Legal action threat as Labour engages in bitter war of words with Trade Union

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  By Angela Haggerty
 
The Unite Union has threatened legal action against the Labour party amid a row over the selection of a parliamentary candidate in Falkirk to replace disgraced MP Eric Joyce.
 
Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey claimed the union – Labour’s biggest donor – was victim to a smear campaign after a Labour National Executive Committee (NEC) inquiry ruled on Tuesday that there was “sufficient evidence” that an increase in Unite members joining the Falkirk West local constituency party was suspicious, leading to the introduction of “special measures” on the candidate selection process.

In a letter circulated to Unite members, Mr McCluskey wrote: “These decisions have been taken on the basis of an ‘investigation’ into the CLP (Constituency Labour Party), the report of which your union has not been allowed to see.

“As a result, not only are the rights of Falkirk CLP members being ignored, Unite is being subjected to a behind-the-scenes smear campaign.

“We will be challenging this procedure and this campaign through all proper channels within the party, publicly and by legal action if necessary.”

The measures imposed mean only members who joined the party prior to the date Eric Joyce announced he would step down can take part in the selection process for the 2015 poll, and the process will be handled by the Scottish and national Labour parties.  Mr Joyce announced in March last year that he would not stand for re-election after a bar room brawl at the House of Commons in which he was convicted after he assaulted four people.

A Labour spokesman said:  “After an internal inquiry into the Falkirk constituency we have found there is sufficient evidence to raise concern about the legitimacy of members qualifying to participate in the selection of a Westminster candidate.”

Unite responded furiously and said the intervention of party officials was driven by “Blairite pressure to exclude trade unionists from any influence in the party” and said members would “draw their own conclusions” about the integrity of the party’s procedures.

However, the row escalated further when Mr McCluskey sent the letter to members indicating that the union was poised to take legal action if necessary.  The letter contained added criticism that the Labour party was failing to meet the needs of communities and called for more trade unionists at Westminster.

“It is certainly our belief that Labour needs more trade unionists in parliament, as opposed to seats being handed out on a grace-and-favour basis to Oxbridge-educated ‘special advisers’, but we make no apology for that.

“Labour’s future depends on it becoming more representative of the communities it seeks to represent.”

The Labour candidate for the Falkirk seat is expected to be chosen from an all-woman shortlist.  Unite’s favoured candidate was Karie Murphy, who has worked for Labour election co-ordinator Tom Watson.

 

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