By Peter Hoskin
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you hear the one about the Labour Party’s biggest donor suing the Labour Party?
No, it’s not a joke, but a possibility raised by the Ephraim Hardcastle column
in today’s Daily Mail. Apparently, the Unite union is angry that their
preferred candidate for the Falkirk seat, Karie Murphy, hasn’t yet been anointed
by Labour HQ – and they’re threatening to take their anger to the law courts.
story of what’s going on in Falkirk is told by Rachel
Sylvester (£) and Dan
Hodges in separate columns today, and I’d urge you to read both. Suffice to
say that it’s a stinking mess. Thanks to the unions agitating in favour of Ms
Murphy – and by “agitating,” I mean “fixing
the entire selection process” – Labour has had to put the local constituency
party on what’s called “special measures”. This means that thousands of trade
unionists will be disbarred from voting in the contest, when it eventually happens.
two particular passages from Sylvester’s and Hodges’ columns are worth pulling
out here. From the former:
sent the minutes of the union’s executive council meeting, dated December 3,
2012, which describe the drive in Falkirk as ‘exemplary’. The document boasts
of six other candidate selections on which Unite has had a ‘direct impact’ – in
Peterborough, Norwich South, Harlow, Hastings, Tamworth and Crewe and Nantwich.
‘This is not an exhaustive list of the better candidates,’ the minutes note;
but without the union’s work ‘Progress [the Blairite think-tank] or other
right-wing candidates would have been selected.’”
from the latter:
needs to bite the bullet and move [Tom] Watson from his role as Labour’s
campaign co-ordinator … Karie Murphy is a senior aide in Tom Watson’s office,
and was described in yesterday’s Guardian as his ‘favoured’ candidate for the
seat. She is also, of course, the favoured candidate of Len McCluskey, the
Unite general secretary. … McCluskey and Watson are good friends, and former
flatmates. This week, The Sunday Times reported that ‘remarkably, Labour’s
campaign co-ordinator Tom Watson has defended the actions of Unite in Falkirk’.”
typical of Ed Miliband’s problematic relationship with the unions that both provide
the bulk of his party’s financial heft and elevated him to the leadership. Any story
that might distance him from them – Unite suing Labour, Len McCluskey attacking
party policy, whatever – has a flipside that serves to push them closer
together. The result is an awkward equilibrium: the Labour leader is neither
close enough to Unite for the Unite bosses’ liking, nor far enough away from
them for, one suspects, the public’s tastes.
course, all this is electoral ambrosia for the Tories, and they’d be right to
feast on it. But a quick word of warning for CCHQ, and one which I’ve sounded
before: there’ll be plenty of union members – Tory voters among them – who
are appalled at what’s happened in Falkirk. They shouldn’t be tarred with the
sins of the Unite leadership, nor alienated as potential voters.