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Progress have been stoking the flames but it’s time for Ed & Len to turn the heat down

Falkirk CrisisYesterday morning, Mark Ferguson at Labour List said “it felt like the Labour leadership and Unite were locked in a Mexican standoff, both sure they were in the right, and neither willing to back down,” but by the end of the day, the heat was still rising and Progress and their media friends were still stoking the flames. In the midst of a media frenzy assisted by shadow cabinet briefings, whatever has gone wrong in Falkirk (and we accept that we wouldn’t be where we are if nothing was amiss) will only be resolved if there is transparency about the decision and due process. Unfortunately there is neither. 

On Tuesday, Katy Clark, MP for North Ayrshire and Arran had told BBC Radio that the Labour party needed to take action to defuse the row over alleged meddling by the Unite union in the Falkirk selection process:

I think the most important thing that we need to do now is to try and take some of the heat out of the issue. We’ve ended up in the situation previously in Falkirk when we didn’t allow Dennis Canavan to stand as a Labour candidate for the Scottish Parliament. What we need to do is to make sure that we listen to what local people in Falkirk are saying, that we try and ensure that every Labour party member gets a say in who their candidate is, and that we ensure that we have natural justice in terms of how we deal with individuals.”

That advice is even more compelling today. This is neither the time nor the issue on which to fight a “battle to the death for the future of the Labour Party” (as Nick Robinson described it) but Len McCluskey who had released a conciliatory statement on Tuesday giving Ed Miliband his backing, was last night talking of a stitch-up, attacking the process and expressing his loss of trust in Labour’s HQ.

As if all this was not bad enough, no-one making their various decisions in London, seems to have remembered that this dispute (notionally at least) is about a constituency in Scotland to where decisions are supposed to have been devolved. Calls to allow the Scottish executive to manage the Falkirk selection process have been ignored. Local members who, now that Scottish CLPs are organised on the basis of Holyrood boundaries, have almost no opportunity to hold their Westminster MPs to account, are having their influence over the selection process taken away bit by bit.

The opposition to Labour in Falkirk and across Scotland is the SNP. In Falkirk, the SNP require a 7.7% swing to take the seat – not unimaginable. Since Holyrood is in recess, the SNP haven’t been quite as vocal on this row as Cameron at PMQs, but their UK election coordinator – Michael Matheson who happens also to be SNP MSP for Falkirk West – is on the attack:

All we have had is silence from Johann Lamont, who is supposed to be leader of Labour’s Scottish Westminster MPs. Ms Lamont clearly can’t get a grip of this crisis; she is confirming that the shots are all being called by the real Labour bosses in London. Local people were let down by Labour over the behaviour of Eric Joyce, and they have been let down by Labour all over again with their party’s murky candidate selection scandal.

No wonder one prominent Falkirk activist complains that some sections of the party would “rather the SNP elected than left Labour.”

The decisions that were taken yesterday by NEC officers (in spite of the fact that under the rules these decisions should have been taken by the full national executive, its disputes panel or the national constitutional committee) were, according to Ed Miliband’s statement, as follows:

  1. The local party has been suspended (it is not clear whether this refers to Falkirk West CLP which does not correspond anyway to the Westminster constituency for which there is no party structure. The intention of party officials, we understand, had been merely to take over the selection process).
  2. Two individuals have been suspended for unspecified offences – Karie Murphy, who had seeking selection as a candidate and is a former chair of both the Scottish Labour Party (in 2006) and of Unison Labour Link in Scotland, and Stevie Deans who is Chair of Falkirk West CLP and of Unite in Scotland as well as being a senior steward at the Grangemouth INEOS plant where most of the members recruited to the party by Unite work.
  3. The suspension of the scheme set up with the agreement of Tony Blair which allowed unions to subsidise or pay the first year’s membership of levy-payers who joined as individual members.

This was taken on the basis of a report compiled by party staff which they refuse to publish. Willie Bain, speaking on Newsnight Scotland on Tuesday defended this on the grounds that the NEC was acting in a “quasi-judicial capacity“. If so, the excercise of quasi-judicial functions have been at least as bungled as the organisation of membership recruitment.

For example, is it appropriate that, when NEC officers were acting in a quasi-judicial capacity, journalists from The Sun and Telegraph knew of the Falkirk suspensions before their meeting had finished?

