so that memberships began when the forms were sent in, rather than when they were approved. This was necessary to ensure these new recruits would have been members long enough to be eligible to take part in a potential parliamentary selection in March.

Yesterday’s imposition of “special measures” has brought all of this to a halt. It has set an important precedent, clearly defining the type of recruitment that Unite were engaged in as entryism.

But in doing so, it raises several important new questions . Three in particular stand out.

First, who intervened at head office to pressure party officials to approve the memberships? Unite did not act in a vacuum. They have been encouraged and facilitated by senior party figures. Whoever became involved on Unite’s behalf to push through the contentious applications has been complicit in breaking the Labour party’s rules at the highest level.

Second, is this happening elsewhere? Records of a recent Unite council meeting cite their activity in Falkirk West as a model for use across the country,

“Last but very much not least, is the exemplary Falkirk. A seat where a candidate selection, to replace the disgraced Eric Joyce, is reasonably imminent…Using similar methods to Garston and Paisley, but at a much more intense level, led by the potential candidate, and very much supported by the local activist base, especially at Ineos [local employer] we have recruited well over 100 Unite members to the party in a constituency with less than 200 members.”

If the party judges Unite to have crossed the line in Falkirk West, what about other seats where Unite have been recruiting new members in this manner? Will the party be looking at suspicious activity in these seats?

And third, what happens if and when Unite do this again? The union issued a typically defiant statement last night, saying, “Unite rejects the decisions taken today by the Labour Party in relation to the Falkirk West selection process… The intervention by Party officials into this process has been driven by Blairite pressure to exclude trade unionists from any influence in the Party”

That is not the statement of a union acknowledging wrong doing or backing down. Is the party prepared to stand firm on the principle established in Falkirk West and respond robustly to Unite’s statement by making it clear any future repetition will be dealt with equally strongly?

Falkirk West might now be free to proceed with a fairer selection, but until these questions are answered, the same issues will keep recurring and causing Labour problems as selections in vacant safe seats continue.

Atul Hatwal is editor at Uncut


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13 Responses to “Unite found guilty of entryism in Falkirk West, but who within Labour was complicit?”

  1. paul barker says:

    This Entryism was only stopped because Joyce threatened to resign & force a byelection, that scenario isnt likely to recur.
    What exactly can Labour do about Unite ? They can intervene in individual cases, they can tell them off & thats it, the Far-left have the upper hand.

  2. swatantra says:

    Keep the aspidistra flying.

  3. John P Reid says:

    the annoying thing is that even the Unions and the hardl left doing that ,is this sort of thing put us out of power for years and they’re so desperate to get their wing of the party back in charge after their failure to Get Tony Benn as leader in September 1988, that they’re prepared to return us to this even though they know it put us out of power for 18 years last time

  4. I am not privy to everything that has happened in Falkirk and perhaps you are. In case you are not, and have rushed to judgement, I should bring to your attention Chapter 2 Clause II (Membership Procedures) section 1 of the Labour Party Rules which specifically permits affiliated organisations to sign up their levy payers (who are of course already affiliated members of the party) as individual members:

    “Members of affiliated organisations not already members who have paid the political levy or political subscriptions to the affiliated organisation for a period of at least 12 months may be recruited into membership of the party via that affiliated organisation as registered members.”

    The implication of this clause appears to me to be that it is in accordance with the rules for a cheque to come from the union for their initial subscriptions. Once upon a time union levy payers were indirectly involved in the selection process through their GC representatives. I fail to see why affiliated members should not now be directly involved in the selection through this process.

    It would, under the rules, be different – with good reason – if the people concerned were “unwilling to pay their own subscriptions”, “ineligible for that category of membership”, if they are not registered to vote at their stated addresses or if this was an attempt “to recruit members who do not live at the claimed addresses in an attempt to manipulate local party meetings or the outcome of party ballots”.

    Do you have any evidence that any of these apply? If so, you have not provided it and should do so. If not, I think you should withdraw your accusation against Unite. It is not an offence to join the Labour Party with the intention of influencing either policy or the selection of candidates. That’s certainly one of the reasons why I’m a member – not that I get that much influence living in Tower Hamlets.

  5. Ex-labour says:

    I’ve said all along that Unite will want payback for their funding. However everything I read at the moment regarding Labour selections has Watson’s fat fingers in it. Seems like anyone close to Watson gets a seat . Guido has some interesting tit-bits.

  6. Martin Brennan says:

    Maybe John P Reid is right but what makes entryism so easy is the moribund nature of many CLPs. Many CLP members have had apathy forced on them and potential recruits are not enthused by Labour’s direction of travel.

