Labour rocked by resignation and suspensions as Falkirk scandal escalates

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  By a Newsnet reporter

Labour MP Tom Watson has resigned from the party’s front bench at Westminster over the continuing row surrounding the candidate selection process in Falkirk.
 
In a resignation letter to Labour leader Ed Miliband, Mr Watson called for the findings of an internal investigation into the controversy to be published.

In the letter, Mr Watson wrote: “I said that I’d stay with you as general election co-ordinator within the Shadow Cabinet as long as I was useful.  I think it would be a good idea for you, and me, if I stood down from the role now.”

The MP added: “Yet it’s not the unattributed shadow cabinet briefings around the mess in Falkirk that has convinced me that the arrangement has run its course (though they don’t help).

“I believe that the report should be published – in full – and the whole truth told as soon as possible so that the record can be made clear. I’ve still not seen the report but believe there are an awful lot of spurious suppositions being written.”

The resignation of the senior MP was followed by news that Labour has suspended Stephen Deans who is the party chairman of the Falkirk West Constituency.  Also suspended from Labour is Karie Murphie, the candidate who had the backing of Unite.

The constituency has been beset with controversy and scandal involving the current MP, Eric Joyce, who was suspended from Labour following a string of scandals culminating in a conviction for assault.  The current selection process follows Mr Joyce’s suspension, but it too has been hit by its own scandals after allegation of rigging emerged.

The resignation of the senior MP from Labour’s shadow cabinet is the latest blow to rock the party which is currently engaged in a bitter war of words with one of its biggest financial backers.  Trade union Unite has faced claims from Labour that it tried to rig the selection process in Falkirk in a bid at enhancing the chances of its own favoured candidate Karie Murphy.

Ms Murphy was also Mr Watson’s office manager and some in Labour had criticised the MP over what they felt was his own inappropriate favouritism.

In a twist yesterday it was reported that senior Scottish Labour MP Jim Murphy is also linked to one of the Falkirk candidates who is also suspected of illegally recruiting party members in the Falkirk area.  Gregory Poynton, whose wife is a member of Mr Murphy’s Shadow Defence team, is alleged to have paid the membership fees of several new recruits using a £130 personal cheque.

Yesterday Mr Murphy launched his own bitter attack on the trade union, accusing it of having “overstepped the mark” in Falkirk.

Unite’s leader Len McCluskey has previously accused Murphy and another Scottish Labour MP, Douglas Alexander, of attempting to “seduce” Labour’s leader Ed Miliband who McCluskey said would be “cast into the dustbin of history” if he listened to the two.

The issue has brought embarrassment to Labour leader Ed Miliband who owes his own leadership contest win over his brother David, to Unite.  Mr Miliband has been under increasing pressure to distance himself from the union following the controversy in Falkirk.

There has also been increasing pressure for Labour’s Scottish leader Johann Lamont to issue a statement on the growing controversy.  Ms Lamont is the nominal leader of all Scottish politicians, including MPs.  However she has been silent on the matter, fuelling claims that her ‘leadership’ role is merely cosmetic and London is calling the shots.

Labour’s opponents have seized on the bitter feud.

Michael Matheson, SNP MSP for Falkirk West, insisted the constituents of Falkirk deserved a by-election, saying:

“The scandal surrounding Labour in Falkirk is just a microcosm of what is wrong with the Labour party at large, as highlighted by the high level resignation of Tom Watson.

“The people of Falkirk deserve so much better. They should be able to elect a new MP – there needs to be a by-election – and the sooner the better.

“All we have had is silence from Johann Lamont, who is supposed to be leader of Labour’s Scottish Westminster MPs.  Ms Lamont clearly can’t get a grip of this crisis; she is confirming that the shots are all being called by the real Labour bosses in London.

“Local people were let down by Labour over the behaviour of Eric Joyce, and they have been let down by Labour all over again with their party’s murky candidate selection scandal.”

Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps said: “This is a clear vote of no confidence in Ed Miliband’s weak leadership from the man he brought in to run his campaign.

“But this still doesn’t change the fact that Len McCluskey’s Unite union is taking over the Labour Party.

“Ed Miliband is not in control of his Party. He’s too weak to stand up to Len McCluskey, too weak to stand up for hardworking people and too weak to run the country.”