Posts Tagged ‘Falkirk’

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 The missing link is the unpublished report into the selection process conducted by Labour officials.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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New revelations expose contradictions in the Labour leadership’s story on Falkirk

19/11/2013, 01:36:38 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Another week and yet more twists in the Falkirk story.

Over the weekend, Unite’s response to the Labour party’s internal report on Falkirk was published by the Sunday Times (£). It sheds more light on Labour HQ’s involvement in the affair as well as revealing an important new allegation of malpractice.

To understand what happened, we need to wind the clock back to last December.

Unite had sent large batches of new Falkirk membership applications to Labour head office for approval. The bulk of these were Unite members joining the party under the terms of the now defunct “union join” scheme. This allowed Unite, or any union, to pay the first year’s membership subscription for any of their members who wanted to join Labour, as long as the application included the new recruits’ direct debit details to cover future years’ subscriptions.

Rapid processing of these applications was required if these new members were to be eligible to participate in the selection. According to party rules, new members can only take part in picking the prospective parliamentary candidate if they have “six months continuous membership of the Labour party (any constituency) at the freeze date.”

The freeze date is the point at which the selection process is declared open. Given the Falkirk selection was expected to take place in May or June, timing was tight for Unite’s surge of new recruits from November and December 2012 to have built up “six months continuous membership”.

There was almost no margin for delay.

But delay is exactly what happened. Suspicious party officials flagged several applications, worrying that party processes were being manipulated and because direct debit details were frequently missing.

This presented two challenges for Unite and Labour.

First, adding the missing direct debits would have been very time consuming, significantly delaying registration of the new members.

Second, even if these memberships could be somehow quickly readied to be put on the system, late January would have been too late to qualify if the contest was held in the first half of the year.

Labour HQ’s role in fixing these problems reveals the depth of the party’s involvement in backing Unite’s strategy in Falkirk.


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Labour’s head office in “chaos” as Livermore begins his first day in charge

18/11/2013, 07:00:54 AM

This morning, Spencer Livermore will step across the threshold of Labour’s Brewer’s Green HQ and formally take charge of Labour’s general election preparations.

As we previously reported, Ed Miliband’s personal appointment of the former Gordon Brown protégé as campaign director effectively sidelines the party’s general secretary, Iain McNicol, the party’s chief official, who was appointed by the party’s National Executive Committee in 2011.

Ahead of Livermore’s arrival, the atmosphere at Brewer’s Green is tense, with one well-placed insider describing it as “chaos” as the fallout from the botched Falkirk selection continues to play out in the media spotlight.

“There’s a total breakdown of trust between the general secretary’s team and the leader’s office,” says the insider.

“The staff are completely paralysed. It’s like a sitcom being played out before us”.

Yet this is a sideshow compared to the potential calamity next spring as Ed Miliband seeks to drive through his landmark changes to the way affiliated trade unions fund the party.

Miliband is staking everything on getting a new opt-in arrangement where millions of ordinary trade unionists choose to support the party, rather than have union chiefs wielding their chequebooks on their members’ behalf.

Party sources claim that Miliband sleepwalked into announcing the reforms without really understanding their full implications.

“Virtually the entire staff understood you’re ending the collective link but even the most senior advisers to Ed didn’t realise” says one insider.


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When Ed Miliband condemned Unite’s “machine politics” in Falkirk, did he forget his office had signed-off on their tactics?

13/11/2013, 07:14:31 PM

by Atul Hatwal

The Times today carried some revelatory new details on Falkirk (£). Strangely, they seemed to miss the real significance of what they’ve got (assuming the Ineos e-mails are as reported and what they say is true).

Their story focuses on a deal agreed between Iain McNicol, Labour’s general secretary, and Len McCluskey to ensure Unite members who were recruited into the party via the old “union join” scheme, where the union pays the first year of subs, were all moved onto direct debit so future payment could be assured.

The prospect of Labour’s general secretary cutting a deal with a union boss is hardly edifying but it’s not the big story. More interesting are the implications of an e-mail  from 21st January this year that is cited in the piece.

