Saturday, 14 March 2015

Falkirk, the sequel: Halifax

Last weekend, an interesting news item came up in the Sunday Times (£): the comeback as parliamentary candidate of one Karie Murphy, office manager for Tom Watson MP (and "friend", or possibly former friend) to Len McCluskey, general secretary of Unite, Britain's largest union (see Centre Lefts passim).

You may remember that Murphy was suspended from the party and later reinstated after serious allegations of fixing in the selection process in Falkirk.

Murphy, it seems, has now set her sights on becoming the next MP for Halifax and, to this end, has applied to be on the shortlist for Halifax. 

For those not familiar with Labour's selection process, this close to an election the process changes, for very good reasons. The party cannot afford a long drawn-out process prejudicing the outcome, therefore a Special Selections Panel (comprised of members of the party's NEC) decides the shortlist, the local party votes on the shortlist and, hey, presto: a candidate is chosen. This of course give the national party more say than usual in who gets on the shortlist.

The big question now, of course, is: will Murphy be on the shortlist or not? The Sunday Times reports that Unite is putting in question whether or not it will make good on its pledge to make a £1.5m donation to Labour, depending on whether Murphy makes it onto the shortlist; meanwhile Ed Miliband is, to his great credit, reportedly resisting such a grubby deal, despite the potential hit to Labour's finances.

It is pretty astonishing that, less than a year after Unite's actions triggered perhaps the greatest shake-up ever in Labour's relationship with its affiliated unions, that it should have apparently learned so little from the Falkirk fiasco, and been so brazen in trying to strong-arm Labour.

But let's apply a little logic to the situation - the Sunday Times could be wrong, after all. There are three realistic scenarios:

1. If Murphy is selected and the donation is made, it is difficult not to conclude (given his reported resistance and previous stance on Falkirk) that Miliband has buckled. The Unite-pledged donation, for reference, is estimated to make up just under one-fifth of Labour's entire general election war-chest.

2. If Murphy is not selected and the clearly-pledged donation is not made, it will then be obvious that a threat was not only made but carried out. Yuk.

3. The only scenario in which Unite comes out with its reputation intact would be if Murphy is not selected and the donation is still made.

Let's see which of those happens. At the moment there seems to be a standoff, but if I were a betting man, I'd wager it won't be 3.

UPDATE 16 MAR: According to the NS, Murphy has not made the shortlist. So it is option 2 or 3. Let's see which one it turns out to be.

Oh yes, and Channel 4's Michael Crick quotes a Unite source as saying of Harriet Harman, the panel's senior member: "She'll have to answer for her actions in due course."

Knowing Unite's well-documented propensity for turning up with flash-mobs at people's houses in order to intimidate them, one wonders what this might signal.

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