By Johnny Lewis (with help from Colin Foster)
The Executive Council (EC) of Unite today voted to back the Collins proposals on the Labour Party’s relationship with the unions. Apparently, just 13 members voted against and the union’s United Left was split three ways, with some voting in favour, some against and some abstaining.
Unite’s general secretary Len McCluskey had already made his attitude clear by ensuring that the two Unite full-time officials on Labour’s Executive voted for the proposals on 4 February. The Unite lay rep on the Labour Executive, Martin Mayer, abstained (and is reported to have done the same at the EC), while stating that he does not like the proposals.
It is, sadly, a traditional approach of trade union leaders: to accept bad proposals without a fight because they are pleased with the adroit negotiation which made the proposals not as bad as they might have been, and they think that further “boxing clever” can curtail the remaining evils.
It looks as if most union leaders will follow McCluskey’s lead when the proposals go to a two-hour Labour Party special conference at the Excel Centre in London on 1 March.
Local Labour Party delegates, and as many unions as possible, should still vote against the proposals on 1 March, if only to lay down a marker for the battles between now and 2019 and to register a principle.
The principle is that no-one should vote for a far-reaching package like Collins’s unless they are positively convinced that it is good, and that they have had adequate space to consider, debate, and amend the package.
In fact the Labour leaders have planned 1 March as a “coronation” for the package. Moves are afoot to seek a vote in parts on the package, but that will take a struggle. Scope for amendments? None.
The evil in Collins is not so much in what it proposes immediately (though that includes bad things) as in its projection for 2019:
“After a transitional period of five years, affiliation fees shall only be accepted on behalf of levy payers who have consented to the payment of such fees. At that point, the scale of a trade union’s collective affiliation shall be governed by the number of levy payers who have consented to the payment of affiliation fees”.
That reads bland and technical, but it is not. The gist is the very opposite of the blather about building Labour as a mass working-class party.
Individual not-very-politically-active trade unionists currently have a political say through their unions’ collective representation in the Labour Party and through the right to vote on Labour leader and deputy leader.
Under the Collins plan, from 2019 all those individuals who fail or forget to tick a box on a form will be compulsorily “opted out” from their unions’ democratically-decided, collective, political action in the Labour Party, and form their individual voting rights in the Labour Party.
It is not spelled out in Collins’s text, but the aim here is to engineer smaller affiliation numbers so as to gain leverage for reducing the unions’ representation at Labour conference and in Labour committees.
Such reduction will increase the overweighting in the Labour Party of professional politicians, advisers, researchers, think-tankers, and their business-people friends.
It will firm up the characteristics of the Labour Party that shape the leaders’ current policies for continued pay freezes and cuts after 2015, and a feeble fight against the Tories.
Rumour has it that Unite will reduce its formal Labour-affiliation numbers soon, and the GMB will reduce its numbers too, though not as much as it said it would a few months ago.
The “clever” idea here seems to be that if unions’ formal affiliation numbers have already been reduced before 2019, at a time when unions still have their 50% vote at Labour Party conference, then the reduction to box-ticking numbers in 2019 will not be steep and will give less fuel to the Labour right-wingers who want to reduce union representation.
But the 2019 plan should be contested head-on.
The Defend The Link campaign is preparing material to tease out the detail of the Collins report, and will be active at the conference on 1 March.
And after that the battle must continue. Only two rule changes are to be voted on 1 March. Properly, the proposed shift in 2019 should require a further rule change.
Some Labour Party insiders warn that the leadership may try to make the shift without a rule change, but that can and should be contested.
By Jon Lansman (at Left Futures, 22 Jan):
Yesterday [ie 21 Jan], the Scottish police confirmed that they had found “no evidence of any criminality” in their inquiry into the activities of Stevie Deans, who was until three months ago full-time convenor at the Ineos plant at Grangemouth (where he’d worked for 25 years) and Chair of Unite in Scotland as well as the sometime Chair of Falkirk Labour Party.
This is the second time, allegations against Stevie Deans have been investigated and dismissed by the Scottish police, the first referral having come from the Labour Party, the second from INEOS. Unsurprisingly, Unite yesterday condemned the fact that “the police’s time has been wasted by vexatious complaints and their attentions diverted from catching real criminals and solving real crimes“.
