Labour and Unite at war: McCluskey accuses party HQ of a "stitch-up"

The Unite general secretary hits back after Labour announces the end of the "union join" scheme and suspends Unite candidate Karie Murphy from the party.

After weeks of criticism over Unite's alleged manipulation of the Falkirk selection process, culminating in the resignation of Tom Watson earlier today, the Labour machine has swung into action tonight. The party has announced the end of the "union join" scheme, which allowed trade unions to pay the first year's subscriptions of party members they recruited, and has suspended Karie Murphy, the Unite-backed candidate in Falkirk, and Stephen Deans, the chair of Falkirk CLP, from the party. Here's the full statement:

“We announced on 26th June that the General Secretary was going to review membership procedures.

“Ed Miliband is determined to uphold the integrity of Parliamentary selections and, therefore, as a result of that review we have several more measures to announce today.

In the light of the activities of Unite in Falkirk we will end the ‘union join’ scheme.

“Union join was established before Ed Miliband became Leader of the Labour Party with the aim of legitimately encouraging ordinary members of trade unions to become members of the Labour Party.

“However, due to the results of Unite in Falkirk it has become open to abuse but also open to attacks from our opponents that damage Labour. 

“In particular it was a mistake to have a scheme where others pay for people to join the party. Ed Miliband has today ended the scheme. Ordinary members of trade unions should join Labour and they will continue to be encouraged to do so, but that cannot be through schemes that can be tied to individual parliamentary selections or open to attack from our opponents.

“We have also suspended two members of the Labour Party from holding office or representing the Labour Party.

“They are: Karie Murphy and Stephen Deans who is the chair of Falkirk CLP.

“There have been allegations that they may have been involved in a breach of Labour Party rules. These relate to allegations concerning potential abuse of membership rules.

“The administrative suspension means that you cannot attend any party meetings and that they cannot be considered for selection as a candidate to represent the Labour Party at an election at any level.”

In a letter to Labour general secretary Iain McNicol this evening, Len McCluskey has responded by accusing the party HQ of a "stitch-up" and demanding an independent inquiry into the Falkirk affair. Here's his letter in full:

"Simply a ‘stitch-up’ [the report] designed to produce some evidence, however threadbare, to justify predetermined decisions taken in relation to Falkirk CLP. 

"Even on the basis of this flimsy report, it is clear that these decisions cannot be justified. There is no emergency which would justify imposing these undemocratic restrictions, since any real problems could easily be addressed before embarking on a parliamentary selection process. 

"The report has been used to smear Unite and its members. Even if the allegations of people being signed up to the party without their knowledge were true, this had nothing whatsoever to do with my union. 
  
"It is noteworthy that members of the shadow cabinet have been in the lead in initiating this attack upon Unite. Have they had sight of this report while I, the leader of the union put in the frame, has not had the courtesy of a copy? 

"The mishandling of this investigation has been a disgrace. I, however, am obliged to uphold the integrity of Unite, and I can no longer do so on the basis of going along with the activities of a Labour party administration in which I can place no trust. 

"I will therefore be publicly proposing that an independent inquiry be held into all circumstances relating to Falkirk CLP and the conduct of all parties involved, including Unite, the Labour party centrally (including the Compliance Unit) and in Scotland, the officers of the CLP itself, and all those who have sought or are seeking nomination as the Labour PPC. 
  
"Unite will cooperate fully with such an inquiry, and draw appropriate conclusions from any findings regarding our own behaviour. I trust that you will support such an inquiry, will direct all Labour party employees to cooperate with it and encourage other individuals to do likewise." 

Unite general secretary Len McCluskey. Photograph: Getty Images.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue