Ed Miliband has drawn a line under the row with Unite – but why were the Guardian fanning the flames?

July 7, 2013 10:47 am

Over the weekend, Ed Miliband drew a line in the row with Unite, whose flames had been fanned all week by the Tory press, which one would expect, but also from others, most notably The Guardian newspaper, whom one wouldn’t. He did so in an article in The Observer, The Guardian’s sister paper, where he explicitly defended Labour’s links with the trade unions. He said that the Labour should ‘mend the relationship, not end it’.

Here is what the Labour leader said:

“the presence of ordinary working people – from shop workers to nurses, engineers to scientists, construction workers to classroom assistants – in a political party should be its biggest asset. To cut these individuals loose would be to make politics more out of touch, not less, more remote from working people.

What people in both the party and the trade unions understand is that far too few of these working people are actively engaged in our party at the local level as individuals. So we should mend the relationship, not end it.”

Compare and contrast what Ed Miliband had to say on Sunday and what Nicholas Watt, a senior Guardian lobby correspondent had to say on Saturday in The Guardian. In an article titled ‘Ed Miliband to explore historic break with trade unions‘, Watt claimed that he was doing so after ‘calls from senior party figures’. For Fleet Street watchers, this time honoured practices of hanging a story full of supposition on un-named sources is one of the sloppiest  and most unprofessional around. And here is how Watt packaged his extraordinary claim – one which was incidentally denied by Ed Miliband’s office as soon as it was published; a denial not carried by The Guardian.

According to Watt ‘the former cabinet minister said:

“We need to have a commission that looks at the union link. All the general secretaries need to sign up to it. We need to get to a place where you simply have one category of Labour party members. There should no longer be a formal union affiliation.”

So who was this ‘former Cabinet Minister’? Who were these ‘senior party figures’?  We don’t know because Watt won’t tell us. But then these quotes were dribbled into his ear on the basis that the ex Minister or the senior party sources wouldn’t be named. They would of course have no doubt had the satisfaction of knowing that they had caused yet more problems for Ed Miliband, the Labour Party and the trade unions.

But then another adjective has featured prominently in the reporting of Watt and his colleague Patrick Wintour in The Guardian of late and that is; ‘the ‘re-casting’ of Labour’s relations with the unions’.  I suspect that they have had something rather different in mind to what Ed Miliband has. Wintour has quoted at length from his old buddy Lord Mandelson throughout the Falkirk farrago, which is also interesting because neither had read the now infamous Labour Party internal report into Falkirk, now with the police.

The editor of The Guardian, Alan Rusbridger used to talk glowingly of the professional journalistic practices of the New York Times. He was quite right, for the NYT would never allow the sort of fusion of news with comment that so casually litters the The Guardian. Nor would it allow sources to be quoted without being named, unless there was a particularly good reason to do so.

So we are left with some intriguing possibilities to explore. The first is that the Falkirk row has been exploited not only by Labour’s traditional enemies, but by ‘senior figures’ in the party. They have worked with friendly journalists, because they have an agenda which they are not really prepared to go public over – to break Labour’s links with the unions.

The second is that they want to de-stabilise Ed Miliband’s leadership of the party. Again the outriders of this political tendency have attacked him for being ‘weak’ and doubtless they will now attack him for not going far enough in distancing the party from the unions.

It is these people; ‘the senior party sources’, the ‘ex Cabinet Minister’ who have helped cause what in reality was a fairly low key controversy over parliamentary selection to hog the national headlines for nearly a week. It is these people, not the Labour leader, not Len McCluskey, who now stand in the way of a Labour victory at the next General Election.

The rest of us though can applaud Ed Miliband for saying all of the right things about trades unionists and trades unionism, although some of may also wish that we will still see natural justice in Falkirk and an exoneration of Len McCluskey and Unite.

  • Arieh Kovler

    > “some of may also wish that we will still see natural justice in Falkirk and an exoneration of Len McCluskey and Unite.”

    You note that neither Lord Mandelson or Patrick Wintour has seen the report into Falkirk. From this comment, should we take it that you have seen it?

  • Daniel Speight

    But Ed opened the door to Blairites like Mandelson to join the Tories in Union bashing. Ed’s shrill response really did open a can of worms and he has come out of it looking like just another weak ex-spad.

  • Mike Homfray

    This just about sums it up. These people are not Eds friends.

    • postageincluded

      And though they were fair-weather friends of Blair in the early days, they’ve been no friends to Labour before or since. It’s a beacon of rootless Liberalism. The influence it’s had on Labour has been pervasive and pernicious.

