Ian Lavery should not be Labour’s Elections Coordinator. Or anything coordinator, with his toxic past

by Rob Marchant

Since Jeremy Corybn’s rise to prominence, there has been a seemingly never-ending succession of skeletons pulled out of the closets of senior Corbynites, to the delight of Tory press officers everywhere.

There was the relationships of Corbyn himself with Holocaust denier Paul Eisen, and with Hamas terrorists; John McDonnell’s outspoken pro-IRA stance; the support of a motion supporting denial of the Kosovo genocide by both; the suspension and reinstatement of MP Naz Shah over anti-Semitic remarks; the suspension of Momentum vice-chair Jackie Walker over the same; the well-known Stalin apologism of Corbynites Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray; and so on. Doubtless the Tories are currently holding fire on a number of the more juicy ones, keeping their powder dry for 2020.

But the connecting thread between all these embarrassments has been clear: no matter how senseless or unsavoury, they have all been essentially connected, in the minds of the perpetrators at least, to political positions.

For example, the connections with anti-Semites are always justified on the grounds that the people in question are merely anti-Israel (of course!) The IRA connection? Because they were romantic freedom-fighters, naturally, who happened to kill people. And the Stalin connection because, well, Communism wasn’t all bad, was it? However dire the story, there was always some kind of contorted political justification which allowed the people involved to continue to look at themselves in the mirror the following morning.

In contrast, this was clearly not the case with Ian Lavery. Lavery is Corbyn’s new Elections Coordinator and the man in charge of every set of elections, we presume, from now until Labour is inevitably decimated in 2020.

Until now he has been in relatively low-profile roles, such as Shadow Minister for Trade Unions and Civil Society, and Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office. No, with Lavery the story was not political: it was about his questionable behaviour on a matter of simple personal ethics.

Veteran Labour blogger Hopi Sen, along with Sunday Times journalist James Lyons (£), wrote one year ago about how Lavery had received redundancy payments from the tiny trade union he led, the rump National Union of Mineworkers he took over from Arthur Scargill, over a period of years. And a loan that has no evidence of ever being repaid.

They related how, among fact-finding missions to the Caribbean and India by his cronies, the £1.6m compensation payments paid to the union on behalf of invalided-out miners had been frittered away to a fraction of their original levels. Nearly £800k of it was paid directly to Lavery in remuneration, pension and car allowance. And that is not to mention a somewhat unusual £75k mortgage loan, which was later very kindly written off by the union (Lavery declined to give the names of the relevant trustees at the time). And later £62k redundancy costs, even though Lavery resigned (thus rendering himself, one presumes, ineligible for redundancy).

Lavery had no satisfactory answers to the questions raised by Sen and Lyons. And that seems to be because there exist no satisfactory answers. There are now at least two investigations being carried out into Lavery, which have yet to report. In short, there are very serious questions to answer by the former General Secretary, regarding the use of funds deriving from sick miners, who gave their money to the union in good faith.

What is fascinating is to think about what must have passed through Jeremy Corbyn’s mind on the subject, as he promoted Lavery last week.

There are three possibilities.

One is that he knows but does not believe it. He genuinely thinks that this is some kind of dastardly smear by the Tory press, the “fake news” that he claimed last week to the BBC was currently running wild in Britain. This would represent a deeply worrying, quasi-Trumpian level of self-delusion, but it is better than the other two options.

The second is that he genuinely does not know about the story. This would mean that his staff, or his whips, who must surely know about the story and are honour bound to advise him, are actively hiding it from him. He is living in a bubble, where he is kept in the dark about important information. It is inconceivable that this could have happened in previous Labour governments, where information travelled like lightning and action was taken swiftly (and often brutally) in the case of damaging revelations about a politician. That is your job as a party staffer: alert the Leader’s Office to anything cancerous before the party itself is tainted by association.

The third possibility is the worst: that he knows and does not care. He thinks that these things happen and it’s not really worse than a lot of other things that politicians have done. One would like to think that Corbyn, for all his flaws, is not yet so cynical as to be in this category.

Whatever the reason, the fact remains that a person with a very serious claim to having brought the party into disrepute, if found guilty – on a non-political matter of pure ethics – is now in a key position. Perhaps his loyalty to Corbyn and the hard-left cause is thought more important than anything else. All for one and one for all, and all that.

But it is clearly debatable whether or not he should have been allowed to continue holding the whip as an MP while these investigations took place, let alone be put in a key role with regard to Labour’s election-winning capability and hence its future.

Labour’s leader is unnecessarily backing a grade-A hostage to fortune, who is seemingly unable to answer the most simple questions about how he made an awful lot of money from a tiny union. All the while, as Sen relates, its members saw an astonishingly small total of £6,451 spent on member benefits over two decades.

