SHADOW foreign secretary Douglas Alexander was the target of a bid by the trade union Unite to ensure he lost his seat in parliament, it was claimed yesterday.
Leaked minutes from a meeting of Unite’s governing council reveal that the plot to oust Alexander took place when a Boundary Commission review pitched him against a neighbouring Labour MP.
The emergence of the bid to unseat one of party leader Ed Miliband’s closest shadow cabinet colleagues will escalate the growing row between Labour and Unite following the investigations into claims of vote manipulation by the union in the vacant Falkirk constituency. Labour has called in police to investigate the situation.
Under plans announced in October 2011, a boundary review proposed that Alexander’s constituency, Paisley and Renfrewshire South, should be merged with Paisley and Renfrewshire North, held by Jim Sheridan, the Labour MP who chairs Unite’s parliamentary group.
According to Labour sources, the proposal to create a merged Paisley and Renfrew seat saw Unite increase its membership activity in the area in the hope that Sheridan would be selected over Alexander for the new constituency.
Labour faces allegations of vote-rigging in Falkirk where Unite is alleged to have recruited new local party members without their knowledge in order to get its favoured candidate selected to represent Labour in place of disgraced MP Eric Joyce.
Yesterday, an influential political blog, Labour Uncut, published the Unite minute, which suggested the move to flood Falkirk with Unite members was based on a similar operation carried out in Paisley. The blog was written by the site’s editor Atul Hatwal, who is also director of the Migration Matters Trust.
It quotes the minute as saying: “Last but very much not least, is the exemplary Falkirk. A seat where a candidate selection, to replace the disgraced Eric Joyce, is reasonably imminent … Using similar methods to Garston and Paisley, but at a much more intense level, led by the potential candidate, and very much supported by the local activist base, especially at Ineos [local employer] we have recruited well over 100 Unite members to the party in a constituency with less than 200 members.”
When concern about Unite’s behaviour in Falkirk came to light, Labour suspended the union’s preferred candidate Karie Murphy. Murphy had been office manager for the Labour MP Tom Watson, who last week quit the shadow cabinet saying he wanted to preserve the unity of the party.
There is no suggestion of any criminality in the case of Paisley but a Labour insider told Scotland on Sunday: “At the very beginning of this parliament Unite did make lots of noise about wanting to pack constituencies and make sure Unite members were adopted in safe and marginal Labour seats.
“They announced they wanted this policy of moving the party left. At the time somebody was going to have to lose their seat and if they picked one to win they [Unite] would rather it was Jim rather than Douglas. Douglas hasn’t been targeted by Unite out of vindictiveness.”
In the end, Unite’s attempt to ensure that Sheridan succeeded in defeating Alexander came to nothing as the boundary review was cancelled by the Coalition Government at the beginning of this year.
Last week, the Unite general secretary Len McCluskey dismissed the Falkirk allegations as nonsense.
And yesterday, Unite’s director of campaigns and communications, Pauline Doyle, defended the union’s activities in Paisley. Referring to Sheridan, Doyle said: “This is a good MP who has done well. There are plenty of Unite members in that constituency. Why not encourage them? I am sure we want to encourage people in Unite to join in Douglas Alexander’s seat. We are all the same party.
“It is a leap into another dimension to say there is some malign plan underneath this.”
She added: “We are very clear and open about what we are doing, which is saying to our members, please join the party. It is up to you what you do when you join it. But we want you to join it, get active and help revive it. As Len said yesterday, the Labour Party never told him it was full.”
Last night, the Labour Uncut blog posting was removed from its site.
Labour refused to comment on the situation at a UK level or in Scotland. Yesterday, Sheridan, who chairs the group of Labour MPs sponsored by Unite, called on Miliband to be clear what exactly those involved were accused of – something which the party has declined to specify on legal advice. He told the BBC that it would be “absolutely wrong” if memberships had been paid by the union in an effort solely to influence the selection, or been signed up unknowingly.
“Ed Miliband is absolutely right: no-one but no-one will undermine the integrity of the party and he is quite right to be doing what he’s doing,” he said.
“But what he has also got to do is make clear what the facts are, what the accusations are.”
The Labour leadership’s silence was criticised by Alex Salmond, the First Minister, who said: “Labour’s meltdown over its selection procedure in Falkirk has sent Ed Miliband’s leadership into a tailspin. But it also exposes the empty rhetoric at the heart of claims that Scottish Labour is in charge of its own affairs – and the silence of the party leadership north of the Border.
“We were told after Johann Lamont was elected leader that Labour had changed their procedures so that she was in charge of the party in Scotland, including being responsible for Scottish Labour MPs. But now it turns out that is not true.”