Posts Tagged ‘Falkirk’

Burnham’s spin doctor is director at lobbyist firm that advises union-buster Ineos

13/06/2015, 07:00:00 AM

A lobbyist from the firm that advises energy firm Ineos, which was involved in a biter industrial dispute with Unite the Union, is now working as a key member of Andy Burnham’s leadership team.

Katie Myler, a former special adviser to Burnham when he was health secretary, now works for international lobbying company, Burson-Marsteller.

They claim on their website that their staff have provided “senior counsel” to the Ineos “CEO and management team” during “the Grangemouth industrial dispute.”

Back in 2013, 800 staff at the petrochemical plant in Falkirk threatened to go on strike after management brought forward a survival plan, which included a three-year pay freeze and changes to pensions.

Unite later relented in a bid to save jobs.

Myler was appointed as director of communications for Burnham’s campaign last week, after taking a sabbatical from Burson-Marsteller where she works as a managing director, according to a report in PR Week.

She joins fellow lobbyist, John Lehal, who is acting as campaign director.

His company, Insight Consulting Group, has worked for a string of private medical companies, according to reports in this morning’s Independent.

The revelations will come as a major embarrassment to Burnham, who has made much of his opposition to private sector involvement in the NHS.

He is also thought to have the active support of Unite and has pitched himself as the main centre-left challenger for the Labour leadership.

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In the battle for post-Miliband Labour, Unite’s leadership fights from a position of weakness, not strength

05/06/2015, 10:37:30 AM

by Rob Marchant

When you are on the back foot, play the victim. The underdog. Under attack from the establishment. If they ask awkward questions, do not accept the premise of the question. Thus has the hard left defended itself against any kind of rational criticism based on mere facts, for decades.

In a remarkably disingenuous, more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger piece at LabourList entitled “Setting the record straight over Unite’s position in Scotland”, Pat Rafferty, Unite’s Scottish General Secretary, writes how Unite tried to save Scottish Labour…but they wouldn’t listen. If only they’d listened to us. Instead, an unnamed “some in the Labour Party” are trying to “attack” Unite. Poor things.

Honestly, what rubbish. Unite was part of the problem, not the solution. At the root of Labour’s wipeout was the parlous state of Scottish Labour. The end result of decades of hegemonic machine politics, of which Unite was an integral part. An overbearing, one-horse town politics on which the carpet was lifted in the debacle that was the Falkirk selection, where the union was accused of manipulating the vote. A debacle that, let us not forget, led directly to the biggest-ever shakeup in Labour’s relationship with unions.

No, it was that, and the SNP’s gradually building itself as a credible alternative government to that Labour hegemony, which lost Scotland’s Westminster seats. Not a sudden surge of nationalism. Many of the SNP’s voters do not even want independence and, should we still need reminding, No won the referendum, not Yes.

But with so much managed from Holyrood, Westminster is now a throwaway election for many Scots, much as the Euros have come to be for much of the rest of Britain. A place to register protest. And they did.

Scottish voters also saw how Unite’s disastrous bluster came close to destroying thousands of jobs in a dispute at the country’s only oil refinery in 2013, only to end up with a worse deal for their members than that originally on the table. According to YouGov, half of the Scots surveyed thought Unite’s actions at Grangemouth were wrong. The convenor? Step forward Stevie Deans, chair of, er, Falkirk CLP.

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Horse-trading in Halifax

25/03/2015, 09:55:41 PM

by Rob Marchant

Union money: “the cleanest in politics”, as some Labourites describe it, misty-eyed. To be fair, sometimes it is. There are decent unions who donate money because they actually want a Labour government. On the other hand, the cliché is that business donations always come with strings attached.

Let’s decide which of the two the following is.

Exhibit A: the Halifax selection, where Len McCluskey’s friend Karie Murphy was working hard, with the backing of the considerable weight of Britain’s largest union, to be its MP. The Sunday Times (£) wrote a couple of weeks ago that her place on the shortlist was being horse-traded for a previously-pledged donation of £1.5m to Labour’s election fund. Surely not?

After her failure to be shortlisted by the party’s Special Selections Panel, there were two possible outcomes: that Unite’s donation would then be delivered, and that it would not be delivered. Naturally, the outcome couldn’t possibly related to the Halifax selection. We’re talking about the cleanest money in politics, after all.