It is only an example of where Labour is right now, but it is tragically symptomatic. That is, it is difficult to describe the depths to which a political party has to fall in order not to take action in a case like Lavery’s. But we are there already. And the good name of our party is an asset which, once damaged, will take a long, long time to rebuild.

If that is even possible at this point.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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12 Responses to “Ian Lavery should not be Labour’s Elections Coordinator. Or anything coordinator, with his toxic past”

  1. Tony says:

    Kosovo was certainly not a ‘good’ war as you would have us believe:

    “I think certain people were spoiling for a fight in NATO at that time … we were at a point when some people felt that something had to be done [against Serbia], so you just provoked a fight.” With regard to the peace terms themselves, he said, “I think the terms put to Milosevic at Rambouillet were absolutely intolerable: How could he possibly accept them? It was quite deliberate” (emphasis added).

    These words on Kosovo were made by Lord Gilbert who actually supported that war.


  2. Bob says:

    New Labour is finished. No-one seems to want to be Tory-lite these days.

  3. Tafia says:

    the suspension and reinstatement of MP Naz Shah over anti-Semitic remarks

    Was this not aactually a re-tweet of a meme made by an anti-zionist American jew called Finkelstein or some such whose parents survived the holocaust?

    Don’t hear ‘antisemite’ levelled at him though do you. Which is why the ordinary day-to-day voters (remember them?) couldn’t give a toss about all this anti-semitism bilge – it’s bandied about so mauch now (along with hate-crime, homophobe, racist etc etc) that they have been debauched and diluted to the point of meaning nothing anymore and very few people care or even listen.

    And who can blame them.

  4. If there is one thing about which the Blairite Right is completely hysterical, then it is anything to do with the miners. The hatred is like nothing else in British politics.

  5. Imran Khan says:

    If this is true Rob, and I have no reason to doubt you, then it is yet another disaster. Can it get much worse?

  6. Anon says:

    I couldn’t possibly defend Corbyn’s coterie of crooks, anymore than I could defend Blair’s bloody interventions into other countries.

    It does indicate how unelectable Labour are – no matter which faction seizes the reigns.

    Iraq and Milburn/Hewitt-style exploitation of the NHS/private health revolving door are just a couple of the babies buried in the back yard; our Rob can look in the mirror and not see any guilt in the faultless reflection.

    We really do need a new Labour Party, free of both factions.

  7. anosrep says:

    This article is either ill-informed or dishonest. See http://zelo-street.blogspot.co.uk/2016/03/what-has-ian-lavery-done-wrong.html for a better assessment.

  8. Rob Marchant says:

    @Tony. Got to love your response. Tell you about a man taking money from a fund created from sick miners’ compensation payments and no outrage, just some quibble about Kosovo. In fact, I didn’t make any comment about the rightness or not of the intervention, merely that there was a genocide (there was).

    @anosrep: yeah, right.

    @Imran Khan: Yes. Yes it can.

  9. You have been flogging this dead horse for a year. Give it up.

    A trade union is perfectly free to do whatever it likes with its money, unless it breaks the law. A trade union with only 10 members, all of them living in the old mining corner of Northumberland, must be nothing if not accountable internally.

    But quite apart from either of those points, why are the Murdoch media going after Ian Lavery, anyway? Murdoch cannot possibly expect any other party to win the Wansbeck seat in the event of a by-election. Rather, he wants a very right-wing Labour MP there.

    What are always his achingly posh London hacks additionally want an MP who is less frightfully working-class, who does not have an Irish surname, and who has not lived his entire life in the North East, which they have never visited, and which they imagine to be near Manchester.

    ¡No pasarán!

  10. buttley says:

    Come back after a month or so of hectic life, and its still the same old, same old, still playing the man not the ball, is this all you guys know, or you fear change?

    I saw Sen Hopi mentioned in this article, i took the trouble to read some of his published guardian opinions.

    When Rob describes Hopi as a “veteran labour blogger”.

    Hopi describes himself as “as rightwing as they come in the Labour party. a junior new Labourite, I got used to being called a shallow populist and an electoral sell-out”

    Its true what they say about burns victims, they sure stick together.

  11. Tafia says:

    So Rob, now that the Jewish Lobby in America has publicly branded the Democrats and Obama as anti-semitic because of their opposition regarding Palestine and Obama’s remarks in the dying days of his presidency and Trump as a friend of Israel because he supports the ‘One State’ solution, where do you stand? Do you support anti-semites or do you support Trump?

  12. Bob says:

    Living in the same old mining corner of Northumberland as the sainted Mr Lavertry (he stinks), I can confirm the tale of the mortgage. I tried to get one, but, and as with the last Labour Gov’t, “Sorry, there is no money!”
    Folk lore has it that at election time, some former miners would like to exhume the bones of a long deceased Pit Pony, jet wash the muck off, stick a red rose in it’s…err…mouth and it will get 20,000 votes easily, even on a wet day (most days!) Save a fortune in Election expenses.

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