More noise than signal

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.

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