Trade union leaders have written a joint letter to Labour’s leader and governing body over the exclusion of Jamie Driscoll from a mayoral shortlist, calling it a “monumental own goal”.
The letter, seen by LabourList, was signed by the general secretaries of the RMT, ASLEF, CWU, FBU and BFAWU, as well as the leaders of UCU and POA in a personal capacity.
“Working people need a strong voice like Jamie. We are calling for common sense to prevail and for Jamie to be given the opportunity to stand in the selection to be Labour candidate for North East mayor,” it reads.
“We are astonished and dismayed that Jamie Driscoll is being prevented from being considered as Labour’s candidate for the North East mayoralty. To exclude a politician of Jamie’s calibre and commitment represents a monumental own goal. Jamie has already proved to be an outstanding mayor for the North of Tyne.”
Another flare-up of divisions over Driscoll
It marks the latest flare-up of public party divisions over the controversial decision by party officials not to allow Driscoll, currently mayor of the North of Tyne and a leading voice on the left of the party, onto the shortlist to be Labour’s candidate for the North East.
Driscoll’s current role will disappear once the North East mayoralty is established under a wider combined authority, which Driscoll himself has been widely praised for helping to negotiate with the Conservative government.
But Driscoll’s exclusion, linked to his sharing a stage with filmmaker Ken Loach, who was himself expelled for supporting a group called Labour Against the Witchhunt, prompted a backlash that continues to send ripples through the party.
Several union leaders have spoken out so far, joining left-wing MPs in condemning the decision, notably including Unite general secretary Sharon Graham.
First coordinated move by union leaders
The letter marks the first time union leaders have taken coordinated action over the issue publicly. Some but not all of the unions are affiliated to the party.
The signatories include general secretaries Matt Wrack of the FBU, Dave Ward of the CWU, Mick Whelan of ASLEF, Sarah Woolley of BFAWU and Mick Lynch of the RMT. Fran Heathcote, president of PCS, Dr Jo Grady, general secretary of the UCU and Steve Gillan, general secretary of the POA, have also signed in a personal capacity.
The letter adds: “Jamie’s drive and leadership in negotiating a devolution deal for the North East is widely acknowledged, and as trade unionists, we know that Jamie is firmly on the side of working people.
“He has stood with workers on the picket line and he has stood with trade unionists in their campaigns for better wages, jobs and services.”
Labour holds candidates to ‘high standard’
A Labour Party spokesperson previously said: “The North East mayoralty is a unique opportunity for the people of the North East to take more control over the way our region is governed, with powers over housing, education, skills, transport and so much more.
“The Labour Party holds its candidates to a very high standard. During this process, some applicants did not meet the threshold required to proceed to the longlist stage. We do not comment on individual applications.
“Local members now have a fantastic longlist of candidates from which they will choose the Labour Party’s candidate to be the very first North East mayor.”
One source on the pro-leadership wing of the Labour Party also previously told LabourList it was “astonishing” Driscoll had believed he may progress after his recent “provocative” decision to share a platform with Loach.
More to follow.