17:20 Friday 5th July 2013
BBC Radio Cambridgeshire
CHRIS MANN: Labour have called in the police over alleged irregularities in the selection of their General Election candidate in Falkirk. Britain’s largest union, Unite, is accused of trying to manipulate the process, a claim it vehemently denies.. An internal Party investigation has already led to two people being suspended. Earlier, Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey said he had no trust in the Labour Party leadership. Conservative party Chairman Grant Shapps says Labour are still in thrall to their trade union paymasters. (AUDIO OF GRANT SHAPPS) . But are the Tories making political capital, or is the Labour Party really at war with its biggest union backer? In a moment or two we’ll be talking to the Labour candidate for Cambridge, who himself is a member of the Unite union. But first of all I spoke to the Labour MEP for the Eastern Region, Richard Howitt. (TAPE)
RICHARD HOWITT: Well I think it’s really great that Ed Miliband has done the (UNCLEAR) and he’s stepped in and he’s said no, I’m not going to be party to anything that isn’t fully above board and fair and open. And he’s suspended two people from the Labour Party and he’ll sort it out. Of course no-one wants these local difficulties in any political party, but the important thing is if they come to light, they’re dealt with. And that’s what Ed Miliband has done.
CHRIS MANN: The police are now involved. Could it get any worse?
RICHARD HOWITT: Well what would be worse is if nothing has been done to actually deal with it, and if frankly people have had themselves signed up to be a member of an organisation without being aware that they were a member, that seems to me to be fraudulent. And whether it passes the test of police prosecution is another matter. That’s for them. But it should be taken seriously. And Labour is a party of government. It aspires to be a party of government. We have to show we have the highest standards. And I’m not embarrassed. I am pleased that when there’s any hint of there being less than the highest standards, Ed Miliband has acted. He’s done the right thing.
CHRIS MANN: You say you’re a party of government, but this is a mess. You’ve got your own Leader involved in a row with the boss of the biggest union that supports you, Len McCluskey of Unite. And you have the resignation of a man that’s supposed to be running your next election campaign, the much respected Tom Watson. That in anyone’s book is a mess.
RICHARD HOWITT: Well Tom Watson was in Cambridge with us of course less than a month ago, a man of huge integrity. And read his resignation letter. It extols the virtues of Ed Miliband, and says “I remain your loyal servant”. So I don’t find that embarrassing.
CHRIS MANN: many people say it’s what’s not in the letter that’s more important.
RICHARD HOWITT: Well, he said let’s publish all the information. Let’s actually get the full story into the public domain. Absolutely. Now as far as the Unite union is concerned, the unions are of course bashed by our opponents, the Conservatives. But remember there are half a million trade unionists in Cambridgeshire and in East Anglia. Trade unions do an important job of protecting and representing people in the workplace. I see nothing wrong with Unite or any other trade union trying to support working class people in politics. We don’t want people in politics just from the upper echelons. But it’s how they’ve done it has been the problem. I accept that.
CHRIS MANN: Read the language of Mr McCluskey. He says that this is a “smear” perpetrated by Ed Miliband, and a “stitch-up”. He talks about the “mishandling of this investigation” as being a disgrace. It couldn’t be stronger in the language he’s using against Ed Miliband. Who’s in charge?
RICHARD HOWITT: Well Ed Miliband is in charge, and that’s why Falkirk party selection has been stopped, and two people have been suspended. Of course I’d rather that some of that dirty washing wasn’t being paraded in public, but it is about a stitch-up, a stitch-up of the Parliamentary selection. And the Labour Party said we will not do that. And the fact that Ed Miliband, who was supported by Unite and by trade unionists in large to become the Leader of the Labour Party, has been prepared to say back to them, yes, but I will be a Prime Minister without fear or favour, I think is very good for the country, and it’s very good for the Labour Party.
CHRIS MANN: So what action should be taken against Unite?
RICHARD HOWITT: Well first of all the police should do their job. And if fraudulent behaviour has happened, people should be brought to book. If it’s against the Labour Party rules, the two people concerned should be expelled from the Labour Party. But they must be given due process, the reason that at the moment not all the details are in the public domain. But do balance this. Here in Cambridgeshire, where we’ve got an important seat in Peterborough, in Cambridge, and the eleven seats that we’ve got across the East of England that Labour needs to win for the General Election, not one of those is under a cloud. Not one of those is being investigated for any difficulties. And one bad apple in Falkirk, yes, but the Labour Party is ready for government here in our county, and across the country.
