Could Spin Turn Flip to Flop?
WITH newspapers and right-wing Labourites desperately digging for something to derail the Jeremy Corbyn campaign, a figure has stepped from the shadows of the not-too-distant past to remind us they are right about outside influences, alien to Labour's traditional values, meddling inside the Party.
Only these elements are not left-wing "infiltrators", in fact they are not left-wing at all, and if anyone should be embarassed over this intrusion it is not Jeremy Corbyn.
Think back two years to the row over Grangemouth oil refinery in Scotland. Supplying much of Scotland, it had fallen along with much of BP's chemical business, into the hands of a Swiss-based private equity firm, INEOS. From his £130 million luxury yacht on the Cote d'Azur, INEOS boss Jim Radcliff declared that Grangemouth was losing money, and would have to be closed unless the workers took a wage drop and attack on pensions.
The 800 workers, mainly members of Unite, threatened to go on strike. But the pressure was on, with the threat to their jobs and a knock on effect on the whole area. Scotland's SNP Finance Minister voiced sympathy with the workers, and said his government would seek interested buyers for the refinery. But he ruled out nationalisation. And obviously the workers could expect no help from the Tory government in London.
Unite backed down, agreeing to a three-year pay freeze, an end to final salary pensions, and some job cuts, without enhanced redundancy payments. The workers, those who kept their jobs, were not happy, but were relieved not to be going down the road just yet, or seeing their area become a ghost town. Further afield, among those who had not had to take the decision, it was a chance to condemn the union, or more especially Len McCluskey, for a "sell-out".
Labour seems to have got off with staying in the background - or at least until this year's election,
And now comes this interesting story on the Labour Uncut website:
A lobbyist from the firm that advises energy firm Ineos, which was involved in a biter industrial dispute with Unite the Union, is now working as a key member of Andy Burnham’s leadership team.
Katie Myler, a former special adviser to Burnham when he was health secretary, now works for international lobbying company, Burson-Marsteller.But the Grangemouth dispute was not the only row in that area in 2013. Grangemouth is part of the Falkirk constituency. The local Labour MP,an ex-army man in trouble over brawls in Commons bars, was due for replacement. Unite the union was accused of recruiting its members into the Labour Party - as though there was something wrong with that - in order to assist its preferred candidate.
They claim on their website that their staff have provided “senior counsel” to the Ineos “CEO and management team” during “the Grangemouth industrial dispute.”
Back in 2013, 800 staff at the petrochemical plant in Falkirk threatened to go on strike after management brought forward a survival plan, which included a three-year pay freeze and changes to pensions.
Unite later relented in a bid to save jobs.
Labour not only held it own inquiry but asked the police to look into the alleged goings-on. They did, and could find nothing warranting their interest. But the Tory press was naturally delighted to keep the alleged "scandal" going.
Unite reported on November 5, 2013:
...., Unite itself verified that all of its members who it did recruit to the Labour Party under the then-extant Union Join scheme had indeed willingly consented to join the Labour Party. In view of all this new or clarified evidence, it was evident that the allegations asserted in the original “Falkirk report” could no longer hold water. The Party then issued the statement on September 6, which made it clear that Unite, Mr Deans and Ms Murphy had done nothing wrong and had broken no rules. Police Scotland had much earlier found no basis for any criminal investigation in the matter.
Stevie Deans, chair of the Falkirk Constituency Labour Party, who found himself the subject of police inquiries, had been Unite convenor at Grangemouth. INEOS forwarded e-mails he had allegedly sent in company time to the police, and also leaked private information from them to the press. It did not manage to persuade the police he had done anything wrong, but it was able to get rid of the convenor as it took on the union.
Karie Murphy, whom Unite had favoured for the Falkirk seat, found herself blocked, not just in Scotland but again this year when her name was kept off an all-women shortlist at Halifax. But above all the Falkirk row became Labour's spur to loosening ties with the unions, and adopting the current rules about which the right-wing is once more complaining, saying they don't stop "infiltration".
Getting back to the Labour Uncut report, it says:
"Myler was appointed as director of communications for Burnham’s campaign last week, after taking a sabbatical from Burson-Marsteller where she works as a managing director, according to a report in PR Week.
She joins fellow lobbyist, John Lehal, who is acting as campaign director.Indeed, Andy Burnham impressed a lot of people last year when he joined the Darlington "Mums" march to defend the NHS, and spoke at their Trafalgar Square rally. Before Jeremy Corbyn's campaign took off he had been expected to get most union backing. He has called for the NHS to be shielded from the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact (TTIP) with its drive for privatisation.
His company, Insight Consulting Group, has worked for a string of private medical companies, according to reports in this morning’s Independent.
The revelations will come as a major embarrassment to Burnham, who has made much of his opposition to private sector involvement in the NHS."
In the Labour leadership election battle he has begun making "left"-sounding statements about the NHS and railway public ownership, which critics have dismissed as mere "flip" designed to win back support that is drifting towards Jeremy Corbyn.
That his PR team is revealed to include people with very different associations may not be his fault, or even their's - it is not a matter of conviction, just what they do for a living. All the same it does not do him any favours.