Oddly, the Telegraph reported last week that “a senior Unite figure said the union could withhold any further funding for final two months of the campaign and demand Miss Murphy is allowed to run for another seat this election.”

It is also important to note that Labour is perfectly entitled – and always has been – to select shortlists close to an election. The party has never pretended that this first stage is democratic – it can’t afford to be, when you only have weeks to establish a candidate and try to win – it is only afterwards that the local party gets to choose from the shortlisted candidates.

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Murphy’s push on party rebuilding should not stop at the Tweed

17/12/2014, 12:17:52 PM

by Rob Marchant

Jim Murphy is the new leader of Labour in Scotland. It is hard to see this as other than good news; irrespective of political leanings, he is an experienced, Cabinet-level politician, with the kind of clout and vision that the Scottish party urgently needs. The SNP is sneering as best it can, but it is nervous laughter.

Murphy has, of course, a huge challenge on his hands: to turn around disastrous polling and an inward-looking party; left to its own devices through its hegemonic days under Blair and Brown and the early days of devolution; and later, seemingly taken by surprise by the rise of the SNP.

It was certainly high time that Scottish Labour took a long, hard look in the mirror, rather than give in to the temptation of huffily declaring that it was treated as a “branch office”, as its last leader, Johann Lamont, did. And it has: it has realised both that it needs a radical change and that it does not need to dance to the Nats’ own tune of “MSPs only”.

It has realised that, far from attracting support, trying to compete with the SNP to see who can be the most insular is a game Labour can only lose.

Reaching out to all the party’s talents, in contrast, is a position of strength. The truth is that there is valuable experience and support that Labour colleagues in Westminster or elsewhere can provide, as Murphy has just shown.

As a first step, what refreshingly positive was Monday’s announcement that Murphy would immediately start to reform and rebuild Scottish Labour; that party reform would be at the centre of his plans.

Almost since its inception, Uncut has repeatedly written on the importance of party reform for Labour, including in our manifesto of 2013. While cautious about the party’s commitment to full implementation, we applauded Ed Miliband’s adoption of funding and voting reform this year.

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Unite has learned nothing from the Falkirk debacle

03/12/2014, 11:08:36 AM

by Rob Marchant

Last week, we started to see just how much some quarters of the Labour Party do not want Jim Murphy to become their leader in Scotland. It was not so much the carefully-crafted hatchet job from Tom Watson, which followed that of old flat-mate Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite union, from a few weeks earlier.

No, it was the landing on Scottish Unite members’ doormats of ballot packs from their union.

Of course, under the One Member, One Vote system which has been in place for two decades, union leaders no longer allocate millions of their members’ votes; the members decide freely for themselves, under a ballot organised by the union.

Or, at least, that’s the theory.

The reality is that they decide a little less freely than that: some union leaders seem to think freedom, like a number of political leaders before them, is a commodity so valuable that it needs to be rationed.

And so, Scotland’s Sunday Herald reported, the GMB continued to do what it did in the 2010 leadership election for the national party: it put in only the leaflet of its favoured candidate, Neil Findlay, into the voting pack.

But that was nothing compared what Unite got up to: it actually placed a “mock” ballot paper inside the pack alongside the real one, with an X against the box of its favoured candidate. All you had to do was to copy this X onto the real ballot paper in the same place and, hey presto. A more transparent attempt to “help” the voter to vote would be hard to imagine.

It is perfectly legitimate for the leadership to express a preference. What is not acceptable, as standard practice in postal ballots clearly shows, is to express it in the ballot pack.

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Unite’s reaction to Jim Murphy’s candidacy tells us all we need to know about why it’s important

05/11/2014, 03:20:04 PM

by Rob Marchant

On Saturday, after some days of deliberation, Jim Murphy announced his candidacy for the Scottish leadership.

Within hours, Unite had put out a statement:

“Unite’s representative members will soon decide who to nominate on behalf of our union. On the basis of this speech, it is extremely difficult for them to find much to find hope that Jim Murphy is offering the genuine, positive change in Scottish Labour they seek.”

Notice first how Unite members are being given a completely free choice of candidate, and that its leadership is not trying to influence them at all. In fact, this effect of denying a level playing-field to leadership candidates in the union vote – that is, trying to distort the One Member, One Vote (OMOV) process – was one of the main reasons for the Collins reforms.

