UK Politics

Unite leader Len McCluskey hits back over Mandelson Labour candidate claims

Unite leader Len McCluskey
Image caption Unite general secretary Len McCluskey is in a war of words with Labour's Blairites

Len McCluskey, leader of the Unite trade union, has hit back at Lord Mandelson for accusing him of rigging parliamentary candidate selections.

The peer claims Unite have hijacked the process as part of an attempt to seize greater control of the party.

But Mr McCluskey said the last Labour government dished out seats "on the basis of personal connections".

The selection of a parliamentary candidate in Falkirk was halted last week amid concerns about the process.

Writing in The Guardian, Mr McCluskey says that Unite's aim is to recruit more members to the Labour Party, and to persuade them to vote for union-backed candidates when the party chooses who will represent it at elections.

He says that no rules have been broken in doing this, and that his aim is to get more working class people in positions of influence in the party.

Concerns

On Friday the Labour Party halted the selection process to replace MP Eric Joyce, who resigned his Falkirk seat after being arrested for fighting in a bar in the House of Commons.

Unite's preferred candidate for the seat, Karie Murphy, is a former union official who runs the office of Labour's election co-ordinator, Tom Watson.

A Labour spokesman told the paper: "We have suspended the start of the selection process of the Falkirk parliamentary seat. Concerns have been raised about membership recruitment which need to be investigated. An officer of the party will carry out an investigation to ensure the integrity of the process."

Questions have also been raised about Labour's selection of candidates for the 2014 European elections after Anne Fairweather, a favourite candidate of the Labour right, failed to make the shortlist.

Former Labour General Secretary Peter Watt said: "The feeling is that as she has a pro-business background she was blocked by the trade unions."

Fight for influence

Since Labour lost power in 2010 Mr McCluskey and others on the left of the Labour Party have been vying for influence with "Blairite" factions on the right, associated with the think tank Progress, which is mostly funded by Lord Sainsbury.

Mr McCluskey said: "Mandelson also appears untroubled that Lord Sainsbury's vast wealth, channelled through the Progress organisation, has been used to give particular candidates, invariably on the right, an advantage in Labour selections."

Unite, which backed Ed Miliband for the Labour leadership in 2010, is currently one of the party's biggest financial backer.

Lord Sainsbury has halted donations to the party, reportedly because he views Mr Miliband a "mediocre" leader.

Speaking at the Progress conference on 11 May, Lord Mandelson said "too many" selections for European or Westminster parliament candidates were being put in the hands of "one union at worst, a couple of unions at best, orchestrated by a cabal of NEC members."

He warned the party that efforts to recruit more working class candidates should not be confused with recruiting trade union officials.

His comments echoed those made by former Home Secretary Alan Johnson, who told Progress in February that increasing the number of working class MPs could not be "left to a small clique in the affiliated unions who want to get the people who mirror their views into parliament".

At the time Mr McCluskey responded: "The stale prescriptions offered by the likes of Alan Johnson are the road to defeat and working class disappointment."

More on this story