Tony Blair was accused yesterday of using a minister to try to help a friendly trade unionist win a controversial ballot.
A left-winger, who is challenging for the top post at Amicus-AEEU, the largest manufacturing union, claimed the Prime Minister was using John Spellar, a Transport minister, as an "agent" to help ensure Sir Ken Jackson retains his position as general secretary. Mr Spellar, a former official of the union, who is still a member, is understood to have been deeply involved in planning Sir Ken's campaign to win the ballot, which begins today.
Mr Spellar, who has an office at the union's headquarters in Bromley, Kent, is known to have cast a union vote to nominate Mr Jackson and to have contributed to his fighting fund.
Derek Simpson, a left-wing official campaigning to unseat Sir Ken, accused Number 10 of "control freakery". He said it was highly inappropriate for Mr Spellar to involve himself in union politics "in such a partisan manner".
Mr Simpson accused the minister of helping to plan Sir Ken's campaign at the union's recent conference. He said: "A minister for Transport would better employed sorting out the transport system. If I was elected I could find myself having to deal with Spellar, which would be difficult for both of us.
"The symbiosis between Jackson and Blair is not good for union members. Instead of having one eye on what Downing Street wants and one eye on what employers want, the union should have both eyes on what the members want."
Sir Ken is seen as one of Mr Blair's most loyal supporters in the trade union movement. A former defence minister, Mr Spellar was head of research at a forerunner to Amicus-AEEU before he became an MP. He is known as a right-wing "fixer" with strong links to union allies.
Eight officials at Amicus-AEEU have been ordered to attend disciplinary hearings in response to allegations of scams with the ballot. Six officers in the South-east have been accused of voting more than once in separate branches to nominate Sir Ken.
Two lay officials from Wales are said to have held an improper meeting to nominate Mr Simpson.
But there is no suggestion that either Sir Ken or Mr Spellar are aware of or involved in balloting irregularities. Mr Spellar refused to comment on his involvement in Sir Ken's campaign.
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