Andy McSmith's Diary: United they stand... not to mention stepping on toes


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Indy Politics

The original purpose for which the trade unions created the Labour Party was to get working-class representatives into Parliament. The old engineering union, the AUEW, which has now been absorbed in Unite, had a particularly strong record for taking members off the factory floor, training them up and getting them into Parliament.

With that pre-history, it might seem uncontroversial – laudable, even – that Unite has been recruiting party members with a view to getting Unite members into Parliament, if they had been more subtle. In some cases, at least, Unite members have had letters telling them bluntly that the union will pay their party subscriptions, and asking that in return they back Unite’s nominees selected as parliamentary candidates.

In Falkirk, where the sitting MP Eric Joyce was barred from running again as a Labour candidate after swinging his fists in a Commons bar, Unite has recruited 100 people to the local party, swelling its membership by 50 per cent, with a view to securing the seat for a Unite activist, Karie Murphy, who works for the Labour MP Tom Watson, above. That campaign seems to have crashed, however, because the Herald reported at the weekend that Murphy had pulled out of the contest.

Her decision coincided with a stern warning from Peter Mandelson, condemning the unions’ “disgraceful” interference in candidate selection. Tom Watson found that a strange outburst, because he can remember a time when it was much easier for union officials to handpick parliamentary candidates. Twenty years ago, the GMB boss in the north east, Tom Burlison, effectively chose who was going to be the next Labour MP for Hartlepool. He chose Peter Mandelson.

Pain means no gain for Farage

Last week’s local election results have increased the likelihood that Ukip will win a seat in the Commons in 2015. But where? The map of the results suggest Boston and Skegness, where Ukip has now won seats both on the district council and Lincolnshire County Council. The incumbent Tory MP, Mark Simmonds, claimed in a BBC interview over the weekend that he would be “delighted” if Farage were to challenge him, because of the national publicity he would generate.

However, he is unlikely to get his way, because the local Ukip leader in Lincolnshire, Chris Pain, reputedly one of comparatively few Ukip members capable of telling Farage where to get off, has said: “I stood at the last election against Mark Simmonds and I will be standing at the next one, unless I’m assassinated between now and then.” It sounds as if Farage will have to seek a seat somewhere else.

Evans learns to listen after talking tough

Nigel Evans, the deputy speaker, below, talked a brave talk after the news broke that he had been accused of sexual offences against young men, insisting that he did not intend to let the allegations interrupt his work schedule. Things have not quite worked out like that. He has now conceded that he will not chair any parliamentary debates while the police investigation continues. Someone appears to have had a word in his ear.

Gillard’s army in  battle to the death

Australia’s Welsh-born Prime Minister, Julia Gillard has a tough budget and tough election ahead. To stiffen morale, her political secretary, John McTernan – who learnt his trade working for Tony Blair in Downing Street – called a motivational session for Labor spin doctors in Canberra’s Parliament building, at which he screened the opening scene from the 1970 Hollywood blockbuster, Patton.

“No bastard ever won a war by dying for his country,” they heard George C. Scott, the actor in the title role, declare. “You won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his country.” It makes you wonder what kind of campaign McTernan is planning.