Labour regards the whole affair as closed, especially now that Karen Whitefield, the former MSP, has been selected as the Labour candidate for Falkirk, but there is no truth and reconciliation process in Labour’s rule book. Stevie Deans may have lost his job, Karie Murphy denied the opportunity to seek the nomination, Tom Watson lost his place in the shadow cabinet, and hundreds of people recruited to the Labour Party denied any participation in the selection, but no apologies are required it seems.
The whole affair was talked up by politicians (including some then in the shadow cabinet) and bloggers associated with Progress, making allegations of ballot-rigging based on nothing more than rumour and speculation, with the express purpose of persuading Ed Miliband to smash what’s left of union influence in the party.
The Labour Party’s investigators failed to speak to Stevie Deans or Karie Murphy who were suspended without a hearing, on the basis of a secret report, and Unite the Union, and its general secretary, were subjected to months of unjustified abuse.
Ed Miliband, on the back of his condemnation of the “machine politics” he claimed was evident in Falkirk, did indeed propose the most radical change in the relationship between the party and the unions, which he continues to seek in some form in spite of the collapse of the justification for doing so.
Stevie Deans and Karie Murphy deserve some apologies. So do Labour’s affiliated trade unions. And the biggest apologies should come from those associated with Progress.
What we are shortly likely to get instead from those associated with Progress, whatever appears in the Collins report, is criticism of Ed Miliband for not going far enough to smash what’s left of union influence.
By Roland Wright
A decade ago Paul Hutcheon was an investigative reporter. But now he just hunts with the pack.
Could the decline in the paper’s circulation be in anyway related to the decline in the quality of its journalism?
“Leading Labour MSP Urged to Resign After Taking Part in Unite Demo Outside Director’s House,” read the headline above an article by Hutchinson in yesterday’s edition of the paper.
Over five weeks after the event, the giant inflatable rat used in a Unite protest outside the house of an Ineos director had made a comeback: “Smith was one of 13 people pictured. He was standing next to the rat.”
Hutcheon’s use of the hack-journalist technique of guilt-by-association was positively breathtaking. It ran as follows:
The rat was next to Drew Smith who was next to his aide Michael Sharpe who is the son of Cathie Jamieson MP who is part of Ed Ball’s shadow treasury team at Westminster.
Sharpe, luckily for him, was not standing next to the rat. He was “holding a placard.” A very unconventional activity for someone taking part in … a protest.
Not that Hutcheon actually refers to the event as a protest. Deploying his wordsmith skills to the utmost, he writes instead of “the Unite trade union’s notorious ‘leverage’ demo.”
Another problematic aspect to the article was that Smith was not actually taking part in the protest (not that there would have been anything wrong with his participating, especially given that he is chair of the Labour Trade Union Group in Holyrood.)
The Unite protest coincided with the Dunfermline by-election campaign for the Holyrood seat left vacant after the resignation of the incumbent SNP MSP.
Along with two of his aides, Smith happened to be distributing Labour by-election leaflets on the estate where the Unite protest was taking place.
This certainly makes a mockery of the anonymous “senior party source” quoted by Hutcheon: “A trade unionist with any sense would not have gone within a hundred miles of that protest.”
Clearly, there wouldn’t have been much point in distributing leaflets calling for a Labour vote in the Dunfermline by-election over a hundred miles away in Inverness.
But the bigger problem with the article is the headline reference to Smith being “urged to resign.” By whom was he being “urged to resign”?
Why, none other than Eric Joyce MP!
That’s the Falkirk MP with the chequered history of drunken brawls in the House of Commons and Edinburgh Airport, dalliances with a 17-year-old schoolgirl, drink-driving, refusing to take a breathalyser test, and record claims for parliamentary expenses.
When it comes to speaking out about parliamentarians who should resign, Joyce clearly commands no small degree of authority on such matters! In a comment unlikely to endear him to local councillors, Joyce said:
“The image of a Labour shadow cabinet member smiling as he takes part in a leverage squad outside someone’s home is thoroughly nauseating. He should resign immediately.”
