I discovered what at best can be described as a dodgy election ploy and at worst as little better than a Mugabe style voting tactic when I returned from holiday earlier this week. Let me explain....
The Trade Unions have made no secret of their desire to see Ed Miliband as the new Labour leader. They see him as a more leftwing character, more in tune with the wishes of the union barons (trade union members may have a different view on matters). And most importantly for the likes of Kenny, Prentice and co, Red Ed as he was dubbed by the Sun this morning, is the candidate who could beat David Miliband, the Blairite who was fast tracked to Cabinet by his chum and now Labour hate figure, Tony Blair. Who the trade unions back, as corporate organisations, is their affair. How they arrive at that decision is their own affair. But there is a difference between what the corporate view of an organisation is, and that of individual members. This is why the trade unions moved to a system of individual members who pay the political levy being able to vote in such matters as the Labour leadership contests. Even Labour saw that the union block vote being wielded by trade union barons to choose the Labour leader was a public relations disaster. But old habits die hard. Look at the following.
This is the envelope in which the Labour leadership ballot papers were sent to GMB members. I was so staggered by what I saw that I felt the need to photograph it and share this Mugabe style election tactic with the rest of the world. Whilst I think it is reasonable for an organisation to have a corporate view on an issue of who the Labour leader is, for the same organisation then to send out the ballot papers in envelopes emblazoned with publicity for one candidate must surely amount to official sanctioning of an inbuilt advantage for the campaign of the person the union bosses are backing.
In other words, this is an abuse of democracy. It's the sort of thing you would expect to see in Putin's Russia where the media was controlled by Putin's backers and opposition was virtually excluded from the airwaves during election periods. But it wasn't just the envelope. Below is the letter that it contained from Paul Kenny, big chief of the GMB.
As you can see, over half of it is a eulogy to Ed Miliband. Granted, it does also direct voters to pages 14-15 of the magazine that came with the ballot papers if people wanted to read more about the views of the 5 candidates. Here's the magazine:
Note that Miliband Junior is endorsed on the front page. "Vote Ed Miliband, GMB's choice for Labour leader" - which could lead some people to think that as GMB members they are required to vote for Red Ed.
Does the GMB, on pages 14-15 give each candidate equal billing? Have a look:
The answer is no. The pages had the minimum of space for the views of the candidates (in that respect they were all treated equally), the accompanying article had more about John McConnell who failed to get nominated, but the page carries a clear article that the GMB corporately are backing Ed Miliband.
It strikes me as bizarre that the trade unions can get away with this sort of undemocratic activity. Surely the Labour party must have rules that ensure fairness in their own internal voting systems that prevents what most of us would regard as a distortion of democracy. But it also raises a more troubling issue. Assuming Labour want to return to power at some point, they will be in the pockets of a small number of individuals who have no problem with engaging in the sort of activity that contaminates democracy and pollutes politics.