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Bringing Labour into disrepute?

Alan Johnson seems to think there’s something shameful about the party’s trade union links – but what about its links with his millionaire mates, asks SOLOMON HUGHES

David Cameron couldn’t win the last election. He might struggle to win the next. But he has one advantage — Labour needs to stand firm and stand together to beat the “nasty party.”

But a big slice of the Labour Party are so enraged with Ed Miliband’s slight shuffle leftwards that they would rather fight for the future of Blairism than fight the coalition.

So former Labour minister Alan Johnson decided now was the time to attack the role of trade unions in the Labour Party in the pages of Progress magazine.

Johnson does this fairly regularly. In 2013 he described trade union leaders as “fat, white, finger-jabbing blokes” in the same magazine.
This year thinks the biggest issue is “a perception that Labour is in the pocket of the unions,” which “is damaging to the party.”

According to Johnson, the “link between Labour and the unions becomes a liability rather than an advantage when it is allowed to look like a transaction.”

Transactions are so tacky. Progress, where Johnson made his call for weakening union influence, is the journal for the Blairite “party within a party,” also called Progress.

The organisation and its magazine are funded by over £200,000 a year in donations from two sources — Lord Sainsbury and the British Private Equity Foundation.

A new Labour ex-minister calling for less union influence in a magazine funded by a new Labour multimillionaire and a bunch of his multimillionaire investor friends also “looks like a transaction.”

Lord Sainsbury has every reason to worry Miliband’s Labour isn’t right wing enough.

If Labour stop being “intensely relaxed” about people making millions, some of his cash might get taxed.

His private equity mates, who helped to pay for Johnson’s anti-union call, have every reason to fear trade unions.

They make money through privatisations and sell-offs, where unions might threaten their profits by asking for decent conditions for their members.

Johnson claimed that unions are the “ghosts in the Labour machine” and there is “a perception that Labour is in the pocket of the unions.”
In the Labour right’s eyes, working people in trade unions are spectres and phantoms.

But millionaires and private equity investors are the real ghosts in Labour’s machine, and the perception that Labour sold its soul to the rich is far more damaging.

The Blairites around Progress — still a powerful group which can count on the loyalty of people like Tristram Hunt, Caroline Flint, Douglas Alexander and Chuka Umunna — will fight very hard to keep Labour from drifting even slightly left, and in particular against any union influence.

Over Grangemouth they were quite prepared to spread lies to the press about imaginary union crimes.

Labour’s right wing started a smear campaign which bosses at the Scottish oil plant were able to use to attack their workforce.

So even without being in power, the Labour right’s irresponsible troublemaking actually reduced thousands of workers’ pay.

They were outraged that a Scottish Labour member was recuiting workers at the biggest workplace in the constituency into the party.

Workers flooding into Labour branches are, to the Progress people, a bad thing.

Their charges are now exposed as rubbish, but the damage is done.

If Labour is elected, these people will still fight within Labour to keep the policies business-friendly and union-unfriendly.

If Labour loses the election, they will launch a real bloodthirsty battle against the left and the unions.

Cyril Smith – a national security issue?

The Information Commissioner has ruled that Police Special Branch documents about the late Cyril Smith must be kept secret for “national security” reasons.

Smith, a leading Lib Dem MP for 30 years up to the mid-1990s, was accused of and investigated for sexual abuse of youngsters in boys’ homes near his Rochdale consitiuency.

The commissioner actually ruled that the Metropolitan Police, which keeps Special Branch files, must not admit it has such documents, even though Special Branch’s involvement with Smith’s sex abuse case is well known.

The Information Commissioner wants secrecy in the Smith case because of potential MI5 involvement.

I asked the Met for Special Branch documents on Smith in December 2012.

That year one former Lancashire Special Branch officer told the press he handled a suppressed file on Smith and a “sordid series of indecent episodes with young boys” while a former Thames Valley officer said he was warned off an investigation regarding Smith by Special Branch officers.

This is a very serious issue as Special Branch is supposed to be guarding Britain against terrorism, not guarding MPs against sex abuse charges.

The Met refused to “confirm or deny” holding any Smith papers. Just before Christmas 2013 the Information Commissioner backed its refusal.
Security bodies like MI5 and MI6 are exempt from the Freedom of Information Act, but Special Branch is not.

When the Act was first passed the Met initially responded to inquiries by releasing files showing Special Branch monitoring of campaigns like the Anti-Apartheid Movement or CND.

When this led to embarrassing news stories about the police, including in the Morning Star, the Met changed its mind and began uniformly resisting the release of Special Branch papers, claiming they would endanger “crime-fighting” or even “health and safety.”

The Information Commissioner was going to overrule the Met, but the intervention of an MI5 officer changed his mind.

The commissioner now argues that most Special Branch files are secret beause “the nature of the work of special branches involves very close working with security bodies and regular sharing of information and intelligence.”

The commissioner thinks MI5 immunity from the Freedom of Information Act spreads to Special Branch, even though it did not before 2010, and even though MPs did not exempt Special Branch from freedom of information when they passed the Act.

I hoped the gravity of the Smith case would change his mind.

Deputy commissioner Graham Smith admitted there was a “valid public interest” in releasing the papers because “Cyril Smith was a longstanding MP and a very prominent public figure.

“Allegations have been aired about him that are very serious in nature and questions have been raised as to why no action was taken about these whilst he was alive.”

However, clearly spooked by the intervention of the spooks, he ruled that it is “clearly the case, however, that this public interest does not match the weight of the public interest in safeguarding national security.”

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