Falkirk, Unite and Labour democracy

July 3, 2013 at 8:43 pm (democracy, Jim D, labour party, media, scotland, socialism, Tony Blair, unions, Unite the union, workers)

Above: how today’s Telegraph portrays McCluskey

Unite and its general secretary Len McCluskey make no secret of their wish to increase the number of working class people in Parliament and to extend union influence within the Labour Party. It’s spelled out in Unite’s Political Strategy document produced in January 2012, which is widely available within Unite and not difficult for anyone to get hold of.

Unite’s strategy for the Labour Party is entirely compatible with Party rules and amounts to little more than what other pressure groups (such as the Blairite ‘Progress’ faction) are doing. Except for one crucial consideration: the trade unions founded the Labour Party and are not just a faction but an organic element within the Party.

Now, it may be that Unite has made some mistakes in Falkirk in their efforts to secure the selection of Karie Murphy. Paying for union members’ first year of Party subs is not against Labour’s rules, but if (and I stress the “if”) it’s true that some of these people didn’t even know they’d been signed up, and/or that their membership was “back-dated” to allow them to participate in the selection process, that would indefensible and it may be that Unite will have to beat a temporary, tactical retreat. But even so, that should not deter Unite’s perfectly legitimate campaign to get members and supporters selected as candidates wherever possible.

And Unite should take no lectures on Party democracy from Blairite scum like Mandelson. Kim Howells and Jim Murphy: remember how in the nineties the Blairites undermined Party democracy, gutted the annual conference of any real power and imposed candidates against the wishes of Party members? These are the last people who should be sounding off about democracy, to Len McCluskey or anyone else.

Unite may have made some relatively minor errors in Falkirk. But their campaign to increase union influence within the Party is absolutely correct and entirely within Labour’s rules.

As Jon Lansman points out at Left Futures, The Labour Party rules on all selections for public office (Chapter 5 Clause 1) are quite clear:

persons wishing to stand as a Labour candidate … where not otherwise prevented… shall also be a member of a trade union affiliated to the TUC or considered by the NEC as a bona fide trade union and contribute to the political fund of that union. Any exceptions to these conditions must be approved by the NEC.


  1. Mike Killingworth said,

    Three comments. First, the rules are not “quite clear” – not all unions have political funds. Party practice has been to allow people who are members of those that don’t (e.g. teachers) not merely to join the Party but also to be adopted as candidates. Does McCluskey wish to change this? Of course not – he’s simply using “working class” as a cover for “more Labour MPs who agree with me” and if you think he’s entitled to do this you must also accept that capitalist newspapers are entitled to demonise him.

    Second, he is said to have arranged for the mail-out of ballot papers (in their envelopes) inside envelopes containing literature promoting his favoured candidate. This is surely a breach of the spirit of the rules even if in keeping with the letter of them.

    Finally, and more generally, consider this scenario. The Coalition scramble home for a second term and introduce a Bill for primary elections, to take place, say, in May of 2019. Would you oppose such a Bill in principle? If so, why?

  2. R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    The point is that Falkirk is a moribund CLP with just 200 members in 2010 (the same as in my hopeless safe Tory constituency), the SNP has already taken both Holyrood seats (and one of which was previously held by former left-wing MP Dennis Canavan after a real 1999 New Labour stitch-up forced him to stand as an Independent), and the appalling Major Joyce halved Labour’s majority between 2005 and 2010 and would probably have lost in in 2015 even if he’d signed up to AA and kept his fists to himself.

    And Labour splitting its Scottish CLPs in half to match Holyrood seats has presumably produced an even tinier West Falkirk membership.

    The real lesson here seems to be that you can’t run the old 1918 CLP machinery with just 200 or 100 members only a small fraction of whom are even vaguely active.

    And that is part of a larger lesson – that the Left, its parties, its unions, its whole way of doing politics is dead but that we are too stupid or just plain desperate to admit this and so carry on zombie-like going through all the motions.

  3. R F McCarthy (@RF_McCarthy) said,

    And lest we forget Falkirk West CLP specifically is a broken shell because of a true New Labour stitch-up in 1999 when they denied the hugely popular left-wing Labour MP the nomination for the new Holyrood seat and forced him to stand as an Independent (winning the biggest majority in the Scottish Parliament and holding it until his retirement in 2011):

    The Guardian from 25 March 1999:

    The Labour Party lost its second Member of Parliament in less than a week yesterday when Dennis Canavan submitted nomination papers to stand as an independent candidate for the Scottish Parliament.

    Under Labour Party rules, the MP for Falkirk West will automatically be expelled from the party having lodged his papers at Falkirk town hall, pitting himself against the Labour candidate in the May 6 elections.

    Mr Canavan, a leftwing MP at Westminster for 24 years, was rejected as a Labour candidate by a party panel last year despite securing overwhelming support from his local party. At the time he accused Labour of adopting Stalinist tactics to rout out potential dissidents.

    ‘It was like being interviewed by the thought police,’ Mr Canavan said yesterday. ‘Every second question was a loyalty test. They seemed to care more about making sure you would be one of their cronies than about what you could do for the people who elected you.’

    The MP has clashed with the Government over tuition fees and lone parent benefits. He has repeatedly accused ‘control freak’ tendencies in Labour headquarters of imposing a puppet candidate in Falkirk West. ‘The people of Falkirk West would be ill-served by a puppet whose allegiance is to party rather than people. They need a representative who will fight for their interests in the Scottish Parliament and I am standing to give them that choice,’ Mr Canavan said.

    He announced his decision to stand as an independent last year after the Scottish Secretary, Donald Dewar, told him he was not good enough to stand as a Labour candidate.

    Various officials in his constituency resigned over the decision, but Mr Canavan has always said he wanted to stay in the party. After his actions yesterday party headquarters said he would officially cease to be a member when nominations close for the Scottish Parliament on April 13.

    In what would be a highly embarrassing scenario for New
    Labour, the distinctly Old Labour Mr Canavan stands an outside chance of taking the Falkirk seat. If he is elected he has promised to resign his Westminster seat, forcing a by-election.

    A Labour spokeswoman said: ‘Three hundred of the people who put their names forward were disappointed, but Dennis Canavan is the only one who can’t accept it.’

    Mr Canavan’s expulsion is automatic, with no right of appeal.

    Amazing that nobody seems to remember this (in fact I had only a vague recollection myself).

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