The UK Labour Party is also in trouble about candidate selection processes.
No nonsense about gender here though, somebody has blown the whistle on how the left really behaves – the union buys the candidate, stacks the electorate and pulls the strings.
What a sorry mess. If you’re one of those entirely rational people who tend to avert their eyes from stories about the internal workings of the Labour party, you may have so far missed the brouhaha about candidate selection in the Scottish constituency of Falkirk. The party’s high command has suspended the troubled selection for a parliamentary candidate there, after allegations that the trade union Unite has been signing people up as party members en masse, supposedly without some people’s actual knowledge. Its aim, it is said, was to secure the Labour candidacy in 2015 (the sitting MP is the disgraced former army major, Eric Joyce) for Karie Murphy, a senior aide to the party’s head of campaigning, Tom Watson, and the favoured candidate of the union’s leader, Len McCluskey – who, some people are fond of pointing out, was once Watson’s flatmate.
Murphy has now stood aside, but the row about Falkirk goes on. Kim Howells, the former Labour minister and MP for the Welsh seat of Pontypridd, has piped up and, given that part of the world’s association with a somewhat closed, anti-democratic kind of Labour politics, he should know. He thinks Unite’s alleged behaviour “threatens the whole reputation of the Labour party”. So does Peter Mandelson, who said that episodes such as the Falkirk debacle “risk damaging Labour’s reputation and undermining our electoral appeal“.
Meanwhile, Unite is threatening legal action against the party to which it is by far the largest donor, and pointing out that its championing of such candidates as Murphy is part of a drive to “ensure that people who share working class and trade union values are successfully selected as Labour party prospective parliamentary candidates in winnable constituencies just like Falkirk”.
The kind of shenanigans said to have occurred in Falkirk is as much a part of Labour history as any of its more romantic aspects. In 27 years as an on-off follower of the party’s internal affairs, I have heard the same stuff time and again: whispers about ghost members, signed up in their droves and paid for with a single cheque; talk about parties within parties, and conspiracies to fix selections; cases in which favoured candidates have been parachuted into seats – and, shall we say, assisted by powerful forces in the party’s upper echelons.
Most political parties have their own versions of such stories, but the Labour one is particularly entertaining. The Blairite right has been as involved as the union-backed/Brownite left: witness the great stink kicked up in Blaenau Gwent circa 2005, the short-lived kerfuffle about Georgia Gould, the daughter of Tony Blair’s polling guru Phillip Gould, or the disaffection and anger sparked by suggestions that Mandelson – yes, him again – had effectively reserved the seat of Stoke Central for his good friend Tristram Hunt.