Unite accused of '1970s-style backroom deals' in Labour candidate selection row

Posted On: 
14th December 2017

Labour bosses have been forced to delay the selection of a parliamentary candidate in a key marginal seat amid claims of "1970s-style backroom deals" by the Unite union.

Labour bosses have been forced to step in over a row over candidate selection in Watford.
Credit: 
PA Images

Party members in Watford were due to choose their prospective MP on Saturday.

But the timetable has been extended after the Unite-backed candidate, Mike Hedges, claimed there had been irregularities with postal votes.

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Mr Hedges was initially rejected as a candidate after being interviewed by the local constituency Labour party's selection panel.

But he remained in the contest after the chair of Labour's national organisation committee - who is also a Unite official - ordered that he be put on the final shortlist.

In a statement, rival candidate Chris Ostrowski's campaign said the claims by Mr Hedges of problems with the postal vote process were "spurious".

They said: "In our view, this complaint by the Unite candidate is wholly motivated by the fact that he has been unable to secure the support of local Watford Labour members.

"These spurious complaints are designed in our opinion to give the Unite candidate more time to secure votes."

The campaign added: "In our view the manipulation of the process stinks. It feels to us that Watford CLP members are once again being faced with unwarranted interventions and a delay in our selection procedure until members can be trusted to vote for the Unite candidate.

"We all support Jeremy Corbyn and most of us are trade unionists, but we are concerned that the 'new politics' are being subverted by 1970s-style backroom deals."

Mr Ostrowski was Labour's candidate in the general election in June, losing by 2,092 votes to the Conservatives' Richard Harrington.

The seat will be a key battleground at the next election and one of Labour's main targets.

Labour sources denied reports that the candidate selection process had been suspended, insisting it had been delayed to deal with an administrative error to do with postal votes.

A party spokesman said: "The Labour party is proud that local party members can participate in the democratic selection of their own local candidates. We are satisfied that selections are taking place in line with Labour's rules and procedures."

A Unite spokeswoman said: "Unite is supporting candidates in many of the 76 selections that are taking place across the country. We have not once had case for complaint.

"The situation in Watford is highly irregular: a candidate's supporter should not be walking around with blank ballot papers.  The rules also state that a secure office is used for the ballot papers. In Watford, one of the candidates and the candidate's agent had access to said office. This could not be ignored. 

"All along all we have said is that the party's democracy should respected, and that Watford Labour members should be allowed every opportunity to chose their candidate fairly."