Labour and Unite: how The Times misled its readers

Of the 14 Labour constituency parties placed under "special measures", just one, Falkirk West, was due to concerns over activity by Unite.

As the row over Unite's alleged manipulation of the Labour selection process in Falkirk intensifies (Jim Murphy, one of the shadow cabinet ministers criticised by Len McCluskey in my recent interview with him, declared earlier that the union had "well and truly over-stepped the mark"), today's Times front page reports that "Labour has seized control of 14 of its constituency parties as a result of attempts to manipulate selections and exert unfair influence." The tense and accompanying headline ("Labour forced to step in as union takes over key seats") suggest that, in addition to Falkirk, Ed Miliband has been forced to place other seats under "special measures" due to illegitimate union activity. 

But as a Labour source told me earlier, that's not the case at all. Twelve of the 14 seats were placed under special measures before 2005 and in just one instance (Falkirk West) was this due to concerns over Unite. As the Times finally concedes on p.4 (after eight paragraphs), "Falkirk is the only constituency on the list, which has never previously been made public, connected to union malpractice". 

Unite has made no secret of its (entirely reasonable) desire to see its members selected as Labour candidates. As McCluskey told me, "Because we’re having some success, suddenly these people are crying foul. Well I’m delighted to read it. I’m delighted when Blair and everyone else intervenes because it demonstrates that we are having an impact and an influence and we’ll continue to do so."

The allegations surrounding Falkirk certainly deserve to be taken seriously (as they have been) but it's important not to suggest that union campaigning is, by definition, illegitimate, a distinction the Times's report entirely failed to make. 

And here, courtesy of Labour List, are the 14 CLPS currently under special measures. 

  • Bethnal Green and Bow
  • Poplar and Limehouse
  • Brentford & Isleworth
  • Ealing Southall
  • Falkirk West
  • Feltham & Heston
  • Oldham East and Saddleworth
  • Oldham West and Royton
  • Birmingham Hall Green
  • Birmingham Hodge Hill
  • Birmingham Ladywood
  • Birmingham Perry Barr
  • Warley
  • Slough


Unite general secretary Len McCluskey addresses delegates at the TUC's annual congress. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Geoffrey Howe dies, aged 88

Howe was Margaret Thatcher's longest serving Cabinet minister – and the man credited with precipitating her downfall.

The former Conservative chancellor Lord Howe, a key figure in the Thatcher government, has died of a suspected heart attack, his family has said. He was 88.

Geoffrey Howe was the longest-serving member of Margaret Thatcher's Cabinet, playing a key role in both her government and her downfall. Born in Port Talbot in 1926, he began his career as a lawyer, and was first elected to parliament in 1964, but lost his seat just 18 months later.

Returning as MP for Reigate in the Conservative election victory of 1970, he served in the government of Edward Heath, first as Solicitor General for England & Wales, then as a Minister of State for Trade. When Margaret Thatcher became opposition leader in 1975, she named Howe as her shadow chancellor.

He retained this brief when the party returned to government in 1979. In the controversial budget of 1981, he outlined a radical monetarist programme, abandoning then-mainstream economic thinking by attempting to rapidly tackle the deficit at a time of recession and unemployment. Following the 1983 election, he was appointed as foreign secretary, in which post he negotiated the return of Hong Kong to China.

In 1989, Thatcher demoted Howe to the position of leader of the house and deputy prime minister. And on 1 November 1990, following disagreements over Britain's relationship with Europe, he resigned from the Cabinet altogether. 

Twelve days later, in a powerful speech explaining his resignation, he attacked the prime minister's attitude to Brussels, and called on his former colleagues to "consider their own response to the tragic conflict of loyalties with which I have myself wrestled for perhaps too long".

Labour Chancellor Denis Healey once described an attack from Howe as "like being savaged by a dead sheep" - but his resignation speech is widely credited for triggering the process that led to Thatcher's downfall. Nine days later, her premiership was over.

Howe retired from the Commons in 1992, and was made a life peer as Baron Howe of Aberavon. He later said that his resignation speech "was not intended as a challenge, it was intended as a way of summarising the importance of Europe". 

Nonetheless, he added: "I am sure that, without [Thatcher's] resignation, we would not have won the 1992 election... If there had been a Labour government from 1992 onwards, New Labour would never have been born."

Jonn Elledge is the editor of the New Statesman's sister site CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @JonnElledge.