A senior supporter of the influential union leader Sir Ken Jackson resigned yesterday because of accusations that he wiped computer records to cover up a voting scam.
Roger Maskell, leader of the Amicus-AEEU union in south-east England, allegedly tried to hide the involvement of the organisation's head office in an apparent conspiracy to boost the election candidacy of Sir Ken, New Labour's most loyal union leader.
Mr Maskell, who had been suspended over the affair, was accused initially of altering computer records to switch officials from branch to branch so they could nominate Sir Ken more than once. Mr Maskell is said to have deleted the evidence after the double-voting – in one case triple-voting – was exposed by The Independent.
The nominating process was an opportunity for candidates to build up a head of steam before next week's election, in which Sir Ken is fighting to retain the general secretary's post against his left-wing opponent Derek Simpson. There is no suggestion that Sir Ken was involved in any electoral irregularities. Sir Ken's critics, however, have condemned the union's decision not to publish the findings of a committee of inquiry into the ballot-rigging until after the election.
Meanwhile, Sir Ken's supporters defended the leadership's decision to spend £2,000 on a video distributed to delegates at the union's conference this week in which the Prime Minister makes several mentions of the Amicus-AEEU general secretary.
Left-wingers claim that aides of the present general secretary contacted Mr Blair's advisers to suggest that the Prime Minister made repeated references to Sir Ken to help his election campaign. A union spokesman said the video was simply a fraternal message to the union from Mr Blair.
Downing Street is thought to be less than pleased with Sir Ken because of his assertion at the weekend that Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, could take over as Prime Minister "in the medium term".
The spokesman for the union confirmed that at least two officials who had admitting voting twice for Sir Ken in nominating meetings were at the conference in Blackpool.
Mr Simpson has been refused permission to use his holiday entitlement to canvass at the conference. The spokes-man said no officials of the union were allowed to attend the conference unless they had specific union business there.
In response to another criticism from left-wingers, the spokesman said the payment of £18,000 in 24 instalments to a campaign for the election of Frank Dobson as London mayor had been authorised. He admitted the method of making the payments – in the form of invoices for the use of printing facilities – was "slightly unusual", but they were properly sanctioned. He said the money had come from the political fund and had been authorised by the national political sub-committee rather than the full executive.
Allegations that the union had victimised supporters of Mr Simpson on the executive by querying their expense claims for attending the latest meeting of the national executive were denied. The spokesman said that forms submitted by Sir Ken's backers had also been questioned.
Mr Simpson, from Derby, is facing disciplinary action instigated by the right-wing leadership of the union. He is accused of ignoring the union's lawyers when giving advice to members during a dispute.
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