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Union row: Stephen Deans quits Labour job

Stephen Deans, left, is set to quit his post as Falkirk Labour Party chair. Picture: Michael Gillen

Stephen Deans, left, is set to quit his post as Falkirk Labour Party chair. Picture: Michael Gillen

  • by ANDREW WHITAKER
 

THE chairman of the Labour Party’s Falkirk constituency, Stephen Deans, is to step down from his position amid continuing allegations that the Unite union attempted to rig votes and scupper a subsequent investigation.

Mr Deans, the Unite official at the centre of the bitter Grangemouth dispute, is understood to have decided not to seek re-election as the chairman of the Falkirk West Constituency Labour Party.

His departure follows an internal row over allegations he used his position in Unite to sign up Grangemouth workers to join Labour, in order to ensure his union’s favoured candidate, Karie Murphy, stood for the party in the Falkirk seat.

Unite leader Len McCluskey yesterday claimed his union had been the victim of “disgraceful and despicable attacks”, as he dismissed reports that it had tried to disrupt the Labour investigation into alleged vote rigging.

The investigation by Labour was dropped after the complaints of vote-rigging were withdrawn.

But Labour leader Ed Miliband is now facing intense pressure to restart the inquiry, amid claims that Unite subverted the investigation through threats, intimidation and dirty tricks.

Mr Miliband has refused to publish the findings of the investigation, but a Unite memo that was discovered among a cache of e-mails sent to and from Mr Deans, while he worked at Grangemouth, reportedly claimed the investigators found indications of forgery, coercion and manipulation.

Mr Deans, who last week resigned from his position as Unite convener at Grangemouth after owners Ineos presented him with evidence that he had conducted political work on company time, has agreed not to seek re-election as local party chairman when members hold their annual meeting on 24 November.

He was initially suspended from his job at Grangemouth in July, a move that prompted his union to threaten strike action and triggered a series of events that dramatically escalated and eventually saw Ineos announce plans to close the petrochemical side of Grangemouth.

That decision was reversed at the last minute, when the union climbed down and accepted the owner’s demands.

The decision by Mr Deans to quit yesterday came as a members’ meeting was held in the constituency in the wake of allegations about attempts by Unite to rig the selection to ensure Ms Murphy was chosen as Labour’s candidate.

Labour will select a general election candidate to fight Falkirk West on 8 December from an all-woman shortlist with nominations already open, members were told yesterday.

However, the local party will remain subject to “special measures”, with Labour’s national executive deciding the make-up of the candidate shortlist.

Mr Deans stayed away from yesterday’s meeting, at the Camelon Labour Club, but is thought to have decided not to seek re-election as chairman following talks with officials in the local party.

Mr McCluskey insisted there was “no case to answer” over Unite’s involvement in the selection, as he rejected claims that led to Mr Deans and Ms Murphy being suspended from party membership.

The Unite leader claimed the allegations were part of a Conservative plot to discredit

Labour leader Mr Miliband. He said: “This is a trap being set by Tory Central Office and Ed Miliband should not fall into those traps.”

About 1,000

e-mails sent to and from Mr Deans on his Grangemouth account were collected by Ineos investigators and put before Mr Deans last month, with details of the investigation handed to police.

The e-mails suggested that a letter retracting key evidence in the Labour investigation had not been written by the witnesses but by union officials and approved by Mr Deans.

Mr McCluskey conceded that Mr Deans had seen some of the retractions before they were made public, but said this was understandable as they had been written by members of his family.

He said: “This is an ordinary, decent family, who were suddenly faced with the full weight of the establishment – the police, a forensic solicitor. Of course they spoke to Stevie Deans.”

Mr McCluskey denied that Unite officials had been involved in getting key witness evidence retracted from the inquiry.

He said: “The truth of the matter is that all the investigations demonstrated that there is nothing to answer. This is a con trick. Unite has tried to instigate a revival of trade union values within the Labour Party.”

Mr McCluskey insisted that the union would continue to campaign despite what he said were the “disgraceful and despicable attacks launched on us by the media”.

He said the threatened closure of the Grangemouth petrochemical plant had been the fault of the owners Ineos, who he said had “brought the sight to a standstill” last month.

Mr McCluskey also defended Unite tactics such as protests outside the home of Ineos directors as “legitimate” and “lawful”.

Meanwhile, Falkirk West

Labour issued a statement that said members were “extremely disappointed” that no representatives from party headquarters attended yesterday’s meeting.

Local member Gray Allan called on the Labour Party to make public its investigation into the alleged vote rigging in Falkirk.

“We need matters to be addressed here in front of our members by someone from the centre,” he said.

“We need to put these matters to rest and we need to rebuild what is a damaged organisation.”

Mr Allan, the party vice-chairman, said that he understood why Mr Deans had decided to quit as a party official in the

constituency.

He said: “I wish this had not happened and that Stevie was untainted by this.

“I would have thought that after Stevie was effectively dismissed from a place he’s worked at for 24 years, he’ll have more important things to think about than a position in a constituency Labour Party.”

He said: “It’s disgraceful the way the local party has been sidelined as everyone has had their say on this apart from party members in Falkirk.

“It’s extremely disappointing that no official from either the Scottish Labour Party or the party in London was able to attend the all-members meeting.”

A Labour Party spokesman said: “We are now focused on ensuring we have a fair and transparent selection and that the local party has a new candidate they can get behind for the 2015 general election.”

Prime Minister David Cameron last week launched a scathing attack in the Commons on Mr Deans, whom he described as a “rogue operator”, and called for the Labour Party to conduct an inquiry into his actions.

Labour has refused to reopen the inquiry into the row, saying it wanted the police to first complete inquiries into the 1,000

e-mails Ineos had handed over.

Police Scotland has confirmed that the force’s economic crimes unit was assessing the case, but said it was not yet being treated as a live investigation.

Miliband’s best move forward would be a fully independent inquiry

STEPHEN Deans deciding not to seek re-election as Labour chairman in the troubled constituency party of Falkirk West will come as a relief to the party’s leadership at Holyrood and Westminster.

But it is unlikely to lead to the end of calls for Ed Miliband to reopen the party’s investigation into the allegations that Unite attempted to manipulate the selection of a candidate.

Mr Miliband made a questionable decision in referring the matter to the police this summer. Police Scotland decided allegations about what were reportedly questionable practices in the selection of a Labour candidate did not merit a criminal investigation.

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has been widely rounded on as the villain of the piece, in a sorry episode that really started in February last year, when Eric Joyce was arrested after assaulting Tory MPs following a drunken spree in a Westminster bar.

But to be absolutely fair to Mr McCluskey, he has been consistent in calling for the allegations against his own union to be put to a fully independent inquiry.

Perhaps Mr Miliband and Mr McCluskey could now agree on such a move, with an inquiry headed up by a respected legal figure.

 

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