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Does Ed want to clean up the party or not?

We hear that a post is to be created in the Leader’s office for Alicia Kennedy (née Chater), Labour’s former deputy general secretary whose post was deleted last November in a “restructuring” designed to  clean up the party. We have no doubt that Alicia has many skills and talents; unfortunately they are skills and talents which have for a decade been deployed operating the New Labour command and control machine, doing whatever needed to be done – even if it was against the rules. Is this really what Ed needs in his office?

Evidence for this, in the form of leaked emails, was published was published in Tribune.  They concerned her involvement in attempts to manipulate elections to Labour executive in spite of:

  1. Party rules specifically barring party staff  from campaigning for any candidate or slate in internal elections; and
  2. Statements by both the then general secretary, David Triesman, and party chairman, Charles Clarke, indicating their determination to clean up internal party elections.

The story was as follows:

Leaked e-mails seen by Tribune indicate that a commitment to end centralised interference in Labour Party elections has yet to be been realised.

The e-mails from Alicia Chater, head of Labour Party general secretary’s David Triesman’s office, show how party staff sought to influence this year’s elections for the constituency section of the National Executive Committee.

The first e-mail, which was sent on February 14, addressed to all the party’s regional directors, said:

‘For those of you not able to make the phone conf this morning, can I repeat that: Margaret Prosser is now not running for the NEC. Conference Arrangements Committee, as Nan [Sloane, the director of Labour’s Yorkshire region] has confirmed is Stephen Twigg and Yvette Cooper one nomination per CLP. National Constitutional Committee is Rose Digergio one nomination per CLP. And you will have your own NPF candidates. If anyone has any inspiration over the NEC let me know.’

The second e-mail on February 21, again sent to all regional directors, said:

Nominations needed for Mari Williams, CV to follow.’

This CV was then electronically distributed. Ms Williams, a schoolteacher, received the support of engineering union AEEU and Transport minister John Spellar. Although this was the first time that Ms Williams had stood for the NEC and she received a surprisingly high number of nominations.

Under Labour’s rules, party staff are specifically barred from campaigning for any candidate or slate in internal elections. In May this year, James Adams, an organiser in the Eastern region, received a formal warning for forwarding an e-mail he had received from NEC member Tony Robinson calling on party members to support him and his colleagues Ruth Turner, Val Price and Shahid Malik.

This is not the first time that Tribune has detailed Ms Chater’s meddling in NEC elections.

She was instrumental in trying to encourage Peter Wheeler, another NEC hopeful, not to seek the nomination of Burnley CLP. It was thought that this was to allow Shahid Malik to gain the nomination his new home CLP, thus making him eligible to seek re-election to the NEC.

Mr Triesman and party chairman Charles Clarke have both made plain their determination to clean up internal party elections, which became notorious for their chicanery during Margaret McDonagh’s time as Labour’s general secretary.

In a Tribune interview in July, Mr Clarke said:

Any area of possible contention must be picked up. Most people would acknowledge that we are running fair elections. If people believe that Labour isn’t straight in the way it conducts its affairs, that reflects in the wider community and damages the party. Arguments have to be won politically rather by other devices.’

Neither Mr Clarke nor Mr Triesman were available for comment this week. A Labour Party spokesperson said:

The general secretary is aware of the matter and will be looking at it after conference.’

Ms Chater will play a key role in Blackpool next week, where she will be in charge of regional liaison. This involves ensuring that constituency delegates do not vote against the party leadership on key issues such as opposition to the Private Finance Initiative or disagreeing with the Government over an attack on Iraq.”

We think Charles Clarke got it right (in what he said, at least): ‘If people believe that Labour isn’t straight in the way it conducts its affairs, that reflects in the wider community and damages the party.’What a shame Charles Clarke didn’t put it right. Let’s hope that Ed Miliband’s commitment means rather more.

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