Does it suggest a proper exercise of quasi-judicial functions that no mention in the report was made about the actions of the Progress backed contender to be Labour’s candidate in Falkirk, Greg Poynton, who in June 2012 according to Michael Crick on C4 News:

recruited 11 new members and submitted a cheque for £130 to pay for their subscriptions. The report does not criticise or condemn Mr Poynton for this, simply because nobody complained about his activity.  And Mr Poynton was not contacted by the inquiry to respond….. Mr Poynton is married to the MP Gemma Doyle, and Ms Doyle is a member of Jim Murphy’s defence team.

This is not good enough. The party has a responsibility to act fairly and transparently in the eyes of its members, not merely quickly and decisively in order to appease a hostile media. As it is, Tom Watson was forced out not because of his role in this affair as much as because, as the BBC’s Nick Robinson put it:

A growing number of senior Labour figures believed that Watson was using his influence over the selection of Labour parliamentary candidates to re-make the party in his own image – more working class and less Blairite.”

Those “senior Labour figures” include Douglas Alexander (who wants Tom Watson’s role as election coordinator) and Jim Murphy, as well as other Progress supporters in the shadow cabinet and amongst the Blairite old guard. Meanwhile, on the other side of the argument:

Our union has done nothing wrong and our only crime is to seek to have working class MPs represent us. We make no apology for that.”

said Mark Lyon, who as well as being another union official at the INEOS plant at Grangemouth is vice-chair of Unite’s national executive.

What the party needs now is a period of calm. Ed Miliband, who is caught between Progress and Unite with the media jackals at his door, needs to reflect on what sort of party he wants to lead and how to hold it together.

There is ill-will for Unite in some quarters, but I believe that in Iain McNichol and most party officials, there is also goodwill. Indeed the party’s complicity in some shoddy membership recruitment practices in Falkirk before they took fright at the numbers being recruited were actually an indication of their desire to accommodate Unite.

To resolve this situation will require some skilful conflict resolution; we’re hoping that happens withoiut delay.

 

 

7 Comments

  1. Robert says:

    H3ell of a mess is it not UNITE and Miliband elected off the back of the UNION now again fighting to see how rules, Miliband wants to be able to pick MP’s sadly he himself was elected by the Unions block vote.

    Next year is election year and here we go again the good old bad days of the Thatcher years Labour screaming at the Unions the Union saying we will cut funding and Labour knowing they need the money .

    Time for the Unions to make the break and Labour to stand on it’s own or fail which ever.

  2. David says:

    Time for all the unions to only support union supporting MP s and to stand independents in other areas. Miliband is finished, a dead man walking, being attacked by the Tory’s, Blairites and now he attacks the only people supporting him.

  3. John says:

    Re socialist unity, blogg, if it was done the recruiting without those members knowledge then ,that’s even worse,

  4. peter willsman says:

    As Jon says Falkirk no longer exists as a CLP in our party since in Scotland the CLPs are based on the Scottish Parl. It is therefore hard to understand how the NEC can suspend a CLP that does not exist.Falkirk is not in special measures.That is a different procedure that is not applicable here.None of the hacks or Blairite mischief makers seem much bothered about our members in Falkirk but they have had a rough deal for many years. But there are and have been a lot of good comrades there. Den Canavan for a start is an old mate of mine. We can all rest assured that our members will choose an excellent comrade as PPC. The Government aided by the hacks and assorted Blairites will now make an attack on the Union link and funding of our Party.Ed, the unions and all other comrades need to stand together to fight this off.We all need to put the Falkirk saga behind us.I visit lots of CLPs and they all say the same. They want Labour to have clear alternatives based on Labours values. They want hope.

  5. Mark Wood says:

    Think the average person will just see this as more skulduggery from the Blairites. The people hate Blair, so this latest bit of mischief-making making will just be seen as more rope to hang the buggers in the longer game.

    Falkirk will soon be forgotten, but the stench of New Labour treachery lingers in decent folks minds and just like the war wont be forgotten, in fact it is more likely to encourage people to rejoin the party just to make sure that New Labour is not just dead, but buried for ever.

  6. John Holroyd says:

    Labour do seem to be dying a long drawn out death in Scotland. When will Westminster learn that whatever they may wish to believe, Scotland IS very different to London, a country that is still proud of it’s working class roots and traditions.

    Coupled with Johann Lamont’s death wish cuts agenda they seem wholly incapable of even the most basic of political acts – appearing to understand their electorate. The Trade Unions need to seriously looking at disaffiliation to the Labour Party and assisting others in the setting up of a genuine alternative party that will look after the sick and the needy, that will endorse Trade Unionism, that will repeal the most repressive anti Trade Union laws in Europe.

    UKIP rattled the Tories cage by doing something similar, it’s time we did the same.

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