Blair urged to stop minister 'meddling' in union hit by vote-rigging scandal

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Indy Politics

The left-wing leader-elect of the Labour Party's biggest affiliate has demanded that Tony Blair take action to prevent a senior government minister meddling in his union's internal politics.

The left-wing leader-elect of the Labour Party's biggest affiliate has demanded that Tony Blair take action to prevent a senior government minister meddling in his union's internal politics.

Derek Simpson, the general secretary-elect of Amicus-AEEU, has asked the Prime Minister to restrain the Transport minister John Spellar, who has acted as a right-wing "fixer'' on behalf of the Government.

Mr Spellar was involved in the unsuccessful and controversial campaign by Sir Ken Jackson, generally regarded as Mr Blair's favourite union leader, to retain the leadership of Amicus-AEEU. While six officials of the union have admitted attempting to rig the nominating process, Sir Ken has denied any involvement in malpractice.

As part of an initiative to build bridges with Mr Simpson, Downing Street sources said yesterday that Mr Blair had made it clear he had little personal contact with Mr Spellar.

Referring to a meeting between the Prime Minister and Mr Simpson soon after his election, one left-wing union official said: "Derek asked the Prime Minister why Spellar was involved in the union election and whether it was prudent for a busy Transport minister to spend so much time with the union.''

Sources in Downing Street said the reply from Mr Blair was, "I don't really know him''. Labour Party sources said the Downing Street account of the exchange between the two men at Mr Blair's constituency home at Sedgefield in August was an obvious attempt to disown the Transport minister.

Mr Spellar is understood to have advised Sir Ken not to accept his narrow defeat, even after the fourth recount showed a Simpson victory. Mr Spellar, who became a minister in 1997, has kept an office at the union's headquarters in Bromley and has been closely identified with the right-wing faction that kept a tight grip on the organisation until Mr Simpson's surprise victory.

This week at the Labour Party conference in Blackpool, Mr Spellar was still advising Sir Ken and held numerous discussions with the right-wing grouping in the union.

Documents show that the Transport minister, once a research officer in a forerunner of Amicus-AEEU, donated £30 towards Sir Ken's campaign.

Mr Spellar's political star has waned in recent months. His right to attend cabinet meetings was withdrawn when Alistair Darling took over from Stephen Byers as Secretary of State for Transport. Mr Darling has since taken over some of Mr Spellar's ministerial responsibilities.

The right-led executive at the union has rejected calls for an internal inquiry into allegations that Sir Ken was personally involved in planning double-voting during the nominating process. The executive contends that it has not been presented with any evidence.

Roger Maskell, the former secretary of the union in London and the South-east, who left the union after admitting his involvement in the malpractice, has made the allegations against Sir Ken. Sir Ken has expressed confidence that he will be able to prove that he was not involved.

Both Mr Maskell and Sir Ken intend to present evidence at an employment tribunal where Mr Maskell is due to claim unfair dismissal from the union.

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