    I know it’s not the case but many voters now see us as just a more palatable version of the Coalition and nothing more. The Party no longer seems to offer an alternative which is in any way radical. There are some big targets out there – the banks, the Tory media, the tax dodgers, the global porn/internet giants, Amazon, the perpetuation of privilege down the generations – but Labour seems too timid to go on the offensive.

    Despite what the Sermon on the Mount says we can’t go on being mealy-mouthed because in 2015 it won’t be the meek who inherit the earth.

  7. McCurry says:

    @Jon Lansman,
    No one is saying that union members can’t join political parties, in the same way that no one is stopping Bangladeshis from becoming members in Tower Hamlets. The question is whether they share Labour’s values, or are being signed up to back a single candidate in a single selection.

  8. Raffiq Moosa says:

    Union members have been let down for to many years and whilst the Blairite years gave us a Labour government that’s all it gave us.

    Unite wants more people in parliament that have a working background and who support their movements causes to improve the lives of ordinary working people.

    The Labour party hierarchy have become masters in the dark art of parachuting parliamentary careerist candidates into constituencies whilst ignoring the wishes of ordinary CLP members and Trade union members. Therefore as a trade unionist I fully support that the Union movement is fighting back for their party which has been taken over by careerist politicians to the detriment of conviction politicians.

    Unions “organise” to become stronger this is whats happened in Falkirk West and all over the country. Unite published this strategy in their political policy booklet so its no hidden secret
    We will win this party back no matter what obstacles are put in our way and if the careerist politicians and there puppet masters don’t like it go and join Progress.

  9. Nick Long says:

    This is good news for those on the left who want to see Unite break from Labour. I will be seeking to put down a motion in my Unite branch drawing on the lessons of Falkirk and why Unite should make the break with Labour and work with the FBU and RMT to found a new party of the left. I am looking forward to the next selection bust up – bring it on!

  10. paul egan says:

    So its wrong for the Labour Party hierarchy to parachute candidate’s into seats but OK if a Union does the same thing surely someone who work’s in Tom Watsons office is the same thing. Does she have any connection with Selkirk

  11. Ged Dempsey says:

    Unite are absolutely spot on to try to fight and reclaim our party back for working class people and the vulnerable. Many MPs have failed to stand up and represent their interests by cosying up to lovees, press barons and fat cats.

    Many MPs come from the same club or background.
    Less than 5% come from a traditional working class background. How many have come from the shopfloor or a council estate?

    How many understand the real world of work rather than being from Oxbridge then a bag carrier?
    How many of their ilk have NuLabour parachuted into selections.

    Lets not forget the sham contests by Nu Labour in Rotherham (twice), Barnsley and many other safe labour seats in the labour heartlands.

    We need conviction politicians who come from working class backgrounds and jobs in both the public, private and manufacturing sectors.

    We need to get away from the claptrap of cuts and austerity lite.
    Instead offering a radical slternative by investing in people and our communities to rebuild growth and hope. To stop the abondonment of the poor, sick, disabled and

    Its now time for Labour and parliament to be more representative.
    Unite and the Movement are right to fight for the heart and soul of our hijacked party by the self proclaimed political elite.

  12. John Reid says:

    There’s a comment about this article on Troskyite disunity, they even hilariously have alink to an article of theirs 2 years ago ,where they suggest when the SDP felt they had to leave, that had the SDP not left that everyone who voted SDP in 83″ would have voted Labour, had the Social Democratic Party not existed, despite 66% of the SDP voters saying their second choice was Tory, they link Jon Lansman comment here, even though it was discredited in the comments, here,

  13. Duncan says:

    I know nothing about the Falkirk situation other than what I’ve read here, but it does seem that there’s some over-the-top and inaccurate talk about this.

    First, there is the regular use of the term “hard left” apparently to describe Unite, presumably Unite’s preferred candidate and possibly even Tom Watson! As somebody who is perfectly happy to be labelled hard left myself, I do find this odd. If there has been any “entryism” here (and I’ve seen nothing to suggest there has been) it would appear to be on behalf of mainstream centrist Labour. Which is a bit weird.

    Second, the term “entryist” suggests that some alien organisation has attempted to colonise the Labour Party, as opposed to one of the party’s main affiliates.

    Finally, Robert Marchant had previously commented on “backdating” membership forms, whereas this article makes it clear that they were backdated to when the forms were submitted, which is considerably less sinister than the previous implication.

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