By Monday they had announced the results of a poll claiming that “working people” (i.e. Unite members: the union sees no irony in considering the two identical) wanted an MSP in the role and not an MP. Oh, wait a minute, which of the declared candidates is not an MSP…?

Why go to such lengths to trash the front-running candidate?

Because, apart from being probably the Shadow Cabinet’s most outspoken centrist, Murphy is widely known as being “his own man”, as Damian McBride describes him. There is little that would put Unite’s nose out of joint more than someone who didn’t play Scottish Labour according to the usual rules.

Scottish Labour, lest we forget, was the political Wild West land through the New Labour years, which survived virtually untouched under the protective gaze of Gordon Brown.

However, McBride’s sympathetic account of the trials of managing the Scottish party also gives away probably the greatest weakness of the Brown administration: its preference for managing genteel decline, rather than attack underlying problems at their root. Its preference for comfortable fiefdoms, where you did as you were told, over a healthy party full of competing ideas; a thousand flowers blooming. Scottish Labour was Brownism writ large.

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Falkirk: an epilogue

19/02/2014, 07:23:43 PM

by Rob Marchant

Two weeks ago, in all of the excitement of Ed Miliband’s surprisingly successful bid to reform Labour party power structures, a parallel development was almost buried in the bigger story, apart from at the Guardian, which broke it.

The night before the NEC was due to ponder the matter, the full report which Ed Miliband had steadfastly refused to publish was, finally, mysteriously leaked. Whether it was the party, or Unite, or the Guardian itself, or even the Tories ineptly trying to cause trouble, we may never know.

The Labour party has made – caveats notwithstanding – big progress in dealing with the root cause, and there is already a new candidate for Falkirk. The story is over.

But before we lay its ghost to rest, and after the extraordinary impact it has had on the course of Labour Party history, it behoves us to spend a little time understanding exactly what did happen.

Leafing through the 20-page report, a few things stand out.

There seems little doubt that recruitment was carried out in contravention of party rules; or that it was later generally agreed to pretend that things were otherwise.

Any recruitment purely for the purposes of manipulating a selection is against the rules but, since intent is evidently difficult to establish, there exist a number of controls (such as signatures, rules prohibiting bulk payments, application acceptance criteria and freeze dates) to ensure that such recruitment is minimised, if not wholly eliminated. These calls were all jumped in various ways: single cheques for multiple applications, backdating, signing on others’ behalf and so on. Police found insufficient evidence to classify these practices as illegal, but that is hardly the point; internal selections are hardly processes with much legal standing anyway.

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Labour’s 2013 report card: relying on the kindness of strangers is not enough

08/01/2014, 07:00:18 AM

by Rob Marchant

Recently there seems to have been an odd acceptance by some right-wing commentators that Britain is to “sleepwalk to a Labour win”, as the Telegraph’s Matthew D’Ancona put it. It may be a genuine belief, rather than a way of giving Cameron a sly wake-up call. But if only that outcome were so sure from Labour’s current position.

On the contrary, when we look back on the third year of the Miliband project, we might struggle to see it as the success-filled year of the winning team.

For a start, any midterm year which an opposition ends with both a party and a leader less popular than at its start – as pollster Anthony Wells has observed – can hardly be declared an unqualified success.

This was a year in which a party going on to win a general election needed to be increasing its lead in both those categories, or at least holding them firm. If the near-halving of Labour’s poll lead had been down to some kind of surge for the Tories, it could have been acceptable. But the fact that both Labour and their leader are polling worse is discouraging news.

Pollster Deborah Mattinson’s noting that no party has ever gone on to win a majority from here is important, if not conclusive. And the answer is not, self-evidently, to simply lower our expectations and carry on as before, hoping to grasp at a deal with the Lib Dems, should such a thing one day be on the table.

When you are in a hole, stop digging, seems more appropriate. Or, put more simply, you do not tend to go down in the polls because the public thinks you are doing the right thing.

A second point would be the Syria vote: although Miliband managed to klutz it up fairly comprehensively, it is also fair to say that Cameron foolishly underestimated the lack of support in his own party. As a result, neither is cutting much of a figure of world statesman, as the bodies pile up in Syria at a higher rate than ever. “We stopped the rush to war” has a rather hollow ring to it, now it looks like the flimsiness of Western resolve means the murderer of thousands of children will stay in power after all.