The mail is from Steve Hart, Unite’s political director at the time, to Karie Murphy, the Unite candidate and Tom Warnett, Unite’s political co-ordinator.  In it, Hart refers to delays by a sceptical Labour membership department, in processing the mass of new Unite recruits, stating,

“I was advised the week before Xmas that these had all been processed — advised by Jenny Smith [Ed Miliband’s union adviser at the time] and Scott Landon [Iain McNicol’s chief of staff] — but it is for the party to confirm authority, not us.”

Originally, the Sunday Times published the mail, but the names had been redacted. The inclusion of the names tells us that the leader’s office not only knew about Unite’s plans, they agreed them.

Dan Hodges picked up on the real importance of the revelations earlier today when he wrote,

“Back in July he [Ed Miliband] had said: ‘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…’

But all the time his office had been supporting a deal with Len McCluskey to enable him to rig the selection.”

Think about it for a moment.


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The real reason Labour is petrified of re-opening the Falkirk inquiry

05/11/2013, 02:16:13 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Tomorrow is prime ministers’ questions. At the despatch box, when David Cameron faces Ed Miliband, political reality will collide with the la-la land Labour is living in on Falkirk.

As in July, David Cameron will use the fiasco to hammer Ed Miliband.

Labour MPs are dreading it. The Tory backbench barrackers can barely wait. Journalists are gleefully expecting great copy.

Already today, George Osborne crow-barred Falkirk into Treasury questions, such is the Tories’ eagerness to use it as a means of attacking Labour.

Come what may, the post-PMQs story tomorrow won’t be about energy or the living wage, but Ed Miliband’s leadership and the power of Unite over the Labour party.

Over the past few days the shrieks of “nothing to see here” from Labour’s high command have become ever louder and more desperate. We are long past the stage where rationality seems to drive the party’s actions.

It is politically unsustainable for the party to continue insisting all is well when figures as senior as Alistair Darling are calling for the inquiry to be re-opened and news reports related to Labour are increasingly dominated by this one issue.

And on the evidence that has emerged from the cache of over 1000 Ineos mails that were passed to the Sunday Times, the party appears to be wilfully averting its gaze. Ed Miliband was wrong today when he said that no new information had come to light on Falkirk.

Quite apart from whether key witnesses have or have not withdrawn their original complaints, if the Sunday Times e-mails are true there are several other potential rule breaches now in the public domain that merit further examination by the party.

For example, the Sunday Times reports,

“Separately, an email from Karie Murphy, the hard-left candidate Unite was trying to parachute into Falkirk, reveals a secret system that gave Labour members colour-coded star ratings based on their perceived loyalty to Unite.

It gave red stars to those considered the union’s opponents, yellow stars to female members who might back it and double green stars to those the union had specifically ‘recruited for the selection’.”

If the last phrase, “recruited for the selection” is accurate, then it seems Labour party procedures have been broken. The party rule-book is quite clear that members cannot just be recruited for selections. In Appendix 2 NEC procedural guidelines on membership recruitment and retention, the rule-book states,

“The health and democracy of the party depends on the efforts and genuine participation of individuals who support the aims of the party, wish to join the party and get involved with our activities. The recruitment of large numbers of ‘paper members’, who have no wish to participate except at the behest of others in an attempt to manipulate party processes, undermines our internal democracy and is unacceptable to the party as a whole.”

If the party was serious about its own rules then this one potential breach alone would have been cause at least for some further investigation.

But clearly the party is not interested, regardless of the damage or the new evidence that has emerged.

The question is why? Why would the Labour leadership indulge in such an apparent act political of self-harm by pretending nothing has changed on Falkirk?

The answer is that there is a far greater fear of the consequences for Ed Miliband if the inquiry is re-opened and a civil war with Unite ensues.

Beyond the potential financial cost to the party of withheld union donations, the leader’s office is scared about what will happen at the special conference next year on Ed Miliband’s proposals to reform the union link.


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If the Mail was wrong on Ed Miliband’s dad, then Unite are wrong to target Ineos managers’ families. And Labour needs to say so

31/10/2013, 12:20:02 PM

by Atul Hatwal

Another day and yet more revelations from Grangemouth. This morning’s Daily Mail carried details of how Unite targeted Ineos executives at home as part of a strategy called “leverage campaigning.” While most members of the Labour movement will read anything in the Mail about unions with a level of scepticism, on this occasion the basic facts seem to be incontrovertible.

