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Time to publish the Falkirk report and revise Lord Collins’s brief

tom watsonAs we reported three weeks ago, the BBC has already concluded that”there was no major vote rigging scandal in Falkirk.” Tom Watson, interviewed in today’s Guardian, goes further. Unite didn’t recruit anyone in Falkirk without their knowledge, he says, indeed the original allegations, written by a third party and now withdrawn, were made by people not in Unite and not recruited through the trade union membership scheme. He thinks the suspension of his office manager, Karie Murphy, was wrong, both party members suspended “deserve a fair hearing rather than trial by spin doctor” and that the involvement of the Police was “silly“.

Tom Watson is not a left-winger. He is as loyal to Ed Miliband as anyone: “I will be with you all the way, cheering you on from the backbenches,” he declared in his resignation letter. “You’re my friend and leader, and I’m going to do all I can to make sure you win in 2015.” He did as much as anyone to get Ed elected by ensuring he got the transfers of the majority of Ed Balls supporters. But his views have destroyed any remaining credibility that the party’s actions in Falkirk had, as well as the use of Falkirk as the justification for a fundamental change in the relationship between the party and the trade unions.

In respect of Falkirk, no secret or private investigation will now clear the name of the party for its mishandling of the matter, for its mistreatment of the accused, and for its misdirection of the blame for the row. The party must publish the original report, with any necessary redactions, and instigate an independent inquiry.

In respect of the commissioning of the Collins report into the Labour Party trade union relationship, Ed Miliband has, unfortunately, himself done the trade unions a disservice. Tom Watson is clear about what happened:

I don’t think there’s anything revelatory about the fact that there’s a group of people who would rather there not be a union link within the party, and they seized on this. Peter [Mandelson] jumped in straight away.”

David Cameron “seized on it very adroitly and made it an issue of Ed’s leadership“, and the twin pressures quickly led to demands for a debate about the future of Labour’s links with the unions.

In his resignation letter, Watson paid tribute to Ed Miliband’s “Buddha-like qualities of patience, deep thought, compassion and resolve.” Now he says that in the context of these twin pressures from the Tories and from the Blairites (for it is them) :

And the Buddha-like Ed, I can see him sitting there thinking, OK, if this is going to be it, then let’s just do it.”

Then, of course, everyone was only too willing to believe the leaked boasts of having influenced Labour nominations across the country which were in fact wild exaggerations:

I read them and thought, well, this is just preposterous. Unions have less influence over selection than they have had in 100 years; they’re hopeless at organising their candidates. The idea that they’re taking over the Labour party is just not true. It’s just not factually correct.”

Tom Watson is also helpful about how the party might extricate itself from this position. Decca Aitkenhead presents his views as follows:

It’s right that we have this debate. I just think it’s got a ridiculously narrow focus in the way it’s been engineered.” The obsession with whether union members opt in or out of a financial levy for Labour is “almost irrelevant“, he shrugs. “They can sort it out, I don’t really care what solution they come up with. For me it’s just dancing on the head of a pin.” For Watson the real problem is endemic disengagement from party politics. “The truth is, our parliamentary democracy is broken,” he says, and he wants Labour to embark upon a much more radical debate about how, far from being the problem, trade unions could actually be the answer.

(…)

Trade unions could be the “transmission belt” between the public and parliamentary politics, and help ordinary working people from all sorts of backgrounds get selected to stand as MPs. He wishes general secretaries would stop pretending they want to give “a voice for ordinary people“, when what they really mean, he says, is a voice for left-wingers on Labour’s benches. “That’s what I wish they’d say, because then we could have a real debate about, well, where are the Dennis Skinners of the future?

That’s what the current debate should be about. How trade unions can help Labour reverse endemic disengagement from party politics. Ed Miliband and Labour’s executive need to revise the brief to Lord Collins.

5 Comments

  1. terry sullivan says:

    the bbc has concluded–surprise surprise

  2. Rod says:

    Time to take a stand – including those within the PLP who value the Labour Party.

    And if those with influence aren’t even able to compel the publication of the allegedly dodgy, sexed-up Falkirk dossier then what indication is there that they’ll be able to do anything else to prevent the Blairites from removing the trade union link?

  3. Rob the cripple says:

    Dossiers not again.

  4. James Martin says:

    Yes, Watson has exposed the lies. But that is not enough. Plenty of us within the Party knew at the time of the Iraq war that our then leaders were lying to us, but the subsequent revelations that proved this made no difference. The neo-cons won, and more than 100,000 innocent civilians died as a result.

    Knowing that senior Party leaders have knowingly lied about Falkirk (there is no nice way to state this fact) will not itself be enough to save the link and stop the Progress tendency completing ‘The Project’.

    So the real question that needs to be put to Watson is what, actually, did his own resignation achieve? Surely it would have been better to hold his ground and senior position and to fight from within rather than make things easier for the Blairites to move us to this unconsititutional ‘special conference’ and fundamentally flawed ‘report’ to be produced by Collins.

    But he didn’t stay and fight did he? And for that moment of weakness we may all soon pay the price.

  5. Rod says:

    @James Martin

    It was probably an ‘alone with a revolver in room’ moment – if Watson hadn’t jumped he would’ve been pushed.

    It’ll be interesting to see how Andy Burnham progresses. Labour’s Right are nervous that Burnham could be emerging as a non-Progress/Blairite future leadership contender.
    And Decca Aitkenhead’s recent interview with him (in the Guardian) ended on a tantalising note:

    “But there’s turning out to be much more to him [Burnham]. Making his idea for the NHS happen is his “guiding mission in politics now”. If he can’t get it into the Labour manifesto, it will be interesting to see what he does next.”

    Perhaps, in the coming reshuffle, Miliband will pull the rug from beneath Burnham, move him a less prominent role and hope he becomes less effective.

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