Smith 'posed as delegate in vote': Book alleges Labour leader represented defunct union branch in selection contest

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JOHN SMITH once posed as a delegate of a defunct women cleaners' branch of a union to vote for a right-wing nominee in a by-election selection contest, according to the first full-length biography of the Labour leader, published this month.

The book alludes to a power struggle between right-wing union fixers and left-wing constituency activists over the selection of a by-election candidate in the early 1960s. Mr Smith is described as having voted at the selection conference as the delegate from a moribund branch of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers.

The alleged episode, detailed in John Smith, Playing the Long Game, by Andy McSmith, former political correspondent at the Daily Mirror, came during a period of right versus left unrest in the Glasgow Labour Party.

Mr Smith, in his twenties and still a student, was an ambitious member of the Glasgow Woodside constituency party, the scene of the by-election, with a reputation for believing that Labour's main function was to win power.

The claim first emerged in a New Statesman article by the journalist Paul Foot when Mr Smith became a Cabinet minister, as Secretary of State for Trade and Industry in 1978.

Mr McSmith says in his book that the left's selection campaign was co-ordinated from the home of Norman Buchan, later a Labour MP, and his wife Janey, who became Glasgow's MEP.

Mrs Buchan says suspicions were aroused after it was discovered that some NUGMW delegates to the selection conference were students whose stated landlord denied knowing them. She is quoted as remembering Mr Smith 'ferrying delegates to the door but stayed, as a delegate, to cast his vote for Arthur Houston', the union nominee.

'He was a delegate, and he was at the meeting. Smith came as the delegate from a branch of the G & M that did not exist. It catered for women cleaners at the bus garage. I am in absolutely no doubt about that.'

Mr McSmith says Mr Smith is reluctant to talk about the episode.

Bob McLaughlan, a leader writer for the Glasgow Herald and former researcher at NUGMW's Scottish office, told Mr McSmith that John Smith, as an NUGMW member, was persuaded to try to take the place of a union delegate who dropped out. 'John thought he was a delegate,' he is quoted as saying in the book. 'John was not entitled to use somebody else's credentials, but he did not know that. He was a victim of Arthur Houston's enthusiasm.'