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It’s time to really mend the Labour trade union relationship

Miliband thinking of UniteNews that the police have dropped their inquiry into the Falkirk selection because of a lack of evidence does not come as a surprise to me. Having spoken at length to people who had read the Labour Party’s internal investigation and to a number of those directly involved in the selection, it became pretty clear that this would be the likely outcome. Having witnessed a whole series of very real selection scandals over the years – including the notorious Erith and Thamesmead selection, when a ballot box was broken into and its contents shredded while held for safe-keeping at party headquarters , with a refusal to call in the police – it was pretty obvious that Falkirk simply did not merit the notoriety given to it.

The party’s response that it now ‘intends to pursue disciplinary action as a matter of urgency’ is not only a complete misreading of the decision by the police to drop the report, it offends natural justice. It also offends against the individual at the centre of this political storm – and this political own goal – Karie Murphy, the wronged candidate. We now need the Labour Party to publish the report, re-instate Murphy as a candidate and let Falkirk select whoever they wish to have stand as the Labour candidate at the next election.

In the meantime, a large apology is surely due to Len McCluskey and the Unite trade union. For weeks now he and the union have been subject to some of the most disgraceful attacks. The supposition has been that the union has been guilty of illegal practice, because that is what happens when complaints such as these are made to the police.

But the Falkirk fiasco has been allowed to set in train a whole series of bone-shaking announcements over the future of Labour’s links with the trade unions. From these proposed changes a mass party is expected to emerge, and somehow the party’s funding will remain intact. There is absolutely no certainty that any of this can happen, not least because the debate over the party’s links with the unions was launched on the back of the Falkirk fiasco, and continued against a backdrop of anti-union bile from parts of the media.

At a time when the country is crying out for a real alternative, we are simply not hearing enough from Ed Miliband and the Labour Party on the positive alternative that could be offered. Voters want to hear how Labour intends to get people back to work, build more houses, save the NHS and Royal Mail from privatisation and much more. Voters are little interested in party constitutional issues, indeed they may even choose to punish the party at the General Election for indulging with them. Frankly the idea of holding a ‘Special Conference’ so close to an election is not only politically risky, it smacks of indulgence.

Far better to simply move on, mend fences and work with the unions to recruit more members.

We are two years away from a General Election, an election that Labour has to win. But so far we are seeing the most passion and energy being directed, often negatively, at the unions. Labour could not have won elections in the past without union organisation, resources and importantly, political input.

It is high time we started hearing some overdue praise for the loyalty and support the trade unions have brought to the party over the decades. It is also high time that we saw senior party figures taking the fight to the media. At their best the trade unions and the Labour Party have together made Britain a more civilised and equal society. Without the trade unions there would be no equal pay, no maternity rights at work, fewer holidays and so much more besides.

 

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