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The Uncuts: 2013 political awards

31/12/2013, 03:22:37 PM

Another year slides by. Historic figures shuffled off this mortal coil, the political pendulum swung back, then forth and we end with Labour holding onto a poll lead, albeit halved since last year.

Sorting through the detritus of the year that was, we’ve decided to revive our annual Uncut awards. These beacons of prestige are awarded on the basis of the skill and judgement of the team at Uncut. They represent our opinion, have your say in the comments

Politician of the year: Nelson Mandela

Even in death, Mandela reminded us of the power of politics to achieve great things. Contrary to the rose tinted reminisces for a secular saint that suffused so many obituaries, he was in many ways a typical politician. There’s ample evidence that he harboured the same deeply held personal emnities as most politicians, that in private he was far from the engaging avuncular figure of myth and that his family felt him to be distant.

But what distinguished him was his political judgement.

MandelaMandela knew what needed to be done and ruthlessly pursued it – almost regardless of his personal predilections or the cost.

This is what made him great and what could so easily distinguish so many of our politicians – no need for sainthood, just a bit more conviction, some hard-headed decision-making and a little less focus-grouped tinkering.

Political speech of the year: Ed Miliband at Labour conference

During the autumn of 2007, there was giddy talk of an imminent general election and an increase in Labour’s majority. Then came George Osborne’s speech to Conservative party conference, committing to cut inheritance tax. The waves of Labour excitement quickly turned to fear. This was the closest Gordon Brown ever came to winning a general election and he was fatally weakened thereafter.

Ed Miliband made the political speech of 2013 by delivering the conference speech with the biggest impact since Osborne’s. The steadily improving economy, Falkirk and Tory ascendancy over debates like immigration and welfare had Labour on the back foot throughout the summer.

The energy price freeze reversed fortunes as dramatically as inheritance tax 5 years previously. Back pocket calculations were central to both, as they will be in May 2015. It remains to be seen if Osborne will then be as hobbled as Brown was in May 2010.

Brass neck of the year: Ed Miliband over Falkirk

Chutzpah. Not a quality that immediately leaps to mind when thinking of Ed Miliband, but events in 2013 proved he has an abundance of it.

In July, the Labour party suspended the union join scheme, which had been used by Unite to recruit new members in Falkirk ahead of the parliamentary selection. The party statement claimed,

““In the light of the activities of Unite in Falkirk we will end the ‘union join’ scheme… due to the results of Unite in Falkirk it has become open to abuse but also open to attacks from our opponents that damage Labour.”

Ed Miliband launched his proposals to reform the union link that month, castigating Unite,

“‘I am here to talk about a different politics, a politics that is open. Transparent. And trusted. Exactly the opposite of the politics we’ve recently seen in Falkirk. A politics that was closed. A politics of the machine. A politics that is rightly hated…’

At the time, it seemed a principled stand. But appearances turned out to be deceptive.

Ed Mili

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The real reason Labour will never publish the Falkirk report

25/11/2013, 09:40:30 AM

by Atul Hatwal

Yesterday Labour members in Falkirk gathered for their annual general meeting. They elected a new party chairman, Gray Allan, and once again the party attempted to move on from the disastrous parliamentary selection process. The new chair’s first statement clearly frames the date for the new selection vote as the point where the party will try to claim closure,

“On 8 December, in Falkirk, we will select a candidate to fight this seat for the next general election. The priority for us is to work to regain the trust of the people of Falkirk so that we can be confident of a victory in this constituency.”

But no matter how much the party wants the Falkirk farrago to go away, there is a problem.

The constituency remains in special measures, Labour HQ is running the selection process and no CLP member who joined later than March 12th 2012 can participate in the vote. All of this despite the official party line being that no group or individual has been found to have broken any rules.

This contradiction is the reason the questions keep coming. The missing link is the unpublished report into the selection process conducted by Labour officials.

The report was the basis for the action taken in Falkrik and sets out the detail of what went wrong. The allegations contained in it ignited civil war within the Labour movement between the party leadership and Unite and have driven media coverage so catastrophic that Gray Allan was moved to talk about regaining “the trust of the people of Falkirk” if Labour is to win again in what should be a rock solid Labour seat.

Until the report is published, it will be impossible for Labour to successfully move on.

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