Prime Minister David Cameron launched a scathing attack on the union official at the centre of the Grangemouth dispute yesterday, blaming him for the near-collapse of the Scottish petrochemical industry.
Mr Cameron described Stephen Deans, the former Unite convener at the Ineos Grangemouth plant, as a “rogue operator”, and called for the Labour Party to conduct an inquiry into his actions. Mr Deans resigned from his position on Monday, hours before he was due to meet with management over claims he spent a significant amount of company time working on Labour Party business.
He had been implicated in the row over the selection of a Labour candidate to replace Eric Joyce in Falkirk – where Mr Deans is party chairman – and subsequent alleged attempts to thwart a party investigation.
His union had voted to strike over his suspension from the plant. That began a series of events that dramatically escalated and eventually saw Ineos announce plans to close the petrochemical side of Grangemouth. That decision was reversed when the union climbed down and accepted the owner’s demands.
Yesterday, Mr Cameron said it was now essential that the Labour Party launch a fresh inquiry and “get to the bottom of what happened”. He claimed the row could have “brought the Scottish petrochemical industry to its knees”.
The Prime Minister’s attack on the Unite official came after he was asked to praise the unions for their role in boosting British car manufacturing.
Mr Cameron, speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, said: “I think the Automotive Council has been extremely successful and, where trade unions play a positive role, I’ll be the first to praise them.
“But where, frankly, we have a real problem with a rogue trade unionist at Grangemouth who nearly brought the Scottish
petrochemical industry to its knees, we need to have a proper inquiry, a Labour inquiry.”
Referring to the Labour leadership, Mr Cameron added: “If they had any courage, any vision, any strength of decision-making, they’d recognise they need to have that inquiry and get to the bottom of what happened.”
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey accused the Prime Minister of “abusing parliament” to make a “disgraceful” attack on Mr Deans, who was employed at Grangemouth for 25 years before his resignation.
Ed Miliband has been under pressure to reopen an inquiry into the Falkirk selection since the weekend, when it was reported that Ineos found Mr Deans had spent up to 25 per cent of his work time organising Labour matters. The company paid him to work as a full-time union convener, representing members at Grangemouth.
About 1,000 e-mails from the Ineos investigation were put before Mr Deans last Thursday, with details of the investigation handed to police.
It had previously been claimed that Unite packed the Falkirk constituency party with its supporters in an attempt to have its favoured candidate selected. The allegations led to Mr Deans and Karie Murphy, Unite’s choice to replace Mr Joyce, being suspended by Labour as it investigated.
That probe was dropped after key witnesses withdrew evidence, and Mr Dean and Ms Murphy were reinstated.
The Ineos investigation continued, however, and reportedly found a draft of the party activists’ retraction letter, sent to Mr Deans for him to get signed by Michael and Lorraine Kane, witnesses who had complained to Labour about Mr Deans and Ms Murphy.
Mr Dean resigned on Monday, the night before he was due to meet with Ineos management.
Unite’s general secretary yesterday claimed Mr Cameron’s intervention would “appal decent-thinking people”.
Mr McCluskey said: “The Prime Minister’s conduct today was disgraceful. He has abused parliamentary process in a naked attempt to gain political advantage from events at Grangemouth.
“Mr Deans served thousands of working people loyally for 25 years. The tragic truth is that a decent man lost his job trying to protect the jobs of hundreds more.
“The Prime Minister’s rush to smear a good and honourable man will appal decent-thinking people and he should apologise.
“This is nothing more than political attack on trade unions and the working people they are proud to represent.”
Asked about reopening the inquiry, a Labour spokesman said: “We will have to wait to see what happens with the police.”
A Police Scotland spokeswoman confirmed that the force’s economic crimes unit was assessing the case, but said it was not yet being treated as a live investigation.