The Mail reports that as part of “leverage campaigning” 30 Unite members descended on the home of an Ineos executive during the school holidays to stage a protest on his drive. In response, Unite haven’t denied any details of what happened, but have defended the actions as “legitimate in the context of an industrial dispute.” On their website there is a section that describes “leverage campaigning,”

“Leverage is a process whereby the Union commits resources and time to making all interested parties aware of the treatment received by Unite members at the hands of an employer. Those interested parties may include shareholders of the employer; competitors of the employer; communities within which the employer operates; customers of the employer and the market place of the employer.”

Many in the Labour movement will simply shrug and think “so what.” But that’s not good enough. Its time for a bit of consistency.

If the Daily Mail was wrong to go after Ed Miliband’s father, then its wrong for Unite to target senior managers’ families.

It was despicable of the Daily Mail to attack Ralph Miliband to hurt his son. It’s equally disgraceful to harass peoples’ families and neighbours simply because they happen to be managers at a firm in an industrial dispute.

The outrage from the Labour party on the Daily Mail’s piece on Ralph Miliband was voluble and justified. Silence on Unite’s antics now will abrogate any moral authority the party had in criticising the Mail. Morality isn’t a one-way street. Principles don’t apply selectively. Either everyone connected with an adversary is fair game, or they’re not.

Labour needs to decide whether it believes in total war, where the families and friends or political opponents are justified targets. Or if it still holds to the values so loudly declared over the Ralph Miliband article, where they are off limits.

If it is the former, then the fathers, mothers, wives, husbands, sons, daughters, friends and neighbours of Labour politicians should make sure they have never done anything that might merit a news story.

But, if it is the latter, then the Labour party should condemn Unite’s tactics.

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The web we have woven in Falkirk

30/10/2013, 09:38:10 AM

by Rob Marchant

“Oh, what a tangled web we weave

When first we practise to deceive.”

–          Sir Walter Scott, Marmion

Ah, Falkirk. We drew a line under it, didn’t we? Only we didn’t.

A couple of months ago Uncut noted that the Falkirk debacle was unfinished business. But even we didn’t expect there to be quite such a spectacular unravelling, as happened last weekend.

For the uninitiated, the story went like this: the Falkirk West selection process was suspended amidst accusations that Unite were fixing the selection process for Karie Murphy, Tom Watson’s office manager and friend of Len McCluskey. Unite cried “foul” and hinted that Labour had exaggerated on purpose for their own ends; local witnesses suddenly, fortuitously, withdrew testimonies; and by party conference an uneasy truce was in place between Labour and Unite, both saying “move along, nothing to see”.

A sprinkling of chutzpah was even brought into play: McCluskey’s old friend Tom Watson, who ended up resigning over the fallout, said Miliband should apologise. Further, BBC Radio 4 even made an extraordinarily wrong-headed documentary about how this had all been a storm in a tea-cup, in which the chief defence witness was none other than far-left journalist Seumas Milne. Unite and the Labour Party, it seemed, had pulled it off.

The trouble was that no-one really believed them. Conference was full of stories about what had actually happened. The word was, in fact, that the press stories about membership abuses had all been true, and worse. That the complainants had been influenced and cajoled into withdrawing.

But the line held. It was all going well…until Grangemouth.

The chemical plant, whose employees’ pay packets help fuel the local economy in Falkirk, had been brought to the point of closure after a summer of discontent.


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Beneath the placid surface of Labour conference, discontent stirred

03/10/2013, 11:28:34 AM

by Rob Marchant

So, Labour made it through conference without a big punch-up with the unions, via a barely-mentioned programme of party reform. Thank heavens for that.

But amidst the conference chatter, a few things have become clear.

A line has been drawn under the Falkirk selection fiasco, yes. But it was a face-saving, uneasy truce, not a final settlement. Unite is not suddenly going to start behaving itself and standing back from the Labour party’s organisation at this point, that much is obvious.

