How do you solve a problem like Falkirk?

(I wrote this a few weeks back for an appar­ently aborted cur­rent affairs satire pod­cast pilot, born of an excess of enthu­si­asm and vodka. The some­what embar­rass­ing drop­ping of any charges against the union brought it to mind, so I fig­ured I’d pro­mote it out of my ‘scraps’ pile.)

I am, of course, uniquely placed amongst the com­men­tariat on Labour’s ongo­ing issues in the Falkirk West con­stituency, given my sta­tus as an escapee from the sti­fling con­fines of small­ish Cen­tral Belt town to the sti­fling con­fines of Glas­gow, giv­ing me a dif­fer­ently sti­fled per­spec­tive on the polit­i­cal infight­ing that’s some­where between a storm in a teacup and a bat­tle for the very heart and soul of the Labour party. Which implies that the heart and soul of the Labour party can fit in a teacup, I sup­pose. I don’t have any paper­work to back that up. Let’s say “allegedly” and hope that’s weasly enough.

For those who, under­stand­ably, pay lit­tle atten­tion to Falkirk, Cen­tral Scotland’s answer to Iowa, a recap may be in order. Let us intro­duce you to then Labour MP Eric Joyce, tak­ing over the West­min­ster con­stituency after the respected MP (of which there used to be a few, sur­pris­ing as that may seem to young­sters) Den­nis Cana­van chose to move to the Scot­tish Par­lia­ment, and was booted out of Labour as result, which does not seem to have proven much of a career impediment.

Joyce, although born in Perth, chose to rep­re­sent Falkirk like a native, fight­ing for the inter­ests of the peo­ple, par­tic­u­larly the seg­ment of the peo­ple named “Eric Joyce”. He proved to be the top claim­ing mem­ber of the House of Com­mons between 2005 and 2006. A dis­ap­point­ing slide in form say him drop to 11th in the 2006–2007 grifter’s league, but some intense prof­i­teer­ing saw him back on top in 2008–2009 — includ­ing a spec­tac­u­larly rea­soned £180 expen­di­ture on three oil paint­ings. When asked why he had used tax­pay­ers’ funds in such a way he replied, “because they look nice.” Your tax pounds at work, there. All this hard effort paid off spec­tac­u­larly, for Joyce at least, becom­ing the first MP to claim more than £1 mil­lion cumu­la­tively in expenses.

It’s vital that we get value for money from our pub­lic offi­cials, of course, and Joyce has cho­sen to help out with this country’s dire employ­ment sit­u­a­tion by ensur­ing that the Police are kept busy. Start­ing his crim­i­nal record with a com­par­i­tively bor­ing six month dri­ving ban for rack­ing up 12 points on his licence, he moved on to more chal­leng­ing offences, arrested in 2010 for fail­ing to pro­vide a breath test after another vehic­u­lar escapade.

Look­ing to up the ante, he was again arrested in Feb­ru­ary 2012 for assault, hav­ing been described as “going berserk, Falkirk-style”, head­but­ting a Tory MP and clock­ing his own party’s whip in what we in Falkirk would call “a nor­mal Wednes­day night”. Hot on the heels of this came a Daily Record arti­cle claim­ing the then 49 year old MP had “rela­tions” with a 17 year old school­girl work­ing for his cam­paign in 2010. That proved to be one straw too many, and Joyce soon ten­dered his res­ig­na­tion to the Labour party, pre­sum­ably about ten sec­onds before he’d have been fired anyway.

How­ever, like a par­tic­u­larly tena­cious dol­lop of shite Joyce refused to be flushed from the sys­tem, choos­ing instead to merely not seek re-election in 2015. Despite now being out of Labour’s league table of nut­balls, Joyce has proven to keep match-fit in the interim, both­er­ing the po-po twice in the inter­ven­ing year or so, once for cut­ting off the elec­tronic tag awarded for his pre­vi­ous tri­umphs and again for another boozed up, tax­payer sub­sidised Par­lia­men­tary bar brawl.

It’s said that you get the gov­ern­ment you deserve, but even at its very worst Falkirk’s not this horrible.

At any rate, the mat­ter now at hand con­cerns pick­ing the replace­ment can­di­date for the next elec­tion, nor­mally a mat­ter for the con­stituency Labour party. I’m left with the impres­sion that this process wan’t thought about too deeply, as the now redrawn seat of Falkirk is now a so safe a Labour seat that it could be won by a tub of lard with a red rosette on it.

Fol­low­ing alle­ga­tions that Unite chair­man Stephen Deans had been on a recruit­ing spree at the local refin­ery, offer­ing to pay their Labour party mem­ber­ship fees, which by itself doesn’t seem like much of an incen­tive, to be hon­est with you, ques­tions have been raised at the national level of the extent to which Unite and other unions influ­ence the Labour Party.

From a legal stand­point it appears the mem­ber­ship drive / bal­lot stuff­ing isn’t ille­gal, pre­sum­ably more in a “tech­ni­cally not ille­gal” sense that pol­i­tics is so good at find­ing, but it cer­tainly looks sus­pect to most out­siders, par­tic­u­larly those already minded to think that those evil unions already ruined Blairite revenge fan­tasy by pick­ing the wrong Miliband brother — not the anointed one, David, but the annoy­ing one, Ed. Well, okay, they’re both annoy­ing, I concede.

The inves­ti­ga­tion resulted in the National Labour Party tak­ing over the selec­tion process, and the sus­pen­sion of Stephen Deans and pro­vi­sional can­di­date Karie Mur­phy, which angered Unite Gen­eral Sec­re­tary Len McCluskey. How­ever Red Len McCluskey does rather give the impres­sion of some­one who’s always the mer­est slight away from fum­ing, incan­des­cent rage. Heaven for­bid a Star­bucks barista mis­tak­enly scrib­ble “Ben” on the side of his machi­atto, in the admit­tedly unlikely event he’d be allowed from a PR persepc­tive to order cof­fee from any­where other than a burger van, or maybe Greggs on spe­cial occasions.

The more con­crete, non-Unite word-slinging fall­out may be more prob­lem­atic for the Labour party, as Karie Mur­phy turns out to have been MP Tom Watson’s office man­ager prior to this fof­fer­all. Tom Wat­son, I’d argue, is the clos­est thing the Labour party has to a respected, opin­ion­ated politi­cian that can get results thanks to his involve­ment in the inves­ti­ga­tions into just how shitty the U.K. tabloid press is. If you don’t want to know the results, look away now: they are really, really shitty.

At any rate, Wat­son, inci­den­tally Len McCluskey’s old flat­mate, has resigned from his role as Cam­paign Co-ordinator in the wake of all of this non­sense, which is hard to see as any­thing other than a blow for a Labour party that’s strug­gling to look even remotely elec­table. At this rate it’s going to take Cameron and Osbourne cam­paign­ing on a plat­form of “first­born chil­dren to be slaugh­tered” to move the nee­dle towards the belea­guered Miliband camp, and even then it’s not a slam-dunk for the reds.

If this fiasco does result in the now mooted break­ing of the bonds between Labour and the union move­ment, which lest we for­get was the rea­son it was formed in the first place, it’s bound to be even more trou­ble for a party already decried as the Diet Tories. By strip­ping them­selves of their found­ing and defin­ing char­ac­ter­is­tic, they’re in dan­ger of wind­ing up as char­ac­ter­less and unap­peal­ing as their present leader.

And it all began in Falkirk. We’re so very sorry.