Labour suspends selection process for Eric Joyce’s replacement

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   By a Newsnet reporter

The Labour party has suspended its selection procedure for the Falkirk Westminster constituency seat currently occupied by Eric Joyce, who was expelled from the party when he was convicted of assault.

Labour had embarked on a selection process to choose a candidate to replace Mr Joyce at the next UK General Election, however the process has been suspended following concerns about alleged irregularities after 100 members of the Unite union joined the local party in the past months.

The selection process has become one of the most bad-tempered and contentious in a party which is no stranger to bad-tempered selection processes.   Disputes had previously arisen over whether the new candidate should be chosen from an all-women list, and now a separate dispute has arisen over over the way in which the Unite union is alleged to have recruited members in a bid to win the seat for its preferred candidate.

Allegations have been made that when over 100 Unite members joined the party recently,  the union paid their dues by sending a single cheque to the local party for membership fees.  Labour party rules specify that members must pay their dues individually by direct debit, which is intended to ensure that new members have knowingly and willingly joined the party and have not simply been signed up by third parties.

A Labour Party spokesman said on Friday:

“We have suspended the start of the selection process of the Falkirk parliamentary seat. Concerns have been raised about membership recruitment which need to be investigated. An officer of the party will carry out an investigation to ensure the integrity of the process.”

The spokesman added that the party would take “swift and decisive” action to resolve the issue.  The selection process had been due to commence this Sunday.

Unite has admitted that it is encouraging its members to join the Labour party in an attempt to infuence the party’s choice of candidates, but has insisted that the union had complied with all Labour membership rules.  In a statement the Union said:

“[Unite is] fully confident that in relation to Falkirk West as in all all seats where our members are active in the Labour Party, our conduct is correct and fully compliant with the rules of the party. Around half of all selections are are all women short lists which are determined by the Labour Party’s NEC.”

The controversy is part of a wider disagreement between the union, one of the Labour party’s biggest financial supporters, and the Parliamentary Labour party.  The union is unhappy with the influence of the Blairite wing within the Parliamentary party. 

In April Unite’s general secretary, Len McCluskey, warned Labour leader Ed Miliband that he risks being defeated at the next General Election due to influence on Labour policy from Blairites.  Mr McCluskey singled out Labour’s shadow foreign secretary Douglas Alexander and shadow defence spokesman Jim Murphy as having an especially baleful influence on the party’s policies. 

Mr McCluskey said in an interview with the New Statesman magazine:

“If [Ed Miliband] is brave enough to go for something radical, he’ll be the next prime minister. If he gets seduced by the Jim Murphys and the Douglas Alexanders, then the truth is that he’ll be defeated and he’ll be cast into the dustbin of history.”