“The Scottish shadow cabinet doesn’t feel like a serious prospect at the moment. Members are content to operate at the level of the local councillor which some of them remain.”
A non-story about a man who stood next to a giant inflatable rat over five weeks ago?
It’s hardly investigative journalism. In fact, it’s not even news.
By Jim Kelly (first posted on the United Left website)
To Be Heard We Need A Voice
The current debate about the Labour Party – trade union link is the most fundamental since the TUC voted back in 1899 to establish what became the Labour Party. It isn’t a debate we asked for, because we’d rather concentrate on winning back millions of voters including our own members to ensure we end austerity and restore the hope, decent jobs and social justice the British people deserve. But it is one we cannot shirk.
In three weeks our executive council is due to consider our position on this debate. Most other major unions have already agreed submissions to Ray Collins’s review, and they have much in common. Whilst they all support strengthening the link, they all strongly defend the principle of collective affiliation rather than a union voice dependent on individuals opting in to some form of individual membership. On this the left and the traditional right are agreed.
On this more than any other issue, it is important that trade unions stand together. As the party’s biggest affiliate by far, Unite should be in the forefront of the campaign for a stronger voice, just as under Len McCluskey’s leadership, we have been in the forefront of the campaign against austerity – against Labour being “a pinkish shadow of the coalition”.
We know that there will be no report available from Ray Collins, but there is no sense in waiting until February for the executive to take a position when it will be too late to change the options and we will be forced to choose only between supporting or opposing them. Len initiated a debate on the issues we face back in July when he set out his thoughts – it is time the union decided what we think about those issues and started arguing our case.
If unions stand together, with half the votes at Labour’s conference, and supported by many constituency parties worried about the severe threat to the party’s finances from Ed Miliband’s proposals, as well as the negative impact on the left within the party, then the link can be successfully defended. The changes that were proposed were not thought through, and they are both bad for the unions and bad for the party. But that is not enough.
As Len said in July, “for a long time we have been taken for granted by people who welcome our money, but not our policy input, who want to use our resources at election time but do not want our members as candidates”. We know that, as the GMB’s Paul Kenny said at the Brighton conference on behalf of all affiliated unions, our experience under New Labour was of “collective voices ignored in favour of free market dogma”.
Len was right in July to argue that “the status quo is not an option” but not because there is anything wrong with collective affiliation, or with the “block vote” itself. In a democratic, federal party, there is no collective voice without block votes – constituency parties have them too.
The trouble with the block vote is that in the last twenty years, the trade unions have used them, however reluctantly, to undermine the very party democracy we now need and miss. We voted away the right to submit motions and amendments and the right for Labour’s national executive to oversee policy-making, until the party conference was left with almost no purpose at all, except as a circus where bag-carriers and careerists tout themselves in a political version of X -Factor.
We allowed power to be centralised. And even where we did manage to extract a few policy concessions, we have to vote for all sorts of bad policies alongside them to get that little benefit.
We need to restore democracy to the party. We need a Labour conference that makes policy again. We need a Labour executive that manages the party. And Unite is the union that should be leading the way. So it is wrong to say “don’t let anyone say that the status quo is worth defending” because some aspects of the status quo are worth defending:
• The Labour Party itself is worth defending. There is no better option for Unite and the other trade unions. • What levers of power we have in the party are worth defending. Trade unions have half the votes. That means a veto on changing the rules of the party. A level of influence we should use to restore democracy. Without more democracy, we can never have enough influence on what Labour does.
It is true that “significant numbers of Unite members do not support Labour” but far fewer support the Tories than in the general population, and the vast majority of our members favour having a political fund and a political voice which they know perfectly well is used to support and influence the Labour Party. The real problem is that too many of our members don’t vote or are seduced by false hopes like those offered by UKIP, or the SNP (even though it is far closer to big business than Ed Miliband’s Labour Party).