Yet, if Labour wins its battle to reform its relationship with unions next spring, there is the possibility that Unite – and others – could step back from Labour altogether and look for other political routes to influence, such as the nascent People’s Assembly, currently being sponsored by a number of unions. Whatever happens, there is – rightly – extreme nervousness on the part of many activists as to whether the party can actually survive on the income which might result.

But if Labour does not win that battle – for which it depends on union support to win – it can look forward, surely, to a redoubling of Unite’s efforts to influence its selections and elsewhere.

A couple of conference vignettes from the Tuesday night of Labour conference illustrate this nicely.

In choosing to run a joint fringe event, the Venezuela Solidarity Campaign (VSC) no longer chooses to hide its similarity with the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, which supports a dictator rather than an authoritarian pseudo-democrat (a fine distinction for most of us, I know).


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As the party looks forward to conference season, there’s unfinished business over Falkirk

07/08/2013, 08:20:23 PM

by Rob Marchant

There is a distant rumbling going on within the labour movement, with parliament in recess and the media in silly season, which will surely last until conference. It may, in fact, last until next Spring’s special conference. Or it may even last until the next general election.

Perhaps thanks to the timely intervention of the summer holidays, the media circus seems to have moved on from the Falkirk selection debacle.

But not so fast. This one will continue to rumble, and the reason is simple: we have ended the current chapter with two poles of the Labour party power structure effectively giving diametrically opposing versions of events, and both cannot be right.

This uneasy truce is neither sustainable in the long-term – truth will invariably out – nor making for anything like a trusting relationship in the near future.

To recap: Miliband has supported his party organisation, who seem to be telling him that Unite made moves to fix the selection. Len McCluskey, on the other hand, denies any wrongdoing whatsoever on the part of his union. He, along with various other party figures, is asking for the report of the party’s internal investigation to be published.

This is in spite of the fact that some clear facts are known: that people were signed up as party members without their knowledge and that the clear beneficiary was Karie Murphy, described by Channel 4 as a “close friend” of McCluskey and office manager to Tom Watson MP, his friend and former flatmate. The chair of Unite in Scotland, Stephen Deans, also happened to be, very handily, the chair of Falkirk West constituency Labour party.

We may never know the full contents of that report; if it has not been published or leaked by now, it seems pretty likely that it never will be. It is also completely understandable why: it would very likely cause a massive and unwanted row between the two sides.

Miliband is stuck. One cannot help speculating that McCluskey is perhaps only calling for it to be published out of pure brinkmanship, because he knows that Miliband will not do it. But whatever the answer, the report itself is now key.

In the midst of all of this, BBC Radio 4 made a rather intriguing recent programme called “Fight over Falkirk”. Intriguing because its “storm in a teacup” conclusion seemed to go directly against what insiders have been saying for weeks.

The three key BBC claims were: one, that at least some of irregularities were not down to recruitment through Unite’s Union Join scheme anyway; two, that the NEC didn’t see the full report, only a damning executive summary; and three, that the body of the report didn’t seem to support that summary.


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Ed saddles up the gift horse

24/07/2013, 01:23:32 PM

by Rob Marchant

It is difficult to be anything less than delighted at Ed Miliband’s announcement on Monday that he will call a special conference next Spring to consider the findings of the Collins review.

With this move, he has simultaneously done several things: he has, critically, kept the political momentum going on the project which has now been irreversibly framed as the acid test of his leadership; he has surprised his critics by his audacious speed of action, now looking to deliver it in time for the election; he has pacified the moaners by increasing the level of democratic consultation; and, perhaps most importantly of all, largely cloned a successful model for such changes – that of clause four in 1995 – to achieve all this.

In addition, the selection of former Millbank staffer and Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson, who was closely involved in the clause four campaign, for the campaign team is an inspired choice; and that is because he also understands both the party grassroots and the vital importance of the objective.

Despite the usual theories that the use of this model that is proof positive of a Blairite conspiracy to “kidnap” Miliband, it is blindingly obvious that he has not embarked on a policy suite to match.

But he is at least adopting political tactics which can work.

A mere two weeks ago, Miliband was unexpectedly presented with a gift horse which might just put his leadership back on track, not to mention save his party in the long term.

Rightly, without stopping to inspect the state of its teeth, he saddled up and got on.


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