CHRIS MANN: Well we’ll be asking Daniel Zeichner, who’s not only Labour’s Cambridge candidate, but also a member of Unite, we’ll ask him which side of the fence he’s on in just a moment or two. But let’s look back at this crisis. Some people are saying it’s toxic, and that here we are again. The unions are Labour’s Achilles heel. It’s Kinnoch rearing its head again.
RICHARD HOWITT: Well the very fact that Ed Miliband has been prepared to stand up to a big financial backer in terms of the Unite union of the Party, and to say that whatever support, we’re grateful to receive, and whatever importance they have in the workplace. That union does an incredibly important job in supporting its Members in workplaces in this county and across the country. But irrespective of that, that doesn’t mean that they have free licence to do anything. In this case they appear to have overstepped the mark, and therefore Ed Miliband has acted.
CHRIS MANN: That’s Richard Howitt, who’s the MEP for the Eastern Region. Let’s bring in Daniel Zeichner now, who’s the Labour candidate for Cambridge. Hello Daniel.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Hi Chris.
CHRIS MANN: And also a Member of Unite. So where do you stand on this one?
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Well I stand forth with Ed Miliband. I think, as Richard has said, he’s done the right thing. He’s showed actually a strong Leader, standing up to the union in the way that of course the Conservatives say he wouldn’t do. He’s done exactly the right thing.
CHRIS MANN: That’s pretty sinister for Unite though, isn’t it? They are the biggest contributor to the Labour Party, and it appears that they’ve been caught trying to, well it’s not stuff the ballot box, but stuff the selection process with their own Members who didn’t even know they were on the list.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Well we don’t know the full details yet, and as Richard said, it’s important that we let the police do their work. I think the important thing that listeners should understand is that the trade unions don’t have any votes in the selection of Labour candidates. It’s individual members of the Labour Party.
CHRIS MANN: What they were doing was putting their Members forward as if they were Members of the Labour Party, but they didn’t even know they’d been put forward.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Well that’s the allegation. If that’s what they were doing, that’s quite wrong. But it’s certainly not what happens in most parts of the country. It certainly isn’t what happens in the selections that I’ve seen, and been involved in over the years in our part of the country. So something clearly went wrong in Falkirk, and that’s why there’s an investigation. And it’s right that there should be one.
CHRIS MANN: Is this rather embarrassing for the Party, well particularly for you of course, because you’ve got a foot in both camps.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Well there’s probably a million and a half Unite members. I’m proud to be a member of the union. they represent me at work, and that’s why I’m a member, as so many other people are. They work to improve our terms and conditions and protect us, so I don’t think there’s any kind of division there. But what I would say is that ..
CHRIS MANN: Well hang on, there is a division. The boss of your union has accused the leader of your party of a smear and a stitch up. That’s not some sort of cosy fall out. That’s pretty serious.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Well there’s some pretty flowery language, and there’s obviously some short tempers going on at the moment. Actually I think Len McCluskey has suggested it should all be calmed down a bit now, which I think would be wise advice all round.
CHRIS MANN: A bit late, isn’t it?
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Well, I think Len might want to reflect on some of that language. But what’s quite clear is that as usual, Ed Miliband has responded calmly and sensibly, and I think it just shows why he’d make such a good Prime Minister when he’s leading the country and facing a crisis.
CHRIS MANN: So calm that the man who’s supposed to be organising his next election campaign has walked out on him, even though Mr Miliband asked him to think again. Tom Watson said, no, I’ve had enough, I’m off.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Well again as Richard said, when Tom came to Cambridge a few weeks ago I got the sense that actually he was in some ways anxious to move on to other things. And he did say after his resignation ..
CHRIS MANN: Oh come on. He’s been appalled by this scandal and he’s walked.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Well as I say I think he wants to do other things. He did very well on holding Rupert Murdoch to account. I think there’s more to come from Tom Watson yet. He did a good job as our election co-ordinator, but there will be others that can take his place I’m sure.
CHRIS MANN: The Tories have Europe. Labour have the unions. There are some things you just can’t shake off.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Well it’s certainly true that the Tories have Europe, and of course it’s interesting that the Prime Minister David Cameron is completely in thrall to a handful of backbenchers, so much so that they had to turn up to a phoney debate in Parliament today on a Referendum Bill that ..
CHRIS MANN: I think there was 300 of them. That’s more than a handful.
DANIEL ZEICHNER: Yes. That’s because they’re all running scared of Ukip. And David Cameron of course has completely lost control of his party. So I’m quite happy with the way Ed Miliband is leading Labour.
CHRIS MANN: And are you happy that Len McCluskey is saying the kind of things that he is in public about the leader of your own party?
DANIEL ZEICHNER: I’d rather he didn’t quite frankly.
CHRIS MANN: Daniel Zeichner. Thank you very much indeed.