We cannot agree that our main aim should be “to ensure that as many Unite members as possible, already paying our political levy, now sign up individually, by whatever means have transparency and integrity, to be affiliate members of the party.” Whilst it is right to encourage Unite members to join the party and become more active, it is inconceivable, especially after our experience in Falkirk, that we will succeed in large numbers, until we have succeeded in changing Labour.
And to do that we need to make Labour more democratic. That should be our main aim.
Jim Kelly (chair London & Eastern region, Unite) in a personal capacity
By Anne Field
Another Sunday. Another issue of the Sunday Times. Another attack on Unite (on pages 1, 4, 16, 17 and 33).
But this time Jerry Hicks – the founder, leader and mouthpiece of the “Grass Roots Left” in Unite – has given a helping hand. According to the front-page article:
“Hicks said this weekend: ‘Was Falkirk an aberration or a modus operandi? There are serious questions that need to be answered about these tens of thousands of non-members of the union who were sent ballot papers.’”
The reference to “tens of thousands of non-members” receiving ballot papers relates to Hick’s complaint to the Certification Officer , alleging that in the Unite general secretary election held earlier this year 160,000 ballot papers were sent to former members not entitled to vote.
Unite’s response is that the members’ subscriptions had lapsed but they were still entitled to vote. Under rule 4.1 of the union’s rulebook members can be up to 26 weeks in arrears before being removed from the membership lists.
“Hicks says that it is not credible that nearly 160,000 members were in recent arrears of membership,” continues the Sunday Times article. But in a union with 1.4 million members it is entirely credible. Annual membership turnover in a union is 25%.
(See para. 9 of the recent government report: “Amendment to the TULRCA 1992: Trade Unions’ Registers of Members: Impact Assessment”.)
But the issue here is not – yet another – complaint by Hicks to the Certification Officer. It is his statement: “Was Falkirk an aberration or a modus operandi?”
The starting point for that statement can only be that Unite committed vote-rigging abuses in recruiting its members to the Labour Party in Falkirk. The sole question for Hicks is whether it was “an aberration or a modus operandi.”
This was no slip of the tongue by Hicks. In an earlier statement about Grangemouth Hicks wrote on his website of Unite’s “infantile, unfunny comic capers of infiltration through recruiting members to the Labour Party.”
Hicks’ line of argument is: Unite engaged in vote-rigging in Falkirk – isn’t it credible, therefore, that it engaged in the same malpractices in this year’s general secretary elections?
In fact, one of the comments on Hicks’ website is much more straightforward and makes explicit was Hicks merely insinuates:
“An investigation should have been launched to establish who in Unite cheated which resulted in McCluskey winning. Another investigation should be launched by the police into data protection issues over the use of Unite membership lists.”
(Clearly, one must assume that Hicks and his supporters were 100% supportive of Labour Party officials handing over the dodgy ‘Falkirk dossier’ to the police.)
Hicks is very proud of the Sunday Times coverage of his complaint to the Certification Officer. On his website he boasts:
“Jerry Hlcks (sic) challenge to validity of Unite General Secretary election makes ‘Sunday Times’ front page. The ‘Sunday Times’ (01/11/13) (sic) front page article ‘Union Boss Len McCluskey Elected by Phantoms’ carries my complaint to the Certification Officer.”
Hicks is either too thick or too callous, to be quite blunt about it, not to recognise that the Sunday Times front page article is nothing but another vicious witch-hunting attack on Unite, drawing parallels between supposed malpractices in Falkirk and supposed malpractices in Len McCluskey’s re-election.
It is also another disgraceful attack on Stevie Deans. The article makes a ‘linkage’ of Stevie-Deans-Unite-convenor (nearly lost everyone their jobs), Stevie-Deans-Falkirk-Labour–chair (vote-rigging) and Stevie-Deans-election-campaigner-for-McCluskey (vote-rigging).
Solidarity with his own union in the face of this witch-hunt? Solidarity with a fellow union member who has been hounded out of his job and his union and Labour Party positions?
Of such solidarity there is not a word in Hicks’ piece. Instead, narcissism trumps solidarity. “The media are responding to our (sic – should read: my) press release of 9th September,” claims Hicks.
No. The Sunday Times was not responding on 10th November to a press release issued by Hicks on 9th September. It was engaged in an ongoing witch-hunt.
