3 Jul 2013

Battle of Falkirk gets murkier for Labour

Labour’s three most powerful figures are all embroiled in some way – Ed Miliband, Len McCluskey and Tom Watson.  And this morning a fourth figure,  Jim Murphy, entered the fray.

Details which I’ve been leaked, of Labour’s secret inquiry into Falkirk, show the report isn’t just about what the union Unite got up to in pursuit of getting its candidate selected.

I’m told the report says that in June last year – 2012 – 11 new members were recruited by Gregory Poynton, who was also a contender for the Labour nomination.

Unite’s Len McCluskey (Image: Getty)

Mr Poynton submitted a cheque for £130, which I’m told is against the rules, which say cheques can only for submitted for new members if those members all live at the same house, which in this case, apparently, they didn’t.

Mr Poynton refused to comment when I spoke to him this morning, but said he would get back to me later once he’d consulted the party.

Why does Mr Poynton’s recruitment activity matter?

First because he’s married to Gemma Doyle, the young Scottish MP who is a member of Labour’s Commons defence team under Jim Murphy. And second, Mr Poynton is the London political director of the firm Blue State Digital, which has a contract to provide campaigning work for the Labour party.

With that, and all the allegations about Unite recruiting dozens of new members in Falkirk without their knowledge, and seemingly against the rules, no wonder Labour big-wigs decided to keep the Falkirk report secret.

Unite’s activity was reportedly on behalf of Karie Murphy, a former chair of the Scottish Labour party, who works in Tom Watson’s office, and is also very close to the Unite leader Len McCluskey. And Mssrs Watson and McCluskey once shared a house.

Last night Unite issued an extremely angry statement over Labour’s decision last week to put the parliamentary selection process in Falkirk West into “special measures”.  It’s “at best an extreme over-reaction, at worst the product of an anti-union agenda,” Unite said.

The union claimed that on Monday some of their officials were finally allowed to read the report into Falkirk West on which last week’s decision was made, but not take a copy away.

Unite says that the report’s irregularities involve only a “handful” of new people, and so the “mass exclusion” of around 150 names from the future selection is “utterly disproportionate”.

Unite says Labour’s decision is “political in character” and “results from a desire from some in the party to minimise trade union involvement in parliamentary selections”.

This morning Jim Murphy hit out at Unite.  He told BBC News: “Something had gone really badly wrong in Falkirk when it came to the selection of the Labour candidate.

“I don’t blame the people locally – there’s clearly been some external interference. And while trade unions are an important part of a society and our politics, there seems to be one trade union in particular that’s well and truly overstepped the mark.

“It’s clear that Unite don’t run the Labour party; Ed Miliband does. And we should never confuse those two things.”

I have also learned that two of the complaints in Labour’s Falkirk report were submitted on people’s behalf by a local councillor, Linda Gow, who is still a contender for the nomination.

“If people share their concerns with you, you’re obviously obliged to pass their concerns on,” she tells me.  Mrs Gow denies recruiting anyone herself.  “I didn’t even have my husband as a member,” she says.  Mrs Gow’s critics argue she was hardly a disinterested party.

Friends of Gregory Poynton insist he did nothing wrong. They say he was not contacted by the Labour party inquiry and say
that if he had been implicated the party would have contacted him for a response.

It looks like it’s developing into a huge battle for Labour in the run-up to this autumn conference. And a huge headache for Ed Miliband.

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