Blair supporter retains leadership of key union

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Tony Blair's favourite union leader beat an ex-Communist by a tiny margin to retain his leadership of one of Britain's biggest Labour Party affiliates, it emerged yesterday.

Tony Blair's favourite union leader beat an ex-Communist by a tiny margin to retain his leadership of one of Britain's biggest Labour Party affiliates, it emerged yesterday.

Sir Ken Jackson was re-elected as general secretary of Amicus-AEEU despite a major row over ballot-rigging by his supporters and growing dismay among union members about Government policies.

After the first count yesterday Sir Ken was understood to have received 89,036 votes compared with 88,229 for Derek Simpson, a left-wing Derby-based official in a turnout of just over 25 per cent. While a recount was in process because of the thin majority, it was unlikely to make a material difference to the result.

The surprising result for the left-winger, who was given little chance of unseating Sir Ken, will be taken as another sign of deep dissatisfaction among grassroots trade unionists with the Prime Minister's policies.

The vote follows a decision by the RMT rail union to cut its payments to the Labour Party and withdraw financial support from the constituencies of MPs who refuse to campaign in favour of the union's policies.

Dave Prentis, the leader of the public service union Unison, the largest party affiliate, is warning ministers that their refusal to intervene to solve tomorrow's nationwide strike by local government workers could have "serious consequences" for the union's link with the party.

The vote for Mr Simpson was also seen as evidence of anger among members of Amicus-AEEU over vote-rigging by Sir Ken's backers. Supporters of the right-winger were found to have voted more than once during the process to nominate candidates for the election. Six officials in the union's south-east area are facing disciplinary action over the scam and one senior officer has resigned.

Some Amicus-AEEU members also harboured deep reservations about Sir Ken's decision to seek re-election after his 65th birthday.

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