And Hicks’ complaint to the Certification Officer, backed up by Hicks’ allegations about Unite’s role in Falkirk Labour Party, was just another ‘peg’ on which to hang the ongoing witch-hunt.
If there is hard evidence of vote-rigging in this year’s Unite general secretary elections, Hicks is perfectly entitled to raise it. Socialists would defend him for doing so, even if the right-wing media were to exploit such a complaint for its own ends.
But that is not the case here.
Hicks is endorsing gutter-level accusations about vote-rigging by Unite in Falkirk Labour Party in order to try to lend some credibility to allegations about vote-rigging in the Unite general secretary elections.
The Sunday Times picks up on these allegations. In three articles on five pages it attacks Unite and its links to the Labour Party. Hicks’ response is not to condemn the witch-hunt but to say: “Hey look, they’re talking about me!”
(Footnote: Hicks makes allegations about Unite’s recruitment practices in Falkirk Labour Party and about non-members of Unite being given a vote in the general secretary elections.
But according to Hicks’ website, the Grass Roots left national conference, held the day before the appearance of the Sunday Times article, was open to “members of Unite the union, their families and friends.”)
Ross Harper adds:
Well, just fancy that!
Enter Jerry Hicks, stage right, furiously backpedalling.
It’s all been a terrible mistake, he now claims in a new post on his website. See: http://www.jerryhicks4gs.org/
He has made no linkage, he says between events in Falkirk and his complaint to the Certification Officer. Good heavens, no!
And brother Hicks piously stresses that he is “opposed to any attempt to use my complaint in any witch hunt against my union.” Good to hear it, Jerry!
Mind you, there’s still a few things that Hicks needs to explain:
1) The article which he posted on his website this morning made NO criticism of the Sunday Times article. So why did he not say this morning what he is saying now? Could it be that he is saying it only now because of the flak he’s received, because of people ‘unfriending’ him, and because of the nasty things that have been written about him?
2) Hicks does not deny having said “Was Falkirk an aberration or a modus operandi?” This quote is, in any case, entirely consistent with what he has said elsewhere on his website about Falkirk, i.e. that Unite was engaged in “infiltration” of Falkirk Labour Party.
3) Hicks says that he has made no linkage between events in Falkirk and his complaint to the Certification Officer. Problem, for him, is that he claims that Unite was involved in “infiltration” in Falkirk (which the average person would consider to be vote-rigging) and that people who were not members of Unite received ballot papers during the general secretary election earlier this year, presumably in order to help Len McCluskey win (which the average person would consider to be vote-rigging). So it’s pretty pathetic for Hicks to claim that he is making no linkage between the two.
4) Hicks does not deny having said what the Sunday Times says that he said. Let us be charitable and suppose that the Sunday Times has run two different statements together from Hicks into a single quote. But what did Hicks think the Sunday Times was going to do? And this is someone who wants to be a union general secretary (where you need to know how to deal with the media)!
5) Hicks now writes: “I am opposed to any attempt to use my complaint in any witch hunt against my union.” But what about his allegation of “infiltration” into Falkirk Labour Party (and his rhetorical question about whether it was a one-off or established practice)? How can such allegations be used for anything other than a witch-hunt against Unite?
6) Even now Hicks cannot bring himself to utter a single word of support for Stevie Deans (although I very much doubt that Stevie would welcome support from such a source).
The next time Hicks throws his hat into the ring in another general secretary election, Unite members should remember this scurrilous fiasco.
According to the front page of today’s Sunday Times
“THE boss of Britain’s biggest union, involved in a vote-rigging inquiry in Falkirk, faces investigation over alleged irregularities in his own election.
“The allegations over the election of Len McCluskey as general secretary of the Unite union centre on claims that almost 160,000 of those balloted were not members.
“His rival for the job, Jerry Hicks, has complained that the election was unlawful because people who had left the union were included in the ballot. Hicks said dead former members were among those who were sent voting papers.
“The Certification Office — the union regulator, which has the power to order McCluskey’s election to be rerun — confirmed this weekend that it has launched an investigation. An official complaint is expected to be submitted to Unite in the next few weeks.