  • rekrab

    “What people in both the party and the trade unions understand is that far too few of these working people are actively engaged in our party at the local level as individuals. So we should mend the relationship, not end it.”

    So Ed advocates an end to the trade union join scheme? and thinks he’ll increase membership will a copycat spending round the same as the tories?

    Ed, is doing a speech this week, I believe about the relationship, lets wait and hear it?

    • postageincluded

      The TU Join scheme was pretty clearly wide-open to abuse and he should have stepped on it much earlier. When I was Branch Sec I could have used the scheme to rig elections in the local party without even leaving the office had the scheme been in place. And I could have done it without the wheeze of signing people up without telling them too. Come to think of it, if that happened it was just laziness; the Unite stewards, or whoever, should have been able to sign up the numbers involved legitimately if they’d moved their arses.

      You’re right to say “wait and see”. Everyone’s forgetting that if Scots law has been broken, Ed and the party have to avoid prejudicing the investigation and perhaps a trial. Seddon is jumping the gun I’d say – but then he has no responsibility. Besides which we can hardly expect the police to find a pape trail back to Len himself. Not unless the man is more green than he’s cabbage looking..

      • rekrab

        Whether that’s so or not isn’t justified by MP’s selected?

        Your talking internally? Falkirk will have less committed members to fight for an election win now.

        Cabbage or lettuce? we’ve now narrowed the selection process so only those going forward do so under the banner of Miliband’s vision? it’s a bit like saying you can be a member but you must back our austerity programme.

        Ed, wants to reform the unions? why? I want to see labour MP’s sticking for the rights of the ordinary people not bending over backwards for the tories.

        • postageincluded

          “Paper members” are unlikely to knock on any doors. Members who joined for free but knowingly are going to be a bit more committed but how much more? I suspect that depends on how they were recruited and why.

          As Tom Watson said, the Unions do a lot less than they could in recruiting for Labour, and the TUJoin scheme as a sort of “loss leader” looked a good way of encouraging recruitment. But it clearly needed regulation to prevent fiascos like this. It should have been absoluely clear that there have been no conspiracies or DP breaches. It shouldn’t have needed to go to the police. And to be clear, I do believe that the unions should be Labour’s chief recruitment area and the greater the number of TU members who are recruited, the better. I don’t believe in this Blair instigated scheme, and Ed was right to close it down.

          • rekrab

            Can’t answer that? on paper members until I’ve seen and read the report and it looks like that wont happen.

            There isn’t and as far as I’m aware hasn’t never been any disconnect between unions and the labour party, generally labour leaders often attend TUC conferences.

            Yeah your right about unions getting more people to join the labour party but we’ve had a serious problem just trying to convince trade union members to stick with labour, especially in Scotland when the SNP appear and act more like socialist than labour does.

            Ed, clearly let loose on McCluskey and are you confident that the reforms being asked are in the trade unions best interests?

            If Ed wants to talk like a real labour leader then let him also act and endorse real labour policies?I think he’s looking for another clause 4 moment, rather than tackle the real issues he wants to boost his presence by putting the boot into the unions and I’m pretty convinced about that.

          • postageincluded

            We ought to see the report eventually but I can’t see how it can be revealed now that the matter is with the police, or that it would be a good idea to have the report out in the open during a police investigation even if there were no legal implications. The calls for the report to be released immediately are disingenuous at best, trouble-making at worst. We just have to wait.

            The suggestion that Ed is trying to create a Clause 4 moment out of this just sounds whacky to me though, Ronnie. That would demand the deviousness of Mandelson, the brinkmanship of Blair, and the brute pigheadednesss of Brown to do it (with a touch of Wilsonian casuistry too). Now if, behind that mild exterior, Ed has all those qualities then there really is nothing you or I or anyone else will be able to do to stop him from getting anything that he wants but it’s more realistic to assume that he’s firefighting as best he can.

            Am I confident that any proposed reform of the link will benefit Trade Unionists? No, but I’m pretty sure they are unlikely to harm us, because to alienate such a large area of support, including both left and right in the party, would be just plain stupid, and I’m pretty sure Ed isn’t that.

          • Mike Homfray

            Yep. I don’t think even those of us who think a lot of this is Progress playing lets-cause-trouble-for-Ed think that our selection procedures and recruitment is up to scratch

  • NT86

    Arguably the Guardian itself has moved slightly to the right among its political writers/editors. Individual columnists are still on the left if you read anything by Polly Toynbee, John Harris or Suzanne Moore, for instance. But there’s been a lot of ire among readers towards Alan Rusbridger’s direction of late.

    Watt, Wintour, Kettle and Rawnsley are the four who seem the most snide political commentators.

    • Mike Homfray

      The first three are very much Blairites. Rawnsley is pretty cynical about everyone

      • postageincluded

        Yup. Rugby Rawnsley’s the worst. A closet anti-semite and a snob too; poor Vincent Hannah must be revolving in his grave. Public school – born to rule, and it shows – as it does in Mr Seddon’s work, too.

  • Winston_from_the_Ministry

    Drawn a line under? Tried to scribble out more like.

  • John Ruddy

    What did people expect from a Tory writing in a lib dem newspaper? We’re they expecting the truth?

    • rekrab

      What is the truth John? does Ed agree with Len or not? did Murphy’s candidate also sign a cheque? why wont they release the report to the public? when I watch the politics show and Andrew Neil asks all those new labour shiny stars about their trade union support they all seem to dampen their views on trade unions.
      Who the hell are these progress people? what right have they to determine the labour party constitution? and what the hell is Ed playing at when he can’t be proud to stand up for the rights of people in work when Cameron has a dig.

      Modern politics and neo conservative labour can kiss my butt, when cowards flinch and traitors smear just like Ed did, there will be some of us that keep the red flag flying here.

      • jaime taurosangastre candelas

        I imagine the report won’t be released as it is now part of a police investigation, presumably because someone thinks something criminal might have happened.

        Of course, I have no information on any of this, nor I think does anyone also not involved. It would not surprise me if the police investigation takes such a long time that temporary, and precautionary Labour Party measures such as we have recently seen mean nothing like Falkirk could ever happen in the other remaining constituencies before 2015. After all, they are an external organisation, and not entitled to interfere. All they do is rather foolishly hand over money in the hope of influence, but with no guarantees.

        They are quite clever, the forces of conservatism, if they wish to be and there is nothing at all Unite can do about it.

        • rekrab

          Chris Grayling said as much today, it’s the X factor control message, if you can’t mark the proper x in the correct box then you’ll be removed from the process.

          The wealthiest are corrupting the world and controlling it more and more.

          Today, Andy Murray won Wimbledon but the selected audience was full of politicians and stars.

          Rumour had it that a ticket for the final was £12,000.

          Ed, Dave, Alex were all there, They all know a bit about rackets but do any of them have a real skill in holding one?

          Ed, should hang his head in shame, voting and entertainment is only for the rich controllers in nowadays.

          Second try? on posting?

          • jaime taurosangastre candelas

            I was not referring to the tory forces of conservatism such as the Chris Grayling, but to the Labour forces of conservatism.

            While I naturally support them more than any union dinosaurs, it must be bitter indeed for the unions to be played as useful fools: useful for their annual money, fools for their agreement to keep funding when they are so easily batted away from any real influence, and from my outsider’s view, extremely foolish to have their tantrums so publicly.

          • rekrab

            But the labour party is surely bigger than the 2 Ed’s and it shouldn’t be trying to win elections on a tory agenda, Len McCluskey is absolutely spot on, if Ed and Ed aren’t up to being labour then remove them, this isn’t about just two individuals? it’s a collective means that involves millions.

            I’d be happy to do the Dinosaur stump all over those that have once again abandoned the real labour party.

            Historically, it makes sense to have at least 40 left of the centre MP’s in parliament, they weren’t considered in 1906?Dinosaurs? they moved forward workers rights, education for all, woman’s votes, a healthier Britain including soldiers.

            What’s wrong with a better distribution of wealth? is it out of date to ask for an end to poverty? I’m really struggling why you think any organisation like trade unions are outdated? surely the case for these people are greater today than they were 6,7,8 years ago?

          • Alexwilliamz

            What? I was never there. I was on a flight back from my all expenses paid trip to watch the mighty lions trounce the wallabies.

          • rekrab

            LoL hope you had fun, I had the misfortune of watching Douglas Alexander being ripped apart by William Hague on friday over the European in/out questions, Alexander was so shockingly poor that he was laughing at himself as Hague ripped in to him. He’a another that needs dumped.

  • Daniel Speight

    As of Monday he hasn’t drawn a line under, over or through this has he Mark. It’s still be played out with spin and briefings. Tom Watson deserves an apology if for nothing else, then for the “I sacked him” spin.

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