“Hicks said this weekend: ‘Was Falkirk an aberration or a modus operandi?’ There are serious questions that need to be answered about these tens of thousands of non-members of the union who were sent ballot papers.”
So it appears that the SWP-supported Hicks (who lost the last general secretary election to McCluskey by 80,000 votes earlier this year) has not only reported the union to the Certification Officer, but is now co-operating with the Murdoch press (and so, with the Tories and Blairites) in the witch-hunt against Unite in the wake of Falkirk and Grangemouth.
By the way, I’d put money on the fact that if there were any significant membership irregularities at the time of the general secretary election, they came from the old Amicus side of the merged union – precisely the constituency Hicks was appealing to in his campaign.
But for now, Mr Hicks has some ‘serious questions that need answering’ – like what the hell does he think he’s doing going to the Certification Officer and the Murdoch press instead of raising any legitimate concerns he might have within the union itself? Unite under McCluskey has many faults, but it is a relatively open and democratic organisation, where any such concerns would be taken seriously and investigated. But it would appear that Mr Hicks is more interested in attacking McCluskey, even by means of joining in the right-wing witch-hunt against the union itself.
There’s a name for people who do that. It’s “scab.”
P.S: As Anne Field and Andrew Coates note in BTL comments below, Hicks seems very proud of his coverage in the Murdoch press: http://www.jerryhicks4gs.org/
Guest post by Dale Street
Above: fearsome, isn’t it?
It’s been a busy week for media hacks who hate trade unionists. And what better opportunity for hacks to vent their spleen than the fallout from the Ineos dispute in Grangemouth?
The Sunday Times (27th October) led the way with lengthy articles about the contents of e-mails sent or received by former Unite Ineos convenor Stevie Deans.
A dossier of these e-mails had been “passed to police last week”. But subsequent press coverage suggested that the e-mails had also been passed on to half of Fleet Street. And the source of the “dossier” was Ineos itself – hardly a disinterested party in the matter.
The opening sentence in the Sunday Times front-page article had all the right buzzwords: “Ed Miliband is facing a crisis this weekend as a cache of bombshell e-mails expose a concerted union plot involving blah, blah, blah.”
Only the word “sinister” was missing. But this was the Sunday Times, not the Sun.
A few paragraphs into article, however, the “crisis” eased off to become mere “pressure” (“… Miliband is facing pressure …”). And by the end of the article the crisis-cum-pressure turned out to be no more than a rent-a-quote from a Tory MP in Crawley called Smith.
Pages ten and eleven carried a lengthy article about the e-mails, headlined with the lurid quote: “A Blueprint of How to Hijack a Constituency”
On closer inspection, however, the quote turned out to emanate from a “company insider” whose qualifications for making such a judgement remained as unknown as the insider’s name.
To be fair to “company insider”, what he/she actually said was: “It looks like a blueprint …” But even that still begs the question of what, if any, expertise the “company insider” had to be able to conclude that the e-mails “looked like” a blueprint for a CLP takeover.
The article made great play of the figure of “a thousand e-mails” (or, alternatively, “a thousand e-mails and attachments”). But this turned out to include e-mails (and attachments) received as well as sent, and covers a period of eleven months.
Nor was there any mention of the whether the e-mails had been dealt with during or outside working hours.
In terms of the e-mails’ contents and volume, there was certainly little or nothing in the article to give weight to the claim by “company insider” that “Deans spent most of last summer organising his union’s infiltration of the Labour Party.”
This weekend’s Sunday Times (3rd November) continued its attacks on Unite, this time in the shape of three articles and an editorial focusing on the Labour Party report into allegations of vote-rigging by Unite in Falkirk.
“Revealed: Milband’s Dossier on Union Plot” read the headline over the front-page article, while a spread on pages 14/15 appeared under the headline “The Secret ‘Vote-Rigging’ Report Labour Suppressed”.
The headlines suggest that the newspaper had obtained a copy of the report. So too do the opening paragraphs of the articles:
“Secret contents of the report are revealed today. They lay bare the shocking conclusions of the enquiry into alleged electoral corruption in the brutal battle by Unite to sieze control of the safe Labour seat of Falkirk.”
In fact, the paper had a Unite document (discovered in Stevie Deans’ “cache of bombshell e-mails”) which appears to be an early draft of the union’s response to the Labour Party report.
The Sunday Times articles re-quoted the various Labour Party allegations quoted in the Unite document. But it did not quote a single one of Unite’s response to those allegations.
This was despite the fact that the article acknowledged that the Unite document was “deeply critical of the Labour Party investigation, which, it says, draws conclusions on the basis of little or no hard evidence.”
(Rather like the Sunday Times article itself.)
In fact, the article even conceded in the small print that “Unite rebuts all the claims in its document”, and that the Unite document contained “a line-by-line rebuttal of the (Labour Party) allegations”.
Such poor-quality one-sided ‘journalism’ did at least display a fine sense of timing: Falkirk CLP was meeting the same day, and the Scottish press had been ‘reporting’ that a motion of no-confidence in Stevie Deans as CLP chair would be proposed at the meeting.
(This was based on various anonymous statements by “a key figure in Falkirk CLP”, “another local party member” and “sources at the local party”. Given that these articles had appeared several days before the CLP meeting, this hardly constituted ‘reporting’ in the normal sense of the word.)
“Miliband will now come under intense pressure to re-open the inquiry and publish its report,” continued the Sunday Times article. But what happened to the crisis-cum-pressure which Miliband was supposedly already facing the previous weekend?
In fact, the only sign of this “intense pressure” in the pages of the newspaper was its own editorial – insofar as a Sunday Times editorial counts as “intense pressure”. The paper hadn’t even been able to get a rent-a-quote from a Crawley Tory MP called Smith.
While the Sunday Times focused on a report which it had never even seen, the mid-week issues of the Daily Mail focused on the terrors of a giant inflatable rat.
A “sinister unit” (Unite’s Organising and Leverage Department) sent “mobs of protestors” to the homes of Ineos directors as part of a “campaign of bullying and intimidation” intended to “humiliate executives and their families”.
“It was a mob, a threatening mob,” explained a Dunfermline-based Ineos director who described how “25 Unite members protested on his driveway with flags, banners and an inflatable rat. … Children as young as seven who were playing on the street were coaxed into joining the mob.”
The article was accompanied by a grainy picture of the “threatening mob”. But the picture gives the lie to the substance of the article.
There is no “threatening mob”. There are simply some Unite members standing around. They are not on the driveway. They are on the pavement. They are not threatening anyone. (In fact, not only was chanting banned on the protest, so too was smoking.)
There is certainly a giant inflatable rat in the picture. But it looks as fearsome as Mr. Blobby on a bad day. As for children being “coaxed” into the joining the non-existent “mob”, if a giant inflatable rat suddenly appears at the bottom of your road, natural curiosity is going to attract the average seven-year-old to take a closer look.
In a follow-up article the Daily Mail reported that the previously unheard-of Jonathan Roberts had resigned from Unite “in disgust after the Daily Mail’s revelation about the union’s bullying tactics.”
Bang on cue, Roberts, who stood for Labour in the safe Tory seat on Thirsk and Malton in the last general election, attacked Unite for “picketing the family homes of company bosses and intimidating their children” and for generally failing to represent its members.
Of course, there had never been any evidence – not even in the lurid pages of the Sunday Times or the Daily Mail – that Unite members were “intimidating children”.
But what did facts count for when the sole concern of such newspapers was to whip up an anti-Unite hysteria on the back of the threat by a billionaire tax-exile to shut down Grangemouth unless his workforce, their union, and the Scottish and British governments gave him everything he wanted?
Not that there might be anything in Jim Ratcliffe’s behaviour, of course, which might merit closer investigation by the fearless journalists of the Sunday Times and the Daily Mail.
No wonder people were scared!
“One Grangemouth boss, who as asked not to be named for fear of reprisals, called the police after 25 Unite members working for the union’s Leverage team protested on his driveway with flags, banners and an inflatable rat for about 90 minutes on October 18″ – Daily Mail